Lessons for Turkey’s opposition from Hungary elections

The Ukrainian Crisis and the six-party opposition alliance’s failure to come out with a candidate with a high chance of being elected, played a role in Hungarian Prime Minister Orban’s fourth election in a row. (Photo: Twitter)

The elections held in Hungary on April 3 would set an example for the opposition coalition formed in Turkey (and Poland) for the 2023 elections. In Hungary, six opposition parties initiated the Everybody’s Hungary Movement- MMM to join forces against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party, which won the election under accusations that he was running the country with an oppressive regime. The joint candidate of the MMM was not the mayor of Budapest, who had previously won the local election despite Orban; it was Peter Marquis-Zay, the mayor of the city of Hodmezovasarhely upon whom all parties were able to agree. Nevertheless, Orban won the election, which he entered for the fourth time in a row, by a wide margin, with 53 percent of the votes.

“We won a victory so big that you can see it from the moon, and you can certainly see it from Brussels,” he said in his first statement after the election results came out, referring to the European Union’s (EU) support for the opposition.

The opposition alliance remained at 35 percent; ironically enough, their main slogan was “Putin or Europe?”. The pre-election polls estimated a close margin between the opposition and Orban: 36 percent for the opposition and 41 percent for Orban’s Fidesz. They were badly mistaken about Fidesz. What happened in one month that the voters who said they would not vote for Orban before the election changed their minds about him?

Hungary election: Ukraine crisis, candidate selection, confidence

Undoubtedly, the conditions of Turkey and Hungary are very different. For example, Hungary is not going through a severe economic crisis like Turkey. However, the six-party alliance is often compared to the six-party coalition formed in Turkey against President Tayyip Erdoğan. It is mentioned as a possible example set for Turkey’s opposition. Therefore, it is helpful to analyze the results of Hungary.

1- The Ukraine Crisis did not weaken Orban; it strengthened him. At the beginning of the crisis, the opposition took an anti-Russian stance in favor of Ukraine. On the other hand, Orban followed a policy of balance and did not go beyond the EU-NATO line. Thus, the EU wind that had been blowing against him in the last month stood for him.

2- Before the elections, Orban started suppressing the opposition media and buying what he could not suppress. He changed the electoral laws. The opposition’s criticism that the change in the law was unfair backfired, causing some opposition voters to abstain from the polls.

3- Until recently, the opposition expected to nominate the mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karacsony, who won the local elections despite Orban. However, Marik-Zay was selected because he was the one that all the six parties could agree on. Choosing an “agreed upon” candidate rather than someone who is “electable” made the opposition lose votes.

4- The anti-LGBTQ propaganda that Orban carried out through the media, which he almost completely controlled, and linking that propaganda to EU politics yielded results. Falling back in Budapest, Fidesz won with provincial votes.

The situation in Turkey: The crisis may not be enough

For comparison, here’s the situation:

1- The opposition in Turkey demanded a balanced policy in the Ukraine Crisis from the very beginning. They indirectly supported President Tayyip Erdoğan in his balance policy and his adoption of the Montreux (Montreux) Straits Convention.

However, Erdogan’s initiation of Russia-Ukraine talks and the possibility of Vladimir Putin – Volodimir Zelensky meeting to be held in Turkey increased the influence of Turkey and Erdogan in the international arena. Of course, elections are not won by foreign policy alone, but it can be seen that the Ukraine Crisis has broken the anti-Erdogan mood.

2- There are two main catalyzators for the anti-Erdogan mood in Turkey. The first is the administration style, which gradually consolidated since 2010 and evolved into a one-man regime with oligarchic tendencies after the constitutional shift to the Presidential Government System in 2017. The second one is the foreign policy between 2013 and 2021 and the economic crisis we are dragged into due to the monetary policy followed since the 2018 elections.

However, as political scientist Seda Demiralp points out, economic and political crises alone do not bring about a change in power; The opposition also needs to give voters confidence that they can fix it.

Candidate question

3- In Turkey, the six-party opposition bloc, formed by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Good Party’s (İYİ Party) “Nation Alliance”, declared their political outlook in their joint “Strengthened Parliamentary System Declaration.” The response of the People’s Alliance, formed by the ruling AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), was to change the electoral law. The opposition bloc decided to take measures against the government’s move on the election rules in their last meeting on March 27. It indicates that they have begun to realize the seriousness of the situation, and that they finally understand that the economic failure of the government will not bring power alone. The opposition does not yet have an alternative economy program.

4- The political division in Turkey has its reflection on the media. The opposition media, like the pro-government media, has become an echo chamber; Both parties are listening to their own song. So is social media; everyone listens to the ones close to their own opinion. Poet İsmet Özel once said “Whichever world he is listening to, he is deaf to the other worlds.” The transformation of the state-run TRT into a propaganda tool of the government can play a crucial role here.

5- Among the most critical problems of the opposition is finding a candidate to be elected.

The candidate that all parties can agree on and that is permeable to everyone may not be the candidate that can be elected. As Bekir Ağırdır emphasized, the candidate “with a story” is also included in this. Nominating a candidate who can win the vote of the Kurdish voters is among the most important factors. I think the “candidate who can win” is the most important problem facing the opposition.

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