Hungary’s Local Elections: Fidesz Clobbers Opponents
- Fidesz wins an absolute majority on all of Hungary’s 19 county assemblies.
- Fidesz Mayor-elect István Tarlós took 53% of the vote in Budapest and will have an absolute majority on the city council.
- MSZP mayors win three of the 23 districts in Budapest and Fidesz takes 19 (one district elected an independent).
- MSZP wins one of Hungary’s 23 major cities (Szeged); Fidesz wins the rest.
The Impacts of election results on governmental policy
- Fidesz, which leads the strongest government since 1990, has reached all of its political goals by extending its power over most municipalities.
- Fidesz can now look forward to 3.5 years without elections. The party will have the opportunity to begin some neccessary reforms (e.g. in the healthcare sector). We cannot expect, however, that Fidesz will impose harsh austerity measures.
- Since Hungary is committed to keeping the European Union-mandated budget deficit target of 2.8% of GDP for 2011, the money is going to be tight next year. But now, Fidesz mayors cannot blame the central government for a lack of funding; in essence, they will have no one to blame except themselves. This may bring conflicts between municipal and national governments.
- With the local elections finished, Fidesz will shift its focus to the 2011 budget and its new Constitution. Once the debate over the budget (with a 2.8% of GDP deficit cap) gets into full swing, many Hungarians may realize that Fidesz cannot bring a noticeable improvements to their standard of living in the short term. Then, the question will be how far and how fast Fidesz’s support base will amortize.
- The government will try to counter this process by adopting the most popular methods of creating fiscal balance. (Surtaxes on profitable industries, possibly a reduction in welfare payments).
- Fidesz, the party that singlehandedly scooped up 68% of the seats in Hungary’s Parliament last April, steamrolled over all opponents in today’s local elections. The party (along with its subgroup, the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP)) won control of all 19 counties and every major city except Szeged.
- Budapest, the crown jewel of the municipal stakes, elected its first right-wing leadership in 65 years. Fidesz Mayor-elect István Tarlós won 53% of the vote and will have a majority on the City Council; since the mayor also takes part in council votes, Fidesz will be able to govern the capital with ease. Fidesz mayoral candidates also bested their competitors in 19 of Budapest’s 23 districts.
- The most that can be said for the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), the biggest opposition party, is “it could have been worse.” The party, dogged by infighting and a seemingly endless stream of corruption scandals, lost control of heavily industrial cities including Miskolc, Nyíregyháza and even Dunaújváros, once one of Hungary’s left-wing strongholds (its official name used to be “Stalin City”). The MSZP managed to win to the mayor’s office in just three of the capital’s 23 districts; just eight years earlier, the MSZP’s mayoral candidates won 17 districts. Ironically, this is a better performance than many people expected from the MSZP. The results will probably strengthen party president Attila Mesterházy’s position against his internal competitors.
- The ultra-right wing Jobbik party saw its support slightly fall. The party came in second place behind Fidesz in just three counties, all of them in the impoverished northeast – Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén and Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg, and Hajdú-Bihar. In last April’s general election, Jobbik came in second place in eight counties.
- The greenish-leftist Politics Can Be Different (LMP) is the other loser of the elections.The party’s candidates did not even manage to get on the ballot in most of the countryside; the LMP’s results in Budapest are worse than expected.
The consequences of the elections on the middle run
- Fidesz will try to sell the victory as proof that they represent “the will of the people.” They will likely use this idea to fend off any criticism. The opposition will also find it more difficult to mount credible attacks against Fidesz given the scale of their victory.
- However, many Hungarians cast their votes for Fidesz not out of overwhelming support for the government, but out of overwhelming revulsion toward the Socialists, whose corruption-laced governance transformed Hungary from an emerging-market tiger in 2002 to a deficit-burdened basket case in 2010.
- Fidesz’s municipal-election campaign, like its general-election strategy, was heavy on images and light on issues. The public does not know the specifics of Fidesz’s policy plans; the party even restored an old law that allowed them to delay publishing their draft 2011 budget until after the local elections wrapped up. Public voting intentions may well change once the administration is forced to make tough spending decisions.
- Fidesz must abandon its tactic of using “Budapest bashing” to drum up support in rural areas. Fidesz’s future electoral success depends upon its ability to keep its gains in the capital.
- Budapest’s political future does not depend solely on Tarlós’s governing priorities, but on whether Fidesz will use its two-thirds majority in Parliament to restructure the city’s administrative system. The government may decide to reduce the number of city districts. It also remains to be seen whether Tarlós will keep his predecessor’s “23-plus-one” structure, under which each district enjoyed a large degree of autonomy from City Hall.