The 2022 Hungarian National Elections: A win for the far-right and Orbán’s fight against LGBTQ rights

Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party wins the Hungarian national elections again, securing a two-thirds majority parliament for their fourth consecutive term.

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Photograph by Katherine Kondor.

The new Hungarian parliament: More of the same

Early April 2022 saw the Hungarian national elections, with Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, in coalition with the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), winning a fourth consecutive term with 54% of the vote. Amidst scandals leading up to election day (for example, of burnt mail-in opposition ballots), the united opposition (opposition coalition made up of six parties: DK, MSZP, Jobbik, LMP, Momentum, and Párbeszéd) fought to achieve only 34% of the vote. Fidesz, again, has attained a two-third super majority for the next four years, further accelerating Hungary’s rapid descent to a single-party state.

The Fidesz-KDNP coalition now holds 135 seats of Hungary’s 199 seat parliament, while the united opposition has 57 seats. The newly formed extreme-right Our Homeland Movement (Mi Hazánk Mozgalom) party also gained seats in the Hungarian National Assembly, with 6% of the vote resulting in six seats.

Two things are striking here. First is the apparently shrinking support for opposition governments in Hungary. There was hope of combining, and expanding on, the support these coalition parties received in 2018, thereby defeating Fidesz. What the opposition may have failed to calculate with, beyond Fidesz’ nearly full control of the media and state campaigning before the election, was Jobbik’s split in 2018 following the national elections. Jobbik gained more than 20% of the vote in 2018; however, immediately following the elections the party’s leader, Gábor Vona, stepped down. This marked the end of Jobbik in its original form: the less extreme members of the party remained in Jobbik to continue with their new image as a centre-right party, and the more extreme members followed László Toroczkai to form Our Homeland. Therefore, the expected 20% support for Jobbik was not there to add to the 34% support for the entire opposition, and indeed Jobbik suffered a significant loss in seats, from 26 in 2018 to nine in 2022.

Second, the parliamentary representation of the extreme-right Our Homeland party is concerning. While somewhat surprising given corporate moves to silence the party, such as Facebook deleting the party’s social media page, there were nevertheless reasons to anticipate this outcome given the levels of support for Jobbik in 2018. The support of Jobbik’s more extreme voters, combined with popularity gained from the party’s protests against pandemic measures, was bound to lead to parliamentary seats. What is of more concern is specifically László Toroczkai’s seat in parliament. Given the faction of Our Homeland from Jobbik in 2018, these more extreme right-wing actors would not have been represented in Jobbik’s 26 seats in Hungary’s 2018-2022 National Assembly. According to Toroczkai, this is just the beginning for the new party.

Fidesz’ campaign tactics

In the last four years, Fidesz has reinforced their commitment to far-right values: they have been openly anti-EU, anti-liberal, anti-immigration, and anti-LGBTQ, emphasising ‘true’ Christian values and the importance of large Hungarian families. These values have been emphasised during the run-up to the election, along with strengthening pro-Russian rhetoric with the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war in February 2022.

In an unprecedented move, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe deployed over 200 observers to Hungary for the election. They concluded that while there were few procedural problems, there was no level playing field between the opposition and Orbán’s Fidesz government. Among the issues is Fidesz’ near-complete control of the media in Hungary, for instance only allowing opposition parties five minutes to speak on state-funded Public Service Media during the campaign period.

Facebook has become an extremely important tool for the Hungarian parties’ campaigns, not least because opposition governments have few other far-reaching methods of communication. Fidesz has also actively used this medium, regularly posting on their and Viktor Orbán’s Facebook pages. Since autumn 2021, Fidesz Facebook posts have heavily publicised the strength of Hungary’s border fences and the Hungarian government’s stance against immigration (especially in response to refugees from Afghanistan in September 2021). Fidesz has also been extremely critical of ex-Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and the Hungarian opposition.

Fidesz has also heavily promoted the importance of ‘traditional families’ and the ‘protection’ of children, especially surrounding and following the anti-LGBTQ law passed in June 2021. During the pandemic the Fidesz government passed several Authorisation Acts, effectively giving Orbán the right to rule by decree. This power was subsequently used to pass a law mandating that transgender people only be recognised by sex assigned at birth, to ensure children be raised by ‘Christian cultural values,’ and to define a mother as female and father as male in the constitution, in order to bar same-sex couples from adopting.

Most recently, Fidesz has tried to find a careful balance between supporting EU sanctions on Russia and its pro-Russiance stance; all-the-while defended their stance on not entering the war in Ukraine, stating that if the opposition were to win they (the opposition) would immediately send Hungarians to fight. This is in all likelihood due to a desire to stay in the favours of the Kremlin and Orbán’s close relationship with Vladimir Putin, who was the first to congratulate Orbán on his victory on Sunday.

The referendum on “child protection”: A win for the opposition

Over the past six years, the Fidesz government has regularly organised ‘referenda’ to request the opinions of the Hungarian people. Going back to the migrant quota referendum in 2016, these questionnaires appear formulated to elicit one specific answer. In late 2021, the Fidesz government passed a law stating that these referenda may now be issued along with the ballots at national elections. This year, the referendum revolved around questions of “child protection,” referring to the anti-LGBTQ ‘pedophile laws’.

The referendum questions were as follows:

1. Do you support underage children being exposed to lessons on sexual orientation in public education institutions without parental consent?

2. Do you support the promotion of gender reassignment treatment to underaged children?

3. Do you support that sexual media content that can affect development be freely shown to underage children?

4. Do you support the display of media content showing gender-change to underage children?

In the week leading up to the election, the Hungarian government sent emails to citizens encouraging them to vote a specific way on the referendum. The email stated that the government believes sexual education is solely the responsibility of parents, and some would like to give this responsibility to activist organisations. The email told Hungarians: 'Now we can stop sexual propaganda directed at children! For this we ask you to also take part in the referendum, vote with 4 no’s! [sic].'

A campaign started by Amnesty International encouraged voters to submit an invalid vote – with nearly 1.5 million invalid votes, the referendum was found to be invalid and failed. However, following the results of the migrant quota referendum in 2016, which also failed based on invalid votes, the Fidesz government still modified the constitution to fit their views. It remains to be seen whether Fidesz will honour the wishes of the Hungarian people. (The National Election Committee of Hungary will fine those NGOs involved in the campaign for an invalid vote on the referendum; they have not addressed the email sent to citizens by the government.)

The future of Hungary and Hungary’s left-wing opposition remains unclear. Prospects remain hopeful for some opposition parties, such as Momentum who now won 11 seats their first year in parliament, even given word they may boycott their parliamentary seats. What is clear is that some in the opposition no longer see their future in the country amidst concerns over a destruction of human rights, the erosion of democracy, the Hungarian government’s continued support for Russia, and growing far-right sentiments in the country.

This article was updated on 11 April 2022, to reflect recent developments in the aftermath of the elections.

Tags: Hungary, Elections By Katherine Kondor
Published Apr. 8, 2022 7:49 PM - Last modified Apr. 11, 2022 9:58 AM
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