The day after: What happened in the Tapolca by-elections?

Most Hungarian commentators that I follow look upon yesterday’s Jobbik victory in the Tapolca-Ajka-Sümeg district of the county of Veszprém as proof that the political system Viktor Orbán so carefully constructed is now in shambles. In Orbán’s political constellation, there are insignificant parties on both the right and the left while Fidesz rules the center with such a large majority that it is assured an absolutely free hand in legislation. Due to the weakness of the parties on either side of it, this system also guarantees years and years of Fidesz governance. But something went terribly wrong. The “central power,” the present governing party, has been steadily losing voters while one of the “fringe” parties, Jobbik, is gaining ground.

I am less sanguine about the significance of Jobbik’s victory yesterday than most of the commentators. First of all, Jobbik won by only 261 votes over Fidesz. What is perhaps even more important, Lajos Rig won this race only because the voters of the town of Tapolca, who last year solidly voted for the Fidesz candidate, Jenő Lasztovicza, this time decided to support Rig, who is one of them. According to an Index report, the fact that Rig was from Tapolca made a great difference. His Fidesz opponent, from Ajka, is now a high school principal in Várpalota, a town outside of the electoral district. Therefore, the people of Tapolca looked upon him as a stranger. And without Tapolca, Zoltán Fenyvesi, the Fidesz candidate, would have won decisively.

Just to give you an idea of how important the town of Tapolca was, here’s a graph that compares the three parties’ results in 2014 and 2015.

The Tapolca results, 2014-2015  /valasztas.hu

The Tapolca results, 2014-2015 / valasztas.hu

A year ago Fidesz won in all fifteen polling stations in Tapolca; these year all went for Lajos Rig. The official election results available on the internet reveal that in Tapolca alone Jobbik received 3,689 votes. Pestisracok.hu, which is a Fidesz-financed site, claims that everywhere outside of Tapolca Fidesz held its own and that since Fidesz lost by only 261 votes Fidesz’s trouble is not as great as it appears on the surface. Others, for example Róbert László, an analyst with Political Capital, are convinced that Jobbik won the election in the villages. László argues that it had been known that Sümeg would vote Fidesz, Ajka socialist, and that Tapolca was Jobbik through and through. Therefore, it was in the villages that Jobbik’s strong showing made a difference. Of the 58 villages Rig won in 30, including some larger villages, while Fidesz won in only 24 smaller settlements.

Map of the electoral district

Map of the electoral district

There is no question that Tapolca’s support for Jobbik made a huge difference and assured its victory. But what pestisracok.hu neglects to factor in is the rate of mobilization which, according to the calculations of the think tank Political Capital, in the case of Fidesz was only 52.3% of its voter turnout in 2014. Although MSZP-DK’s results were abysmal, their rate of mobilization was still higher (70.5%) than Fidesz’s. Jobbik, by contrast, outdid itself: its mobilization rate was 105% of its 2014 number.

Talking about mobilization, here are a few tidbits about the campaign. Yesterday I reported that Jobbik had put an incredible amount of energy into the campaign because they knew they had a chance of winning. It turned out that besides the constant presence of Gábor Vona, the chairman of the party, in the last week or so several Jobbik members of parliament were also on the spot. And unlike the Fidesz bigwigs, who appeared for an hour or so, they stayed for days. In addition, the party had 70 young activists who volunteered their services. The party paid only for their room and board. Fidesz had hundreds of paid campaigners, whose heart was not always in the job. One reporter encountered a scene where a man’s car was full of Fidesz posters but the man assured Vona that he will vote for Jobbik. He just needs the money.

Jobbik’s campaigning strategy was apparently quite sophisticated. Its messages were tailored to local conditions. After checking the needs or gripes of each village, the activists specifically addressed those issues. They made sure that the encounters between the visitors and the locals in the smaller villages were intimate and therefore, for example, although Vona visited 44 of the 58 villages the party kept his itinerary a secret. It didn’t want reporters disturbing the ambiance of the meetings between the party chairman and the locals.

Last Friday, before the Tapolca election, Viktor Orbán in his usual interview on Kossuth Rádió alluded to the fact that Fidesz has “its own polls.” Therefore he must have known that Jobbik and Fidesz were neck to neck. That’s why he decided to visit the district’s three larger towns as the campaign was winding down. Did his visit help the Fidesz cause? We will never know, but his appearance in Tapolca was a disaster thanks to a demonstration organized, it seems, by Solidarity. Orbán is not accustomed to demonstrators who nearly prevented him from delivering his speech. But this is exactly what happened, which didn’t do much for the aura he has cultivated over the years. So, as far as his personal prestige is concerned, his appearance there was certainly counterproductive.

What will Fidesz’s answer be to the challenge Jobbik is posing to Fidesz and Viktor Orbán’s government? I’m cautious when it comes to predictions, but judging from Orbán’s reluctance to change course and thereby admit a mistake, I don’t expect any great change in strategy. As he said in his Friday interview, “nix ugribugri.”

Well, this expression needs an explanation. Like most of his “sayings” over the years, it is not an Orbán original. György Moldova, a popular Hungarian writer, the author of about 70 books since 1955, published a report way back in 1986 on long-distance truckers. In the 70s and early 80s these were the lucky ones who had a chance to see the world outside of Hungary. Moldova tells the story of a truck driver who is greatly bothered by an infestation of lice. Somewhere in Germany he stops and goes to a pharmacy to get some medication, but he wants to make sure that it is for lice, not for fleas. But he doesn’t know any German. So he comes up with “nix ugribugri,” meaning “not hopping here and there.” Orbán is no flea; he is planning to hold a steady course. He wants to finish what he started and wants to accomplish everything he promised the Hungarian people. But what if the Hungarian people have had enough of his experimentation?

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Csoda. Peter
Guest

Very interesting analysis. Loyalty in Hungary has been oriented on party lines, from my experienctonot geographic lines. So real geographic loyalty (not just Budapest a countryside) is progress and perhaps leads to better accountability too

Roland Papp
Guest

I like this article, but it is important to see how many votes are these percentages. Between 2014 and 2015 the Jobbik gained 200 extra votes. (of course we do not know who exactly voted…) 2014: Jobbik 10 110. 2015: 10 354. Fidesz lost more than 8 000, MSZP 7 000
http://index.hu/belfold/2015/04/12/idokozi_valasztas_ajka_sumeg_tapolca_parlament/nezzek_csak_ezert_tudott_a_jobbikos_jelolt_nyerni/

Paul
Guest

The rise of Jobbik might be interesting (as well as horrifying), but does it really mean any major change in Hungary?

For 5 years we’ve had one right-wing, nationalistic, authoritarian party making insane decisions and bringing the country to it’s knees, and in three years time we might have two right-wing, nationalistic, authoritarian parties making insane decisions and brining the country to its knees.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

Member

Well, I guess they said the same thing about the NSDAP… With the new fine tuned election system 40% will buy you a majority. Then a racist party, financed by the Russians can, do interesting thing. Like introducing apartheid. Or take the country out of the EU.

Regarding the lice … Well those insects the trucker picked up from the ladies at the truck stops. The full sentence is “nicht ugri-bugri, aber langsam spazieren”.

exTor
Guest
I odeed on postings yesterday. Quite unhealthy. Paul posits the possibility that Jobbik may well form the government in 2018. What then? How will Hungary function vis-à-vis the EU? What about here? Will there be camps for the Jobbik undesirables such as the Jews and the Roma? I’m trying to envisage the nuts-and-bolts of the new Hungary. Perhaps Éva could address this thought. Just this morn (Tuesday, the 14th) I heard in the news that Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s National Front (which is considered by some to be the analog of Fidesz) kicked out her father, the National Front founder, for his extremist (and soft) views on what the Nazis did in WW2. It is speculated that the daughter of the Dear Leader (Jean-Marie Le Pen) is trying to prettify the National Front by tossing overboard the extremist baggage that has been holding the National Front back electorally. In Hungary, Jobbik is considered to be even more viciously racist than the NF. Jobbik similarly is embarking on a prettification campaign to increase its chances of electoral success in upcoming byelections and ultimately in 2018. Who knows, it may work in the absence of a credible opposition (read:… Read more »
albert
Guest
Regional loyalty, regional identity is very important especially in rural districts. That’s a pretty basic phenomenon people experience in electioneering. In Tapolca and in small villages people don’t like the proli (proletarian) Ajka full of dirty and smelly communists. On the other hand people of Ajka (a more urban, industrialized town) are more open to ‘foreign’ candidates, which is usually the case. Urban, leftist areas are more open to new candidates, conservative right-wing areas don’t like outsiders at all. People who ignore that tend to lose. My hunch is that Orban will continue to torment perceived liberals, like closing down certain college majors so that entire schools in universities like media, communications, international relations will be shut down and jobs will be lost. Orban – like the above Fidesz activist – actually likes Jobbik. Sure, it’s another party, but it has Fidesz’ conservative, mean right-wing DNA in it. In a way Orban can be proud, his legacy lives on in Jobbik. What more can a father (of five) want more? Yesterday a former editor of Hirt TV (which until the falling out between Simicska and Orban was a Fidesz’ mouthpiece) moved to Jobbik’s new TV (by the way does the… Read more »
Rudi
Guest

I’m not so sure that this is very popular in the eyes of MSZP voters (admittedly there aren’t many of this spieces) that MSZP deals with Fidesz in connection with the 2/3s.

Fidesz could of course arrange a vote or two but in this case for whatever reasons opted to have an agreement with MSZP.

MSZP is thus – as its perennial image – again seen as the usual mutyi (corrupt barckroom deal) party which willingly lends a helping hand to its struggling adversary Fidesz (in exchange for some petty consideration). Fidesz would never do so, as it has the killer’s instinct, MSZP just doesn’t have it.

Why not just let Fidesz struggle (pay for a jobbik or an independent MP) for that two votes? MSZP is hopeless.

http://index.hu/belfold/2015/04/13/itt_az_uj_ketharmad_osszeall_a_fidesszel_az_mszp/

Guest

You know there was President Reagan’s famous election-year quote , “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” It was a good one. Curious where voter minds was on that one.

I don’t live in Magyarorszag so I can’t comment directly on their day-to- day experiences. But It sure doesn’t appear that they live in the land of Oz!

Anyway, Mr. Orban said he wants to make Hungary as a nation ‘successful’. I know he’s got the prescription. My question is do Hungarians like the medicine so far? As noted there are two right parties in the country doling it out. Kind of makes the country overweight in matters of intellectual discourse regardless of the existence of other parties.

Member

Reality Check

Not denying or minimizing MSZP’s defects — but can anyone with democratic aspirations possibly express the slightest doubt that Hungary would be incomparably better off with an MSZP government than either a corrupt megalomaniac like Orban & Fidesz, or a camouflaged neo-Nazi brigade like Vona’s Jobbik?

I think it is not only defeatist, inaccurate, self-destructive and unfair for pro-democracy pundits to keep opining, sagely, how the democratic opposition is “uncool,” old, uninspiring, timid and lazy.

It is both outnumbered and outmanoeuvred by criminals and monsters who lack any scruples.

And alas there’s altogether too large a proportion of the populace that is perfectly ok with that.

Give me the “uncool,” old, uninspiring, timid and lazy old gang any day of the week, instead of the two ruinous options.

MSZP are not lily-white — but neither are most political parties in the world.

Member

(And either Bajnai — or DK, with its unfairly maligned Gyurcsany — would have made an even better choice.)

Buday
Guest
I just took my daily commute to home through the better parts of Buda via public transport. I couldn’t help but overhear two ladies talking about hospital projects in Budapest (eg, whether to tear down Janos korhaz or not). What struck me was their clear contempt for the Socialists (who left power 5 years ago) who – among others – ‘burnt so much money on unnecessary projects but left us we no good hospitals’. Hearing them it became clear that for many people voting for the left is simply not an option in the sense that the left-wing exists entirely outside their world, it simply wouldn’t occur to them that it’s even possible to vote for any left-wing party because all they have known in their entire lives was a visceral hatred for ‘the communists’ (leftists) since 1919. Right-wing for them is not a choice, it’s an identity, it’s not even right-wing, it’s simply the default world. They have difficulty to consider the left-wing as politics even because it’s not just a political concept but simply the enemy for all purposes. Of course this wasn’t the first time I heard such talks. Politics I guess is in significant part about… Read more »
Member

Systemic Rot

Orban’s Fidesz FUD machine simply capitalized on the population’s simplistic and self-exculpatory tendency to demonize the left as communists, the cause of all ills, and to ignore the mounting corruption, manipulation and cynicism of Fidesz. There are only two significant factors at play here, not three. The poor left has next to nothing to do with it, one or the other. The rot is systemic, on both sides: Fidik and Folk.

Guest

Re: “Give me the “uncool,” old, uninspiring, timid and lazy old gang any day of the week, instead of the two ruinous options”

Tough I’d think when the opposition has the big megaphone always getting out its messages.

I’d think that there is always that ‘share of voice’ that those who use media constantly worry about it and need to get out their messages to constituents and to those straddling the fence.. The message then goes out, above and beyond to the publics. But more importantly that share of voice helps the message to be ‘processed’. It appears the left has to do better in ‘SOV’.They look to be an also-ran there seemingly whispering into an abyss. Question is is the problem with nothing to say or is it for some reason a case of laryngitis?

At this point, it looks as if the left arguably with a case of laryngitis is tongue-tied dueling with the pack of Orban and those two rights. They need to do better if they want to offer alternatives to Hungarian population..

Member

Blaming the Gagged

For share of voice, you need share of media. Fidik have bought or bullied them all up.

I’ve heard the democratic opposition (mostly DK, PM, Egyut & LMP, plus the occasional liberal and Bokros) say plenty, but only on ATV, which most people don’t watch.

Just as it’s wrong to blame the messenger for the message, it’s wrong to blame the gagged for failing to raise their voices and deliver the message…

(But, as hinted, the tone-deafness of the populace is no help either…)

Guest

Yes I suspected that. So much for a ‘free’ and ‘democratic’ society when they are controlled. I think Mr. Orban learned that from Mr.Putin. All those guys think the same together. Heady days ahead for Hungary and the opposition.

Paul
Guest

Paul wasn’t “positing the possibility that Jobbik may well form the government in 2018”!

That would take a swing on huge proportions. Unless The Orbán government collapses totally in the midst of a huge corruption scandal, just before the election, I can’t see that happening. (And even if there was a scandal of such proportions, how would the average Fidesz voter ever find out about it? It will somehow all be Gyurcsány’s fault anyway.)

But I CAN see Jobbik forming the official opposition after 2018, or possibly even a situation where Fidesz loses its working majority. But the end result, whatever the outcome, will be business as usual. Fidesz and Jobbik are effectively a coalition of friends already – they share supporters, outlooks and policies. Jobbik as the opposition, or with the theoretical power to stop Fidesz bills, will play up to their ‘new’ power, but behind the scenes it will be business as usual.

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