Yesterday Viktor Orbán, the leader of the Fidesz, began his party’s campaign for a successful referendum. Success would mean that all three questions of the referendum would be answered in the affirmative: yes, they don’t want to pay 300 Ft every time they visit a doctor; yes, they don’t want to pay 500 Ft every day they spend in the hospital; and, yes, they don’t want university students to pay partial tuition toward their education. As things stand now, the polls indicate that the referendum will most likely be valid and successful; that is, at least 25% of the registered voters will go and cast their ballots and more than two million people will say yes to these questions.
However, referendums are rarely valid in Hungary. Not enough people bother to visit the polling stations. It also seems that there is considerable political apathy at the moment in Hungary. Although the Fidesz is usually successful at mobilizing its followers, the by-election held in district XI in Budapest last Sunday might be a bit worrisome for the Fidesz. Although this particular part of Buda has voted for right-wing candidates ever since 1990 and therefore few doubted that a Fidesz-KDNP (the ghost party of the Christian Democrats) candidate would win, I don’t think that they predicted that the election would be invalid because not enough people bothered to vote. But that is exactly what happened. In order for an election to be valid at least fifty percent of the registered voters must cast their votes. Last Sunday only 38.29% showed up at polling stations. That doesn’t bode well for the Fidesz.
As usual, Orbán is trying to make a referendum on rather inconsequential questions a political turning point. Although his campaign manager, István Tarlós, keeps repeating that this is just a referendum and not a general election, the Fidesz party leader yesterday made it clear that he is certain that if his party is successful on March 9, the day of the referendum, the government will have to resign. But what if the referendum is not valid? What if not enough people vote or there are fewer than 2 million affirmative answers? That could be very embarrassing.
Surely, Orbán hopes that there will be a palace revolt within the MSZP if it loses the referendum. He could point to the European parliamentary elections of 2004 when the MSZP didn’t exactly shine: the Fidesz managed to send more delegates to Brussels than the MSZP. Soon after this fiasco, Medgyessy offered to resign and the party leadership accepted his resignation. In a similar scenario Orbán’s hated rival, Ferenc Gyurcsány, would be removed and one of the less than exciting members of the party leadership would be elevated to the prime minister’s position.
But if Orbán keeps repeating that this referendum, despite its primitive little questions, has such an enormous significance as far as the MSZP is concerned, this might mobilize MSZP sympathizers who will actually go out and vote "no" or will boycott the whole voting procedure. I don’t think that Orbán would be ousted from his position in case the referendum is a failure because I share the widely held opinion that without Orbán there is no Fidesz, but it is possible that his position within the party would be diminished. Yet of late Orbán has been preferring these games of chance even though, let’s face it, they have not been successful when it really mattered: at the time of the general elections.