Turkey and Hungary – DW – 04.04.2022

While the coalition led by Viktor Orban, who was in power, won the legislative elections in Hungary, eyes were also turned to this election in Turkey. The reason is that there are some similarities between Turkey and Hungary, such as the electoral alliance formed by the opposition against the government and the joint debates on the candidates.

In the election, in which six opposition parties competed for the common candidate, the Fidesz-KDNP coalition led by Orban won 53% of the vote, well above pre-election polls. The Fidesz-KDNP coalition won a two-thirds majority in the 199-seat parliament with 135 deputies. Opposition co-Prime Minister candidate Peter Marki-Zay says the opposition ‘does its best, but fights under uneven conditions, and politicians against the government are not featured in state media “.

According to Dokuz University research assistant Eylül İlteriş Ergun, who studies political systems and electoral processes between Turkey and Hungary, the two countries are actually “twins” in many ways, but they also present important differences, especially in terms of economy. Ergun answered questions from DW Turkish about the similarities and differences between the two countries:

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DW English: The similarities between Turkey and Hungary have been prominent lately. You know the electoral system of the two countries well, and your thesis adds to that, what are the main similarities?

Ilteriş Ergun: The most fundamental similarity is that electoral competition in both countries has many disadvantages for the opposition. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the authoritarian characteristics of both regimes make electoral competition and campaigning difficult. This makes it much more difficult to reach the public and, more importantly, to reach the voters in power. Because there is a strong leading authority in the field of civil society and complete dominance in the media. Oversight bodies and the judiciary are tightly controlled. Given all this, the likelihood of the opposition participating in the electoral contest in both countries is very low.

So what are the differences?

Of course, there are also many differences. The most important difference is that the Hungarian electoral system is much more unfair. It also has to do with the type of election we call a narrow zone. Because in the narrow region, the big party can get more seats if the other parties are smaller than it. Orban took steps to ease his own rule with his electoral reform in 2013. He arranged the constituencies making up the narrow region in his favor. Moreover, with a wise decision for himself, he arranged the urban countryside in such a way as to vote with the city and gain an advantage. Compared to Turkey, our electoral system is at this level of difficulty and does not present a disadvantage for the opposition for the moment.

What other arrangements did Orban make?

There is another issue which is very similar between the two countries, there was an arrangement there. After Orban came to power in Hungary after 2010, a significant number of young people, especially those with leftist and liberal views, immigrated to European countries. It is stated that in 2017, 500,000 young people went there. Of course, it is important that so many young people go to a country of around 10 million people. On the other hand, there is another group, the ethnic population left behind in neighboring countries after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Orban, with a single gesture, differentiated the voting systems of the two electoral groups. Because a significant number of young people in Western Europe would not vote for him, he took steps that made it difficult for them to vote. On the other hand, facilitative arrangements have been made for ethnic Hungarians. The election tourism debate started in the 2018 elections, and then ethnic Hungarians were allowed to vote even if they were not residents. It was very important because it had a result that could completely change the game in the swing regions.

Due to the injustices of the electoral system, sometimes very small differences in votes can result in a significant difference in the number of representatives. For example, in the 2014 elections, despite losing 8% of the vote compared to 2010, Orban’s number of seats in parliament remained the same.

So what was the situation of the opposition co-candidate in Hungary? What are the similarities with Turkey?

The opposition in Hungary and Turkey have long discussed alliances. These discussions are not new in Hungary. Since the electoral defeat in 2014, there have been many discussions about bringing the Hungarian opposition together and forming an alliance. In 2018, in a small town that was Orban’s stronghold, a place where they could not have won if they had entered alone, they collaborated and won the election after a former Fidesz candidate with a conservative profile. There was such understanding. With this victory for Peter Marquis-Zay in the small town, the agreement that “if we can appoint a conservative partner candidate, we can go beyond the polarization strategy used by Orban” has emerged.

These six parties included right-wing nationalists, liberals, greens, socialists and social democrats. It is a broad coalition, but on the other hand, it is a candidate whose ideology cannot correspond to any party. The candidate advocates much more conservative policies, much closer to Fidesz. This created a big problem. The basis of this question was this: every move he made, every statement, one way or another, attracted the reaction of the opposition wing. Because of this, he began to step back after a while, which created great uncertainty. They could not campaign clearly to the electorate because of these differences and could not determine a common strategy. After a while, the campaign turned negative. Although the common candidate’s reason was to overcome polarization, after a while he began to serve that purpose.

The determination of the common candidate by primary election was also an important factor. This primary election did not yield positive results for the opposition as they clashed fiercely ahead of the general election.

The Alliance of Nations in Turkey is also talking about making a common candidate. How to compare with the example of Hungary?

Of course, there are lessons to be learned for the opposition in Turkey. There are discussions about expanding the alliance or the profile of the candidate. But the campaign in Hungary tells us something very different: neither a candidate nor a broadening of the alliance is necessary to displace an authoritarian populist power. The main point of contention is deciding the language of political strategy. The two countries are very polarized, this must be overcome. You can overcome this in two ways: either by reducing polarization and reaching out to other voters, or by establishing a new axis of polarization. I think this is the most important point for the opposition: I mean, could it have been won in Hungary without the candidate Peter Marquis-Zay? Or if there were eight parties instead of six? I don’t think they could have won anyway. It is very important to establish a strategy and a positive campaign. For this, we must agree on common points.

The economy is one of the challenges Turkey faces. So what are the differences between the two countries in this respect?

In fact, the two countries can be said to be like twins in many ways. However, there is a big difference in terms of economy. Orban has displayed more successful economic management over the past year. The Central Bank has always raised interest rates in Hungary, but has not lowered interest rates. It’s really important. Through rising interest rates, he retained the value of his money and did not boost voter perception if there was an economic crisis.

Of course, it is a country in economic difficulty, but as we have seen in Turkey, there has never been a drop in the votes of the ruling party because of this. Before the elections, Orban significantly increased social spending for various segments. Throughout this process, Orban’s votes have not diminished, despite his defeat in the local elections.

Interview: Gülsen Solaker

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