Hungarian Opposition Negotiations Falter in Boost to Orban

(Bloomberg) —
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaking in Budapest last week. (Bloomberg Photo by Akos Stiller)

Hungarian opposition parties remained divided after talks on a common strategy faltered with three weeks to go before parliamentary elections, boosting Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chances of clinching a third consecutive term.

A late night meet-up at a highway filling station between the leaders of the centrist Lehet Mas a Politika, or LMP, and the right-wing Jobbik failed to produce a comprehensive deal to field joint candidates in the April 8 parliamentary ballot, the parties said on Tuesday. That had been seen as the best way to counter the supremacy of Orban’s Fidesz, whose backing is roughly equal to the entire opposition combined. LMP has also held talks with left-wing parties on a potential alliance, which also failed to produce a breakthrough.

“LMP wanted a complete opposition alliance,” Gabor Vona, president of Jobbik, the most popular opposition party, told HirTV on Tuesday. “We’re going at it alone.”

With the majority of parliamentary seats decided in winner-take-all electoral districts, some opposition parties have tried to at least coordinate candidates in battleground areas to avoid knocking each other out and handing the mandates to Fidesz. Orban exploited such divisions to gain supermajorities in 2010 and 2014, which he used to rewrite the constitution and make sweeping changes to institutions over the objections of the European Union.

While no overarching election alliance is in the cards, there’s movement among parties to work together. Momentum, an upstart party of young people, said it was withdrawing three candidates to avoid competing with rival parties and in the hope the gesture will spur cooperation, Index news website reported. The Socialist Party and Demokratikus Koalicio, two left-wing parties, had already agreed on a common strategy. And even as LMP’s leadership said it was going to field candidates everywhere, one of them withdrew in a key Budapest electoral stronghold which the Socialist Party’s candidate is now tipped to win.

In the meantime, focus is shifting to the next-best hope for Hungary’s opposition parties: achieving a high turnout. While Orban has managed to hold together his own electorate with a relentless anti-immigrant campaign, the strategy has failed to substantially boost his voting base beyond a core of Fidesz enthusiasts.

Opposition parties, meanwhile, have hammered away at alleged government corruption — which Orban denies — in an attempt to draw undecided voters. A turnout of over 70 percent would be sufficient to strip Orban of his parliamentary majority, Vona predicted. In the previous parliamentary vote in 2014, 62 percent of Hungarians cast votes. While Jobbik would still consider the option of cooperating with LMP, including forming a coalition after the elections, that won’t be the key to success, Vona said.

“The decisive factor won’t be whether there’s an agreement among opposition parties; the decisive factor will be turnout,” Vona told HirTV. “A turnout of about 70 percent will almost certainly mean a change of government.”

Orban, 54, has brushed aside EU criticism to build a self-styled illiberal state, with few effective checks on his power, a public media the government uses to propagate its views and attack opponents, as well as a new class of politically-connected oligarchs holding increasing sway over the economy. Lately, Orban has relished his self-proclaimed role as a beacon for populist movements sweeping Europe.

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