The Progressive Post

🇭🇺 Hungary: Fidesz wins amid the rise of new opposition challenger

HUNGARY

Director of Policy Solutions. He is also Senior Research Fellow at the HUN-REN Centre for Social Sciences, and a member of the board at the Hungarian Political Science Association
13/06/2024


The sudden emergence of the TISZA party and the collapse of the established opposition signal a dramatic shift in Hungary’s political landscape, hinting at a more competitive electoral race in 2026.

On 9 June, Hungarian citizens participated in both local and European Parliamentary elections, a historic first for the nation. While the balance of power in the local elections has not changed significantly compared to five years ago, the European Parliament elections brought a radical realignment in the Hungarian party system. With a record voter turnout of 59 per cent, the ruling Fidesz-KDNP alliance, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, secured a victory in the European elections. However, this victory was tempered by Fidesz’s weakest performance in a European Parliament election since Hungary’s accession in 2004. The governing parties obtained 45 per cent of the vote, translating to 11 of Hungary’s 21 seats in the European Parliament, a decline from the 13 seats and 53 per cent of the vote they achieved in 2019.

Out of the 11 parties and alliances contesting the EP elections, the newly established Respect and Freedom Party (TISZA) emerged as a significant player. Despite being a newcomer to Hungarian politics, formed just two months ago after the former government insider Péter Magyar broke away from Fidesz following a child abuse pardon scandal, TISZA secured nearly 30 per cent of the vote and 7 MEP seats. This impressive debut positions TISZA not only as the leading opposition party but also as a formidable challenger to Orbán’s leadership in the upcoming 2026 parliamentary elections. At the EU level, this result means that there will again be a sizeable Hungarian delegation in the European People’s Party, as TISZA will join the political group which Fidesz left in 2021. At the same time, Fidesz will be aiming to find a political group on the radical right (ECR or ID).

Ahead of the elections, Viktor Orbán campaigned on a highly Eurosceptic platform and painted the election as a contest that would decide whether Russia’s war in Ukraine would engulf Europe or not. He relied heavily on fears that the war could escalate to involve Hungary directly if his political opponents were successful. Orbán successfully mobilised his current voter base on this issue, but the result also indicates that the fear of war is a much less effective political campaign weapon than it was two years ago.

The Péter Magyar-phenomenon illustrates several broader issues. First, it shows that a discernible portion of the public is very hungry for political change and craves someone who can challenge Viktor Orbán. That craving is so strong that many are willing to line up behind a complete political novice without any track record or vetting. Some of these are disillusioned former Fidesz voters who are right-wing in their basic political outlook. Yet, interestingly, many progressives (in fact, most of Magyar’s voters), too, turned towards the man who openly said that ideologically, he is close to what Fidesz claims to be. Second, Magyar’s rapid surge highlights the weakness of the established opposition, which is widely seen as incapable of posing a genuine challenge to Fidesz. Outside the massive force that is the Fidesz camp, the lack of an opposition that is perceived as potent enough to be an alternative government has created a massive vacuum in Hungarian politics that has sucked up and propelled to fame a second-tier Fidesz functionary based on a tiny bit of political promise. 

The election brought the collapse of the established opposition, including a dramatic drop in support for the left-wing electoral coalition of Democratic Coalition, the Hungarian Socialist Party and Dialogue. In the previous EP elections, the parties of the alliance had won a total of 22 per cent of the vote (and thus 5 seats for the S&D group), but in 2024 they only received 8 per cent, below all expectations, which is only enough for 2 EP seats. The left-wing party alliance faces the prospect of relegation to minor party status, needing to fight to surpass the 10 per cent threshold in the coming years. Their aim for the 2026 parliamentary elections is to convince the electorate that they are also needed for a change in government. However, the European Parliament elections have established Péter Magyar and the TISZA party as the leading opposition force for the next two years, making them the primary challengers to Orbán’s government.

Photo Credits: Shutterstock.com/csikiphoto

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