Viktor Orbán romped to victory in Hungarian elections on Sunday, with his Fidesz party, a permanent thorn in the side of the EU, winning a huge 53 per cent of the vote. The United Opposition, led by small-town mayor Péter Márki-Zay, won just 35 per cent, a result far worse than most polls predicted. The far-right Our Homeland movement also shocked pollsters by exceeding the five per cent vote threshold for entering parliament. 

Most in Hungary expected Fidesz to win – but not by this much. The margin of victory means the party will likely retain its two-thirds “supermajority” in the Hungarian parliament. The party won a strong majority of 93 seats allocated via proportional representation, and an even greater majority of seats allocated through first-past-the-post constituency voting.  

Now, complaints will be made about the alleged unfairness of the Hungarian electoral system. The opposition is already characterising the election as “rigged” due to long-standing concerns about Fidesz’s redrawing of the electoral map, allegations of voter fraud, and claims of an unlevel playing field resulting from Fidesz’s control of domestic media.

Does the opposition have a leg to stand on? Probably not. When I asked Gábor Győri, one of the country’s leading political analysts, about the alleged “gerrymandering” of the electoral system, he told me that “there’s no single big issue, just lots of little gimmicks.” Back in 2012, Fidesz reduced the number of seats in the Hungarian parliament and redrew constituency maps, cutting down the number of seats in liberal Budapest while ensuring constituencies have a favourable proportion of rural voters. 

The system favours Fidesz – but only because Fidesz enjoys greater and more widely spread support than any other party, similar to the Conservatives in the UK. Accusations of gerrymandering also carry less weight because of the sheer scale of the opposition’s loss. If Fidesz and the United Opposition had gained a similar proportion of the overall vote, such minutiae might have made all the difference. But they didn’t. 

A more pertinent criticism of Orbán’s victory relates to Fidesz’s well-documented control over many of the country’s media outlets. The suggestion that Orbán exerts a Putinesque control over domestic media is not accurate – there are many, varied media outlets opposed to Fidesz. But by ensuring that state media and many of the country’s independent outlets are more-or-less aligned to his cause through an elegant system of patronage, he can control the narrative to a greater extent than most European leaders. 

Indicative of this issue was the hugely disproportionate airtime given to Orbán and opposition leader Péter Márki-Zay on national television during the election campaign. Meanwhile, Fidesz massively outspent its rivals on billboard and online advertising – load up a video on YouTube in Hungary in recent weeks, and you’ll have been likely to see denigrating ads portraying Márki-Zay as “Mini-Me” from the Austin Powers films, subservient to Ferenc Gyurcsány, the leader of the socialist Democratic Coalition party. 

The elections were not exactly fought on a level playing field, then. Yet the opposition’s cardinal error was allowing this situation to feed a narrative of resentment, bitterness and negativity which proved singularly unappealing. 

Bringing together a disparate band of socialists, centrists, liberals and former fascists, it was always nigh-on impossible for the opposition coalition to present any coherent vision for the future of Hungary. Beyond the removal of Orbán and the re-writing of the Hungarian constitution in their favour – a pledge which raised questions about their own commitment to democratic procedure – the opposition promised little other than uncertainty. 

The only clear positive message in the opposition campaign was a commitment to conform fully with EU liberal norms and become a “loyal” member of the international order. Yet in a relatively traditional – and very patriotic – society like Hungary, many wonder whether such priorities actually evince a pernicious kind of negativity. A movement claiming that Hungary’s current individualist stance should be sacrificed in favour of off-the-shelf European liberal policies and values was always going to be a hard sell. 

The opposition made the fatal error of making its internationalism implicitly “anti-national”. Orbán played on this polarisation relentlessly, especially when it reached fever pitch as a result of Hungary’s relative ambivalence over intervention in the Ukrainian war. In his victory speech in Budapest on Sunday, the Fidesz leader suggested that the forces of internationalism encouraging greater intervention in Ukraine – including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky himself – are all “opponents” of Fidesz, and by extension, the Hungarian people. 

Orbán thrives on presenting Hungary as a beacon of national pride and independence within the submissive conformity of the EU, saying of Fidesz’s victory that “they can see it from the moon, but certainly from Brussels as well.” Unless Hungary can muster an opposition movement which presents a positive – and above all, national – alternative vision to voters, it’s hard to see an end to Fidesz’s dominance any time soon.