Big opposition turnout in Hungary

One of the most-watched elections of the next few months will be in a relatively small country. Hungary goes to the polls in April or May next year, in an election that will test whether its democratic backsliding – and, by extension, that of several other countries – can still be reversed by constitutional means.

Hungary’s six opposition parties have joined forces to try to put an end to the rule of autocratic prime minister Viktor Orbán. They represent a broad range: centre-left, left-liberal, centrist, two rival Green parties, and the formerly far-right Jobbik, now marketing itself as centre-right since Orbán’s party, FIDESz, has occupied most of its old territory.

Last week the six parties held a joint open primary to select a lead candidate to take on Orbán, plus candidates to be jointly endorsed in each of the country’s 106 single-member constituencies. The latter is vital, since voting is by first-past-the-post; last time, against divided opposition, FIDESz won 91 of them with less than half the vote. (There are also 93 proportional seats, but they do not fully correct for the imbalance; FIDESz took 42 of them to the opposition’s 51.)

Despite government hostility, the primary was a huge success: almost 634,000 people participated, more than ten per cent of the number who voted in the 2018 election. In the lead with 34.8% was Klára Dobrev of the left-liberal Democratic Coalition (DK), a deputy speaker in the European parliament who is also married to former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány. She now faces a runoff this week against Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony (endorsed by the Greens and centre-left), who had 27.3%.

The third placegetter, independent Péter Márki-Zay (20.4%), also has the option to contest the runoff, although there is speculation he may throw his support to Karácsony. Jobbik’s Péter Jakab and András Fekete-Győr of the centrist Momentum were eliminated with 14.1% and 3.4% respectively. (The official results are all here; they’re in Hungarian, which doesn’t matter for the numbers, but Google Translate will help to get other interesting information from the site.)

For the single-member districts, 32 candidates from DK were endorsed, 29 from Jobbik, 18 from the centre-left, 15 from Momentum, and seven and five for the two Green parties. There will also be a joint opposition list for the proportional seats, which presumably will reflect a similar sort of breadth.

Although the opposition only won 15 single-member seats last time, there were another 44 in which FIDESz had less than 50% of the vote, so that gives an indication of the potential that’s there if the pooling of the opposition vote is successful. Based on the candidates chosen this week, those 59 seats would go 18 to DK, 15 to Jobbik, ten to the centre-left, nine to Momentum, and five and two to the Greens.

Polls consistently show the combined opposition neck-and-neck with FIDESz. There are still big questions about whether they will be able to maintain their alliance between now and the election, and how easy it’ll be to agree on forming a government if they win. But so far they seem to be on the right track.

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