Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party sweeps to victory at European Parliament election

Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party sweeps to victory at European Parliament election
Fidesz leader Viktor Orban's victory was never in doubt
By bne IntelliNews May 27, 2019

Hungary’s ruling Fidesz garnered 52.3% of the votes in the European Parliament election on May 26, which secured the right-wing party 13 of the 21 seats for Hungary. Voter turnout was 43.4%, the highest since Hungary joined the EU in 2014, but below the 50.5% seen across Europe.

Fidesz’ victory was never in doubt, but the results will lead to a reshuffling of the opposition landscape in the run-up to the municipal election in the autumn. Four opposition parties managed to gain eight seats, slightly above forecast, with two parties outperforming and three falling behind the 2014 results.

Fidesz received 1.78mn of the 3.3mn votes, which was the highest in a European election for the party but 1mn less than at the last parliamentary election in 2018, which gave the party its third straight supermajority.

Hungary’s illiberal prime minister turned the European Parliament elections into a referendum on migration and the future of Europe. Orban hoped anti-migration forces would get a majority in all EU institutions from the Parliament to the Commission after the May 26 election. So far the results are going against him. The polls show that centrist parties faded, but pro-EU parties retain a big majority as green and liberal parties gained ground, while eurosceptic parties failed to make the breakthrough Orban had expected.

This effectively means that the European People's Party (EPP), although it is projected to lose some 40 seats, will remain the biggest party, even if Fidesz is expelled from its ranks. It is ahead of the Socialist and Democracy Group, the second largest faction in the EP, by some 26 seats.

Hungarians had entrusted the ruling alliance with three objectives: to stop immigration across Europe, to protect a Europe of nations and to protect Christian culture in Europe, Orban told supporters, adding that it was now clear that Hungarians think that change is needed in Brussels.

The EPP suspended Hungary's populist party after Orban ran a scathing campaign against EU institutions and outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Hungary's strongman has flirted with eurosceptic parties but wavered on actually joining them before the EP election. He said he would want to change the EPP from within and would not remain a member if the EPP cooperates with the pro-migration forces on the left. 

Speaking after the results, the EPP's candidate for the top job, Manfred Weber, said that EPP will not welcome any extremist parties in its ranks, a strong message to Orban.

Opposition landscape shaken up

Democratic Coalition (DK), the party headed by former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany looks set to become the second largest party and the largest opposition force, gathering more than 550,000 votes, or 16.3% of the total, which translates into four seats. The polls put the party at 10% before prior to the election, level with the Socialists (MSZP). The leftist party won 20% of the votes in Budapest, compared with Fidesz’ 41%.

DK ran on the agenda of creating a federal Europe. "The party’s most important goal is to help create the United States of Europe," said the party’s top candidate Klara Dobrev, Gyurcsany's wife, at the closing election rally. 

The results will strengthen DK's position to reshape cooperation agreements struck by opposition parties ahead of the local government elections in the autumn. Opposition parties agreed on a joint list in many constituencies, their sole chance of beating the ruling Fidesz party.

Party leader Gyurcsany told his supporters on Sunday night that the significance of the election was that Fidesz lost its two-thirds majority thanks to his party's "outstanding performance".

He criticised the media landscape, saying that the election can’t be free if the press isn’t.

"Hungary has a government that has brought the press under its control and is using it for lying, misleading propaganda, rather than to inform," he insisted

Momentum, a pro-European liberal party, scored its best result ever with 9.9% and will send two MEPs to the ALDE fraction. Momentum burst into the political arena as a grassroots movement in 2017, when it collected signatures for holding a referendum for the 2024 Olympic Games, which forced the government to drop the plan. In their campaign, Momentum called for more transparency in using EU funds.

The big losers on Sunday were the Socialists, right-wing Jobbik and green party LMP, which failed to reach the 5% ceiling.

The Socialist-Dialogue alliance got 6.7%, an all-time low for the party, which led Hungary between 2002 and 2010. The result is below the 10% ceiling needed in a general election for two separate parties running on a joint list.

Members deserted right-wing Jobbik in big numbers after the election loss in 2018, when the party took on a centrist agenda, abandoning its radical right-wing roots. 

Jobbik insiders say Fidesz gave a helping hand to deserters, who set up a new radical party called Our Homeland, which did surprisingly well. It received 3.3% of the votes, which is only half of what Jobbik got on Sunday, which is enough to send one MEP to the EP.

The national board of the opposition green LMP party resigned after the party failed to secure a single mandate in the election. Unlike their peers in Western Europe, the green party that puts climate change at the top of its agenda got 2.2% of the votes, less than the Two-Tailed Dog party. The joke party is involved mainly in street art and demonstrations, parodying the political elite and the promise of free beer and eternal life.