IN THEORY VIKTOR ORBAN, who has ruled Hungary with an iron bar since 2010, should be afraid. In October, he suffered the humiliation of losing control of the capital, Budapest, as well as ten of the country’s 23 other county towns. This happened because the fractured Hungarian opposition for once managed to unite, by holding a primary election in Budapest to decide on a single candidate and elsewhere by forming pacts to achieve the same goal.
The same trick is now planned for the legislative elections slated for 2022. If this happens, Mr. Orban’s ruling party, Fidesz, could lose its huge current majority. Mr. Orban already looks chastised: his New Year’s message largely concerned trivial issues like education and health, far from his usual rant about enemies inside and outside.
However, these plans for 2022 imply a very big “if”. To agree on a few candidates for mayor is one thing: to do the same for each of the 106 single-member constituencies of the country, as well as to draw up a common party list for the 93 elected proportionally. MPs, is much more difficult. If the dozen opposition parties maintain separate lists, the whims that favor the major parties in the electoral system that Mr. Orban hit in 2012 will continue to hammer them. The most difficult, of course, will be to choose a candidate for the post of Prime Minister.
Who is it? One obvious possibility is Gergely Karacsony, the newly installed mayor of Budapest. In search of the university professor he was in, wearing jeans, a jacket and an open-necked shirt, Mr. Karacsony, 44, has a platform to campaign. But Mr. Orban is already tying it in knots, tying the city’s money to building a new stadium for the 2023 World Championships in Athletics, which the mayor said on the campaign trail. didn’t want to build. In addition, Karacsony insists that he does not want the job and prefers to finish his term. His Dialogue party is tiny outside the capital.
Some are looking for the return of a former Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, who leads the largest opposition party, the Democratic Coalition. The largest, however, is a relative term. In the latest polls, it struggles to get figures to two, while Fidesz manages about 50% in most polls. Most Hungarians do not remember Mr. Gyurcsany’s chaotic time as Prime Minister, and even admits to him that he is “a very polarized, very loved and hated person”. Instead, he says, “we need an integrator.” He proposed to his wife, Clara Dobrev, a possible Prime Minister. She is currently Vice-President of the European Parliament, having achieved remarkable success at the top of the list of the Democratic Coalition in the European elections last year. Mr. Orban wrongly describes her as “Ms. Gyurcsany”. She too may be reluctant to come forward.
The woman to watch is less known. Anna Donath is only 32 years old and is also MEP, in his case for the most interesting new party in Hungary, with the pleonastic nickname Momentum Movement. The momentum was the big surprise of the European elections; founded only in 2017, it won a little less than 10% of the vote. Insiders, however, fear she won’t want to run either.
The real problem is that Mr. Orban doesn’t seem really beatable in 2022. He ignored his difficulties with the rest of the EU the erosion of the rule of law by Hungary (task facilitated because Poland is now behaving less well). The economy is booming; it increased by about 5% last year. Corruption should be his Achilles heel. Watchdog Transparency International Ranked Hungary Second Most Corrupted Country Last Week EU, beaten only by Bulgaria. “But,” sniffs a diplomat, “as long as the income goes up, the Hungarians don’t seem to care.” ■
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “In Search of a David”