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What explains opposition success in a competitive authoritarian system?


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1 What explains opposition success in a competitive authoritarian system?

The lessons of the October 2019 municipal elections in Viktor Orban’s Hungary

Zsombor Szasz

Thesis supervisor: dr. Armèn Hakhverdian Second reader: Alexandru Voicu

University of Amsterdam

Graduate School of Social Sciences Master Political Science

Master’s thesis Political Science - International Relations track

July 2020


2 Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my mom and dad for helping me in every way they could. I would like to

thank my supervisor, Armen Hakhverdian, for his guidance, patience, and support for my

project. I am grateful to my interviewees, Marta V Naszalyi, Tamas Soproni, Peter Marki-Zay,

Peter Gerner, and especially Andras Piko for finding me worthy of their trust. I want to thank

Perle Petit and Nils Luthe for their support when I most needed it. Finally, I’d like to thank

Janka Erdely, Mihaly Nagy, Bori Betlen and Marija Miljacki for their continuous support.


3 Abstract

According to V-Dem Institute, the gradual autocratization of Hungary reached a new milestone – the country can no longer be considered a democracy, which creates an unprecedented situation: for the first time in history, there is an electoral autocracy among the member states of the European Union.

The Orban government seems to adapt well to most changes in both international and European politics, and has so far managed to keep its strategic advantage ahead of the domestic opposition as well. This was evident in the outcome of each of the three parliamentary elections following 2010, since the opposition consistently failed to prevent Orban from securing a constitutional majority with waning electoral support, due to the increasingly unlevel playing field.

However, the 2019 municipal elections resulted in an astonishing outcome: not only was the opposition able to win most of its traditional strongholds, their candidates also managed to flip several important cities where Fidesz seemed undefeatable. This surprise victory posed the first electoral setback for Orban in more than a decade - how? Analysis of the local elections indicate the following:

comprehensive opposition coordination, a sophisticated campaign strategy, high-energy voter mobilization and cooperation with civil society all need to be present in an opposition coalition in order to achieve opposition success in a competitive authoritarian regime. To level the playing field, strategies tailored to the incumbent’s authoritarian manipulation and innovative campaign strategies are both necessary to pose a meaningful challenge to Viktor Orban’s Fidesz and achieve opposition success.


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5 Chapter 1) Introduction

Research topic

Contrary to the tenets of the transition paradigm – which enjoyed a considerable prominence after the fall of the Soviet Union – a number of countries that underwent regime change in the 1990s saw the process of their democratic transition come to a standstill and turn to increasingly authoritarian tendencies. These countries entered a sort of ‘gray zone’, characterized by substantial democratic deficits including weak representation of public interest, low levels of political participation, little confidence in democratic institutions, frequent abuse of law by elites, and illegitimate electoral processes (Carothers, 2002:9).

According to the V-Dem Institute’s latest annual democracy report, the gradual autocratization of Hungary reached a new milestone – the country can no longer be considered a democracy, which creates an unprecedented situation: for the first time in history, there is an electoral autocracy among the member states of the European Union. Of all countries over the past decade, Hungary’s democratic backsliding has been the most extreme based on V-Dem’s measures, and its regime – once categorized as a liberal democracy – quickly became the textbook example for competitive authoritarian governments (Lührmann and Lindberg, 2020:16).

Competitive authoritarian systems are fundamentally different from their more ‘brutal’ counterparts, closed autocracies, since certain freedoms are still more or less in place including the freedom of assembly, freedom of the media, or the activities of civil society organizations. However, such exercises of civil liberties will often involve attacks by the government-funded media, wiretapping, or outright employer discrimination in certain industries with close links to the government. Viktor Orban has been building the foundations of his hybrid (illiberal) regime on the country’s heritage of ‘goulash communism’, and his various methods and practices are serving as examples for other leaders in the region with similar authoritarian tendencies (Csaky and Schenkkan, 2019).

The Orban regime has proved to be remarkably stable since it came to power in 2010. Even though in the first couple of years of its tenure it did not receive much support from the European and the international community due to its national conservativism and Euroscepticism, it had slowly become a trendsetter in the European right as populist leaders secured electoral successes all over the continent.

What is striking about the Hungarian case though, is that the unconcealed violations of civil liberties and the systematic dismantling of liberal democracy is happening almost unchecked and without major obstacles posed by the European Union. The EU is obviously not in an easy position as there was no need to monitor the extent to which member states respect basic democratic institutions and the rule of law before Orban formed his new ‘illiberal’ government, but the measures available to curb his powers are relatively weak and ineffective.

Given that the literature on electoral authoritarian regimes – especially competitive authoritarian ones – is in its adolescence, existing research on autocratizing postcommunist states can only provide a vague



overview of the strengths and weaknesses of such regimes. The Orban government seems to adapt well to most changes in both international and European politics, and has so far managed to keep its strategic advantage ahead of the domestic opposition as well. This was evident in the outcome of each of the three parliamentary elections since 2010, since the opposition consistently failed to prevent Orban from securing a constitutional majority with waning electoral support, due to the increasingly unlevel playing field.

Research question

Orban’s hold on power appeared to be impossible to challenge using conventional electoral strategies, and there was little hope for the opposition to break out of this vicious authoritarian circle. However, the municipal elections in the fall of 2019 resulted in an astonishing outcome: not only was the opposition able to win most of its traditional strongholds, their candidates also managed to flip several important cities where Orban’s party, Fidesz, seemed undefeatable. This surprise victory posed the first electoral setback for Orban in more than a decade and undeniably ‘spiced up’ political competition in Hungary. This paper intends to answer the research question ‘What explains opposition success in a competitive authoritarian system?’ through the case study of Hungary, and more specifically, by looking at the local elections in October 2019. After an analysis of the regime’s institutional landscape and the domestic opposition’s previous efforts to level the playing field, my focus will turn to the 2019 municipal elections to find out what factors were crucial for the success, by analyzing and comparing five local election campaigns.

Academic and social relevance

The category of competitive authoritarian regimes is already a very interesting one since most of these countries are somewhere between democracies and hard authoritarian dictatorships. What differentiates them from closed autocracies is the role of elections – even though in most cases the electoral playing field is unlevel and heavily skewed towards the incumbent, these states hold regular elections where the political opposition still stands a chance of winning. These regimes are usually characterized by weak state institutions, high levels of corruption, and a unique mixture of certain democratic and authoritarian elements – this characteristic is responsible for the huge variety between such political systems, considering that each hybrid regime is customizing its institutional and constitutional arrangements based on the local and regional political environment. Local elections can be similarly significant events of political contestation since the leaders of larger towns and cities can usually exert considerable influence over their constituents and are also able to campaign for their allies in national elections. Research into opposition success in competitive authoritarian settings can reveal a lot about the power dynamics of these hybrid regimes – even where the national parliaments are overwhelmingly dominated by the governing party, opposition victories in local elections can add layers to the power struggle between the incumbent and its opposition. Although there have been a few examples of



opposition success in local elections in other competitive authoritarian countries – Istanbul, Ankara, Krakow, Warsaw – up until the fall of 2019, Hungarian politics had been captured by Fidesz on both local and national level. Even Budapest, the traditionally more liberal, left-leaning capital city has been led by a mayor chosen by Viktor Orban for nine years. Since the united opposition’s success is still quite fresh, my research could provide one of the first comprehensive analyses of the opposition’s different mobilization and campaign strategies, highlighting those innovations that took the governing party by surprise. By studying the events leading up to the elections, this paper aims to provide a valuable insight to a free but unfair competitive election in a contemporary European state experiencing democratic backsliding. Furthermore, having analyzed opposition strategy and success, my research could contribute to the scholarship dealing with autocratization within the European Union and the ways in which democratic actors could put an end to this increasing threat within the bloc.

The societal relevance of the research is also considerable. In the past few years, illiberal democracies and other hybrid regimes sprang up in many countries, endangering civil liberties and democratic accountability. As a growing number of people live under semi-democratic or non-democratic regimes, the question of how autocratizing tendencies could be curbed and maybe even reversed by the democratic opposition seems more relevant than ever. Another point of interest is for international organizations such as the EU and NATO – East-Central European hybrid regimes (Poland and Hungary) enjoy the many benefits of membership, especially the substantial financial assistance provided by the EU’s Cohesion Fund, without much accountability. These organizations risk large-scale fraud and the spread of autocratization among its member states, which could considerably hinder the European Project and prevent the EU from fulfilling its role as a guardian and promoter of liberal democracy.

Hence, finding a cure to authoritarian tendencies is of vital importance for them. Last but not least, extensive research into the various factors contributing to electoral change in October 2019 is pivotal for the Hungarian opposition. With the 2022 parliamentary elections ahead, opposition parties need to create a strong electoral coalition in order to stand a chance against the Fidesz government and be able to offer a viable alternative to Orban’s hybrid authoritarian regime. Therefore, these parties need the best possible data and information to be able to come up with a functioning, successful electoral strategy.

Outline of the thesis

The empirical chapters are going to examine the role of structure and agency in the Hungarian opposition’s 2019 victory, by building on the existing literature on similar regimes. Chapter 2 outlines the theoretical framework of the thesis through the analysis of the relevant literature, ranging from transitology and democratic backsliding, through the characteristics of hybrid regimes, - further subdivided into electoral and competitive authoritarian regimes - to the role of elections in a competitive authoritarian setting. Having presented the main features of such elections, I am going to introduce the academic debate on authoritarian turnover and discuss the position of different scholars with regards to



the role of structure and agency in opposition success against competitive authoritarian regimes. To understand the specificities of authoritarian regimes and opposition agency in the post-communist context, I will draw on a research conducted by Valerie Bunce and Sharon Wolchik, followed by a summary of the role of local elections in such regimes. Chapter 3 outlines my research design, discusses the methodological choices and decisions made throughout the research, the limitations of this study and the data collection process. Chapter 4 presents a national longitudinal variation focusing on the Orban regime’s structural characteristics through a brief summary of its historical background, an introduction to the ruling elite’s internal structure and ideology, and the institutional framework created by Fidesz. Chapter 5 illustrates cross-sectional variation by introducing the ‘agents’, i.e., the political parties of the Hungarian opposition, and their ‘agency’, namely their efforts against successive Orban governments between 2010-2019. The chapter ends with a discussion of the 2019 local elections in Hungary. Chapter 6 presents five empirical case studies, each of them focusing on a local election campaign in the 2019 Hungarian municipal elections. After analyzing each, the chapter culminates in a comparative analysis of the five - four successful and one unsuccessful - election campaigns, using the framework set out by Bunce and Wolchik. Chapter 7 summarizes the findings of my empirical research, concludes the main explanatory variables of opposition success in the studied setting, and provides recommendations and proposals with regards to the upcoming 2022 Hungarian parliamentary elections.


9 Chapter 2) Theoretical Framework - literature review

Democratization gone wrong?

In the 1970s, the transition of Portugal and Spain from authoritarianism to democracy signaled the advent of the ‘third wave of democratization’, triggering similar processes in more than 60 countries in Southern and Eastern Europe, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia (Huntington, 1991:13).

By the 1980s it seemed like a worldwide democratic revolution, and an array of democracy-promoting agents emerged, primarily in the USA. They created an analytic framework to conceptualize these events - the transition paradigm (MacEwan, 1988:117). However, the third wave’s post-communist stream significantly differed in complexity from the transformations in Southern Europe - market-based capitalism and political democratization arrived hand-in-hand with Western societal values and lifestyle. Therefore, some transitology scholars classify political transformations in this region as the

‘fourth wave’ of democratization (Kopecek and Wcislik, 2015:4). Even though most countries in East- Central Europe - led by the Baltic states and the Visegrad Group - were following this path, by the early 2000s, only a fifth of around a hundred transitional states of the wider third wave were still on the democratizing pathway. Despite the fact that - due to their democratizing bias - Western policymakers and aid practitioners keep referring to these states as transitional, most of them are no longer progressing towards democracy. Even those that still are, do not - or rarely - follow the model of the transition paradigm. Therefore, the paradigm itself became obsolete, and at this point it actually constitutes an obstacle to the success of programs and initiatives promoting democracy around the world (Carothers, 2002:6-9).

Although recently the categorization ‘illiberal democracy’ experienced growing popularity in classifying regimes ranging from Singapore through Turkey to Hungary, it just denotes one of the various ‘types’ of democracy that are not intrinsically liberal in their character. As the number of ambiguously democratic systems grew over time, scholars came up with a range of different terms in order to classify ‘qualified democracies’ such as pseudo-democracy or façade democracy (Collier and Levitsky, 1997:431). Yet, labeling such regimes as types of democracies might lead political scientists to treat them as ‘real’ democracies and instinctively apply the transition paradigm to the very same countries that proved the paradigm false through their political transformations (Carothers, 2002:9). In some states that embarked on the journey of democratization, the process never reached the consolidation phase, allowing the return of authoritarian rule.

Western scholars of transitology often make the mistake of ignoring sociological conditions, as determinants of democratic backsliding - people without any experience of a system other than democracy find it difficult to imagine alternative forms of government as viable options. However, a regime’s survival rests in part on the widespread acceptance of a form of governance as legitimate, and citizens of nascent democracies consider democratization more of an experiment than an inevitable point of arrival. They have a tendency to prioritize results over socio-political principles, therefore,



without visible improvements, a particular nostalgia for the previous system as a period of law, order and certainty could arise in certain parts of society (Smith, 2012:15). Citizens who socialized in an authoritarian system might have different ideas about the ideal form of democracy. Furthermore, given their tendency to evaluate a political system based on the performance of the economy, successful democratic consolidation greatly depends on a sense of being financially better off than in the previous regime (Neundorf, 2010:1098-1099).

Democratic backsliding - in baby steps

Depending on its pace, the process of democratic backsliding can result in two different outcomes:

swift, radical change across a wide range of institutions generally leads to a complete democratic breakdown resulting in an explicitly authoritarian regime, whereas gradual change across a narrower set of institutions usually leads to hybrid systems that are ambiguously democratic. One of the most common forms of democratic backsliding is executive aggrandizement, which means that elected executives gradually remove democratic checks on their power, while hindering their opposition’s ability to challenge their authority through a string of institutional adjustments (Bermeo, 2016:10-11).

These changes involve the strategic manipulation of elections by tilting the electoral playing field in favor of the incumbent. Such institutional adjustments can include changing electoral laws, capturing electoral commissions, curbing media freedom, restricting passive suffrage, creating barriers to voter registration, using state funds to campaign for the incumbent, or harassing opposition parties and candidates (Ibid., 13).

As Levitsky and Ziblatt (2018:77) have put it, the erosion of democracy often takes place in ‘baby steps’. Modern hybrid regimes accommodate their strategies to the perceived public opinion and are constantly trying to find new ways in which they can extend their rule over the majority of their countries’ society through every available channel, while providing a believable justification for their increasingly authoritarian policies. In order to understand how authoritarian leaders undermine democracy step by step, Levitsky and Ziblatt (2018:78) use the analogy of a soccer game – winning the game involves sidelining the other team’s key players, rewriting the rules of the game and capturing the referee, thus tilting the playing field. These regimes often use repression and identity based legitimation claims to simultaneously delegitimize and incapacitate the opposition’s leading figures.

Rewriting the rules happens through changing the electoral law to lock in the incumbent’s advantage, while the ‘referee’ refers to the judiciary and the democratic institutions that most often get captured by the ruling elite.

Gerschewski (2013:14) argues that authoritarian regime stability rests on three pillars: co-optation, repression and legitimation. Although the first two are the main instruments for tilting the playing field, legitimation creates the majority support necessary to justify the erosion of checks and balances and stabilize the new system. The form of legitimacy can stem from a combination of ethnic divisions, politicized religion, different narratives of history, concepts of nationalism, and the real or imagined



threats to society’s survival. In classic populist fashion, autocrats typically construct their own image as the democratically elected ordinary citizen voicing the “unfiltered will of the people” (Dukalskis and Gerschewski, 2017:257-261). Internal stability can be just as important as the support of the population - the regime’s perception of its own legitimacy determines the strength of elite unity (Kailitz and Stockemer, 2017:333). Apart from determining the regime’s popular support and its elite cohesion, the type of legitimation strategies also define opposition activity through restricting its agenda (von Soest and Grauvogel, 2017:289). By ignoring some fundamental norms of democracy, authoritarian regimes’

deliberately polarizing legitimation claims tend to portray opposition parties as inferior, vicious enemies.

Well-written constitutions alone cannot guarantee democracy. They are always incomplete and have a number of gaps for it is impossible to govern every aspect of life. Different interpretations of laws can give way to readings that contradict the original intentions of their creators, just as following rules to the letter can go directly against the spirit of those rules (Levitsky and Ziblatt, 2018:98). Constitutions are the written rules, while courts are the referees of the game. However, they are only functional when unwritten rules and norms - the ‘soft guardrails’ of democracy - are also in place. In a democracy, the most important of these norms are institutional forbearance and mutual toleration. The latter refers to the acceptance of political rivals’ right to exist, govern and run for office. Authoritarian leaders often disrespect these rights, turning rivals into enemies. The former refers to the abuse of institutions in order to permanently defeat political rivals - basically following rules to the letter, consequently undermining the democratic game (Ibid., 99-104).

Hybrid regimes - electoral authoritarianism

In his attempt to conceptualize ambiguous regimes undergoing democratic backsliding in baby steps, Larry Diamond (2002:22) describes these hybrid regimes as ‘something less than electoral democracies’ - hegemonic or competitive authoritarian systems, where it is uncertain whether the opposition candidates and parties participating in elections have a real opportunity to defeat the incumbent, as the professionality and autonomy of the administration of elections are called into question, along with the opposition’s freedom to campaign. He dates the emergence of these regimes that can be competitive and authoritarian at the same time to the mid-1990s, which roughly coincides with the exhaustion of Huntington’s third wave, following its peak. After the end of the Cold War, as democracy came to be viewed as the only legitimate regime type, increasing international and domestic pressure to at least mimic a democratic form called hybrid regimes into being. In such contexts opposition success is not impossible but requires an unprecedented degree of unity, skill, mobilization and heroism from opposition parties, since the electoral contest is not sufficiently free, fair and open (Ibid., 23-24).

The way in which electoral authoritarian governments shape their institutional arena distinguishes them from other non-democratic regimes. According to Schedler (2013:54), modern electoral authoritarian



regimes mix a comprehensive set of institutions of representation with a contingent set of institutions of domination - the latter is designed to induce cooperation and compliance within political monopolies, while the former represent concessions to popular representation and societal pluralism. To counteract formal limitations on power, institutions of representation are usually subject to widespread institutional manipulation. Although these regimes organize regular, inclusive multiparty elections, they are heavily and systematically manipulated (Ibid., 54-55). Apart from electoral manipulation, regime stability is based on the formation and reproduction of political alliances through the strategic allocation of material resources. The state and the market provide the regime with two essential resources: violence and money, which in turn facilitate repression and co-optation, respectively. The third pillar of authoritarian stability, legitimation - based on ideology - can be sourced from the cultural sphere. Co-optation, which strengthens regime stability, is primarily employed through the distribution of public revenue and the logic of public expenditure (Ibid., 56-57). Many authoritarian leaders carefully consider what given structures of power they accept, transform or modify. Their macro-institutional landscaping strategy rests on seven basic choices of institutional manipulation: legislatures, courts, decentralization, elections, parties, media, and civil society. The first three concern the formal divisions of power within the state structure, while the other four determine the extent of societal plurality. Even if they sustain similar institutions, as well as considerable plurality, electoral autocracies substantially differ from electoral democracies due to autocrats’ inherent inclination to purge the spirit from representative institutions (Ibid., 62-64).

Competitive authoritarian regimes

According to Levitsky and Way (2002:52), competitive authoritarian regimes - such as Serbia under Slobodan Milosevic, or Croatia under Franjo Tudjman - are not diminished forms of democracy but rather diminished forms of authoritarianism. In such regimes, the primary avenue to obtain political authority and exercise power is through formal democratic institutions. However, democratic rules are so regularly and excessively violated by the incumbents that the regime does not even meet the minimum criteria of democracy: 1) universal suffrage, 2) political leaders are chosen through free, fair and open elections, 3) elected authorities are not subject to military or religious control, and 4) civil and political rights and liberties are guaranteed and protected, including the freedom of association, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and the right to criticize the government (Ibid., 53). Although competitive autocracies have regular and mostly free elections, incumbents routinely deny the opposition access to public media, abuse state funds, intimidate opposition candidates and voters, harass, threaten and spy on journalists and other critics, and occasionally interfere with the results of elections (Ibid.).

On the other hand, competitive authoritarian systems certainly cannot be classified as full-blown authoritarian regimes either. Although manipulations of democratic rules are commonplace, electoral institutions are not reduced to mere window-dressing exercises - they yield a meaningful competition



for political power. Contrary to their hegemonic authoritarian counterparts, competitive regimes only covertly violate the rules of the democratic ‘game’, using co-optation and repression in a subtle way - bribery, secret deals, or harassment of the opposition through compliant state agencies such as tax authorities or audit offices. Nonetheless, the sustained existence of certain democratic institutions provides important arenas of contestation, through which the opposition can periodically challenge the incumbent, hence their significance is recognized on both sides. The authors identify four such arenas:

1) elections, 2) legislature, 3) judiciary, and 4) the media (Levitsky and Way, 2002:53-54).

The electoral arena is undoubtedly the most important of the four. Non-competitive authoritarian regimes often imprison or eliminate opposition leaders and disqualify their parties from participating in elections. Parallel vote tabulation by independent observers is not allowed, thus vote rigging is standard procedure. Consequently, these elections easily become meaningless since the opposition cannot pose a serious threat to the incumbent’s power - Levitsky and Way claim that elections can be considered non-competitive when the incumbent wins with 70% or more of the popular vote (2002:54-55). Larry Diamond (2002:32) comes to a similar conclusion: he considers an incumbent supported by 75% of the electorate as a clear sign of hegemony. By contrast, even if competitive authoritarian elections take place on an unlevel playing field, these electoral contests are often fierce battles, monitored by international election observers, hence severe election fraud is fairly uncommon. Besides, although the electoral process is not entirely transparent, incumbents are usually smart enough to avoid falsifying the results - doing so could result in their removal, as in the case of Milosevic after the Serbian general elections in 2000 (Levitsky and Way, 2002:55).

Contestation in the legislative arena is generally more symbolic than practical in nature. In full-scale authoritarian systems, the legislature is either non-existent or hopelessly constrained by the ruling party through the executive branch. In competitive autocracies, the significance of the legislative branch is determined by the incumbent party’s majority - in case of a large majority, the legislature serves as a place where the opposition can meet, organize, and criticize the government. However, if the ruling party does not have a large majority, the legislature can emerge as a centerpiece of opposition activity (Ibid., 55-56).

Contestation in the judicial arena is centered on the ability of courts to safeguard the rule of law.

Competitive authoritarian systems often try to co-opt the judiciary, sometimes even openly threatening and harassing independent judges - when they leave, autocrats just replace them with judges loyal to the government. However, tampering with judicial independence and punishing judges ruling against the government could endanger the regime’s international and domestic legitimacy (Ibid., 56-57).

The media can be a crucial battleground in competitive autocracies. In most fully authoritarian countries, all media outlets are owned, controlled and heavily censored by the government, while critical journalists risk exile, imprisonment or murder. In competitive autocracies, where public media is usually dominated by the state, some independent media outlets can be fairly influential. Apart from giving voice to the opposition and independent intellectuals critical of the government, these outlets



often take on watchdog functions and investigate large-scale corruption cases. Therefore, renowned journalists can sometimes turn into important leaders of the democratic opposition. Authoritarian governments employ a wide range of repressive instruments to silence critical voices, including stricter media regulations, bribery, libel laws, arbitrary allocation of government advertising, buying and shutting down opposition outlets or turning them regime-friendly, and other direct and indirect attacks on the owners and editorial staff of print and broadcast media (Ibid., 58).

Authoritarian elections - facade or real contestation?

Competitive and hegemonic authoritarian elections are two fundamentally different institutions. While the former involves real electoral contestation where theoretically both sides have a chance of winning, the latter is usually not more than a carefully constructed ritual that does not produce any substantial changes in the regime. However, even those elections that do not yield a meaningful competition for power can have an important role in the regime’s stability - they can serve as a tool to co-opt rival politicians, members of the ruling party or certain groups within society (Gandhi and Lust-Okar, 2009:405). In non-competitive electoral autocracies, opposition parties generally lack the resources necessary to encourage or pressure people to vote for them. Nevertheless, some voters still support them based on their policy preferences, mainly to express their disagreement with the nature of the regime and the political system as a whole. Support for the opposition is usually lower in rural areas, due to dependence on state patronage and incumbents’ greater control over their constituents through local networks. In some cases, local elites engage in extensive vote buying to win supermajorities even where the opposition is weak, in order to show that challenging the incumbent is futile (Ibid., 409, 413). Urban, middle class voters are generally more likely to vote for opposition parties since they are less reliant on patronage. Gandhi and Lust-Okar (2009:409) argue that opposition support is higher when there is one strong challenger who seems capable of implementing a transition, and when voters believe that others will support them, too. Opposition chances can also be influenced by socio-economic development, previous experiences with democracy, international pressure, and the electoral system itself - a two- round system can facilitate opposition coordination. Therefore, autocrats routinely manipulate elections by changing the electoral system, using malapportionment and gerrymandering, and interfering with the independence of the election commission. However, even openly authoritarian leaders refrain from unrestrained manipulation - unconcealed election fraud could enrage voters, and ensuing protests could lead to the collapse of the regime. External actors can also limit the extent of election manipulation by exerting economic pressure on the regime and sending observer missions - although international election monitoring can push authoritarian incumbents to turn to other types of manipulation such as restricting civil liberties and press freedom (Ibid., 412-416).

Although Levitsky and Way introduced numerous characteristics of competitive authoritarian regimes, in some specific cases it is still difficult to distinguish between competitive and hegemonic authoritarian elections. Jason Brownlee (2009:524) claims that although non-democratic regimes can already be



classified as electoral authoritarian if they allow citizens to choose between different contenders, these elections are only competitive if the incumbent party is unable to or uninterested in removing the formal democratic rules regulating the process. He measures the competitiveness of elections based on the World Bank’s Database of Political Institutions (DPI), and considers elections competitive if the winning party gets less than 75% of the seats - similar to Diamond, with the important distinction that Brownlee is not concerned with the percentage of the popular vote but that of seats, accounting for different electoral systems’ level of proportionality.

Authoritarian turnover - the structure versus agency debate

Scholars of competitive authoritarian regimes trying to identify the most important variables leading to electoral turnovers and ensuing democratization generally stress the contribution of either the structural aspects of the regime or the characteristics of opposition agency. Proponents of structure such as Brownlee (2009) claim that even though elections create an arena of contestation, elections alone cannot be regarded as independent causal factors, and that meaningful change in the political system depends much more on the time when the regime is ‘ready to fall’. This condition could be a consequence of concurrent long-term economic and political trends and the regime’s specific institutional characteristics. However, the majority of scholars argue that regime classification does not predetermine the chances of democratization through elections as long as the opposition designs a strategy that considerably levels the playing field.

Four contributions are worth mentioning in this field. Howard and Roessler (2006) examine the conditions of and the ways in which elections can lead to so-called “liberalizing electoral outcomes”, based on the statistical analysis of 50 competitive authoritarian elections between 1990 and 2002, and the case study of the 2002 general elections in Kenya. The article already introduced from Brownlee (2009) is concerned with how the post-Cold War period and the type of electoral autocracy affect the vulnerability of the regime and the possibility of democratic transition, based on an analysis of 158 regimes between 1975 and 2004. Daniela Donno (2013) studies the interplay between the competitiveness of regimes and the pressure domestic and international actors exert on them, by conducting a comparative statistical analysis of 177 elections in authoritarian regimes between 1990 and 2007. Last, but not least, Bunce and Wolchik (2011) explore the specific opposition strategies inducing the overthrow of autocrats by analyzing 11 election case studies in 9 different electoral authoritarian regimes, primarily based on more than 200 personal interviews.

Competitive: unstable? - structural variables

There is no consensus in the academic literature about the relationship between competitive elections, regime stability and the chances of democratization in electoral authoritarian systems. Brownlee (2009:526) asserts that although modern hybrid regimes are in general more resistant to regime breakdown, competitive autocracies are more likely to democratize after an electoral turnover. Donno



(2013) agrees that stability is not determined by the level of competitiveness, but claims that the durability of an authoritarian regime and the likelihood of democratic change both depend on the strength and efficiency of domestic and international pressure. She suggests that competitive regimes engage in more active electoral malpractice than their hegemonic counterparts, as the remaining democratic rules necessitate extensive manipulation to keep the autocrats in power. However, the prospect of isolation on the international stage coupled with a unified opposition front can offset the regime’s ability to violate these electoral norms (Ibid., 714). Furthermore, when both of these components are present, it is easier to defeat a non-incumbent or an incumbent with declining control over the elite, since the power imbalance calls the continuation of established patronage networks into question (Bunce and Wolchik, 2011:44). The ruling elite’s internal unity thus influences the level of sophistication necessary for a successful opposition strategy. To be able to measure it, we need to look at the regime’s historical development and the contextual political factors in play (Brownlee, 2009:530).

Besides elite cohesion, electoral authoritarian regime stability is often based on autocrats’ personalistic rule, and their ability to bypass pressures for free, fair and open elections (Howard and Roessler, 2006:372). Leaders of these regimes often strengthen their appeal by capitalizing on citizens’ emotions - ideological claims based on nationalism and political order invoke fear and uncertainty that can be channeled against the opposition and their demands for social, political and economic reforms. These calls for change can be easily delegitimized by labelling opposition parties unpatriotic when national security is endangered by real or imagined enemies of the nation. Moreover, a divided and demobilized opposition cannot pose a serious threat to authoritarian rule (Bunce and Wolchik, 2011:229-230).

Scholars of democratization generally agree that economic factors affect the vulnerability of authoritarian regimes. Since economic crises reduce regime support and curb autocrats’ resources to sustain elite cohesion, co-opt rivals, buy votes and repress opposition forces, they can facilitate opposition mobilization. Hence, it would be logical to assume that strong economic performance allows autocrats to manipulate elections and stay in power (Howard and Roessler, 2006:372-373). Yet, although economic growth can indeed help authoritarian regimes to survive, empirical evidence shows that favorable economic circumstances alone do not guarantee political stability (Bunce and Wolchik, 2011:223). Finally, the conduct and outcome of authoritarian elections can also be influenced by external factors, such as pressure from Western powers and international organizations - especially considering their increased enthusiasm to promote democracy around the world since the end of the Cold War. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that competitive authoritarian states with substantial economic, political and cultural connections to the West engage in less electoral manipulation (Howard and Roessler, 2006:373).

To sum up, although most scholars agree that electoral competitiveness does not determine the likelihood of authoritarian breakdown, there are certain factors that are worth considering with regards to regime stability - elite cohesion, personalistic authoritarian rule, incumbent advantage, regime ideology, international pressure, and the specific historical and political context. However, review of



the relevant literature implies that opposition parties’ choice to form a strategic alliance in order to challenge the ruling elite is much more important than any of the structural variables.

Challenging the autocrat - agency variables

Although numerous empirical studies prove that opposition success in competitive authoritarian elections is possible, it is not always obvious which components of a specific opposition strategy are crucial, and which ones are only useful additions. However, one factor seems to be a prerequisite of opposition success in all studies - a coalition in which all major opposition players participate (Bunce and Wolchik, 2011:44). A united opposition can combine the strengths of individual parties by bridging deep divisions, prevent autocrats to utilize the strategy of ‘divide and rule’, show governing capacity and commitment to electoral victory, and potentially discourage authoritarian incumbents from engaging in large-scale manipulation and repression, owing to their fear of retaliation. When an opposition coalition unites fierce adversaries of the regime, it usually has the ability to mobilize people to vote for them, provided that they give the impression of an alternative governing alliance. Members of the coalition should not give up their own interests and political communities, but harmonize them with their partners to achieve their common goal of unseating the autocrat (Howard and Roessler, 2006:371). Opposition blocs that have a strong, charismatic and capable-looking leader have better chances, therefore it is important how this person is selected.

Another critical aspect of such alliances is the relationship between leaders of the opposition and civil society organizations - a successful cooperation between parties and NGOs in the electoral arena enhances their trustworthiness and resilience under government pressure through repression or election fraud (Ibid.). In case of fraudulent elections, it is essential for the opposition to be able to organize large-scale protests to express popular discontent with electoral malpractices and mobilize the public against the regime. Vote rigging in competitive authoritarian elections tends to be more limited when the international community is interested in the fairness of the process. International election observation missions can positively affect turnout and encourage people to cast their votes free of intimidation. This can be assisted by domestic monitoring, exit polls and parallel vote tabulation, depending on the opposition’s resources and technical expertise (Bunce and Wolchik, 2011:46-48).

Even though modern authoritarian regimes can be quite creative in bending electoral rules, there seems to be a set of tools opposition parties can utilize in order to pose a meaningful challenge to autocrats’

hold on power. Uniting opposition parties in an electoral coalition under the leadership of a charismatic candidate can considerably increase the chances of defeating the incumbent. Case study analyses demonstrate the pivotal role of civil society organizations in fostering cooperation between divided factions of the opposition by mediating negotiations and enhancing mutual trust, not to mention their professional contribution to election programs (Howard and Roessler, 2006:380). A majority of scholars seem to support the superiority of incumbent-opposition interactions and the design of



opposition strategies over structural variables in determining opposition success in competitive authoritarian regimes.

Maximizing opposition chances in postcommunist East-Central Europe

Valerie Bunce and Sharon Wolchik (2011) conducted extensive research into the conditions under which hybrid regimes in postcommunist Eastern Europe moved towards democratization through the

‘defeat’ of authoritarian leaders by unexpected electoral victories of the opposition. They analyzed and compared eleven elections and their local political contexts in nine different electoral authoritarian regimes, taking place between 1998 and 2008, six of which resulted in electoral turnover, while the other five did not effect authoritarian breakdown. Opposition victories in those six countries - Slovakia in 1998, Croatia and Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004 and Kyrgyzstan in 2005 - were the outcome of a long and complicated process of abolishing dominant party rule and creating a more democratic political system (Ibid., 3). While analysis of the local economic and political context is certainly helpful in understanding certain strategic choices made by successful opposition coalitions, institutional characteristics alone are in no way indicative of electoral turnover. Similarly, no matter how well a single strategic tool was utilized, if some key components were missing, electoral victory was not achieved. As discussed in the previous section, the strategy of the opposition has a bigger influence on their chances than structural variables. However, a successful electoral strategy in post- communist electoral authoritarian regimes rests on a number of components that need to be present simultaneously - fights between opposition parties, collaboration with the regime or just an incomplete opposition coalition can easily crush the most ambitious campaign. Likewise, opposition unity, effective mobilization and NGO involvement without the ability to defend the results of an election on the streets can prove to be highly counterproductive; when the regime can get away with rigging the vote, the government betrays public trust in elections, leading to low turnout in elections, thus guaranteeing the consolidation of the authoritarian regime (Ibid., 230-233).

In a broader sense, two main components facilitate the overthrow of an electoral authoritarian regime:

hope and organization, meaning the belief that the goal can be achieved, and a winning opposition strategy. Having analyzed all six successful cases, Bunce and Wolchik (2011:241) found that the following factors are necessary to maximize opposition chances: a unified opposition led by a single candidate; ambitious, nationwide opposition campaign; extensive use of media; access to and distribution of public opinion data they can use to frame their appeals; the orchestration of energetic voter turnout drives; cooperation with youth movements supporting political change through elections;

active partnership with civil society; close collaboration with pollsters, civic groups and international organizations to train activists, perform internal election monitoring, conduct last-minute mobilization campaigns, exit polls, and parallel vote tabulation; and last but not least, organize large-scale protests in case of fraudulent elections.



Two additional factors differentiated the six successful campaigns exhibiting a highly sophisticated electoral strategy from the unsuccessful cases: there were less candidates challenging the incumbent, and the elections were particularly high-energy contests resulting in a higher turnout, which favored the opposition. It also mattered how the opposition coalition was organized, financed and maintained throughout the campaign. The use of negative campaigning to advertise the regime’s deficiencies was just as important in increasing opposition chances as efforts to prevent vote buying by disassembling patronage networks. Some other notable factors worth considering were the number of activists participating in the campaign, especially members of youth movements (Ibid., 241-247, 272). All in all, every successful opposition campaign analyzed in this research demonstrated an extensive use of innovative election strategies tailored to the authoritarian manipulations of the regime they were challenging.

The role of local elections

Besides the factors discussed above, Bunce and Wolchik (2011:222) pointed out another, related factor that successful cases in their study shared: local elections in the five years leading up to each decisive victory resulted in significant electoral successes for the opposition, which paved the way for subsequent success on the national level. Municipal victories enabled the important local inroads that the opposition was able to make into the government’s political monopoly. Most opposition coalitions realized that they could and should - keeping in mind the local specificities - model their strategy after successful local cases. These local winners played a key role in overthrowing authoritarian regimes by sharing their experiences, energies, optimism and actual strategies, giving important guidelines for the implementation of the right electoral model (Ibid., 304). A similar pattern emerged in Mexico, where the 1994 Peso Crisis was followed by a series of opposition victories in local elections, which paved the way to ending the PRI‘s 71-year uninterrupted rule (Magaloni, 2006:89).

Local elections triggered some important political changes in Turkey as well. Although in the past decade President Erdogan has been working on consolidating a highly centralized authoritarian system, the coordinated democratic opposition was able to challenge his rule by scoring important victories in the 2019 municipal elections. The electoral coalition led by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) won some major cities for the opposition, securing a strong and reliable power base on a regional level, revitalizing Erdogan’s opposition by exposing the weak spots of the regime and showing them a functioning model that could be utilized in the 2023 general elections (Esen and Gumuscu, 2019:337).

Even though the ruling party’s tight grip on Turkey’s political institutions created a highly unlevel playing field, a coordinated opposition strategy led by popular candidates offered a viable alternative to the electorate. The opposition’s gains deprived the regime of crucial resources and decreased the government’s disproportionate access to both public and private assets. By undermining the regime’s clientelist network on a local level, opposition mayors now have the opportunity to increase their parties’ support; voting patterns in the country clearly show that in a national election an incumbent



mayor positively affects their party’s popularity in the region (Ibid., 338). Erdogan quickly responded to these electoral defeats by transferring significant powers from the municipalities to the central government. However, losing important economic centers in the middle of an economic recession might push him to further reduce the competitiveness of Turkish elections.


21 Chapter 3) Research Design - methodology and data

This qualitative study aims to provide an answer to the question related to the explanatory variables of opposition success in competitive authoritarian regimes. Employing an abductive design, this research is both theory-testing and theory-building. Since the empirical analysis was informed by existing theory, the conclusions drawn from the findings of empirical case studies can contribute to a more refined theorization of the Orban regime.

Theoretical framework

Chapter 2 establishes the theoretical framework of this research. Building on the work of Carothers and Bermeo, I have outlined how the transition paradigm is inapplicable to hybrid regimes, and explained how gradual democratic backsliding leads to the formation of hybrid regimes. By discussing the characteristics of hybrid and electoral authoritarian regimes using the arguments of Diamond and Schedler, I narrowed down my focus to competitive authoritarian regimes, building on the contributions of Levitsky and Way to this field. Looking at authoritarian elections, I used the findings of Gandhi and Lust-Okar to understand the limitations of the Orban regime’s authoritarian character, and arrived at the academic debate on structure and agency, exploring the explanatory power of different variables determining opposition success. Having reviewed the main arguments of four key authors, I have decided to conduct my empirical research based on the framework set out by Bunce and Wolchik, given that their research not only builds on the specificities of the post-communist region, but it also analyzes individual opposition strategies in different countries of the region.

Conceptualization and operationalization of variables

Having established the theoretical framework and the concept of competitive authoritarianism, the other key concept of this research is opposition success - the dependent variable. I conceptualized this variable based on my research on the role and powers of the opposition in semi-democratic settings: significant gains made by opposition actors that result in the autocrat’s loss of important positions, threatening the regime’s stability and longevity. My analysis takes a look at two types of independent variables, namely structure and agency. Building on findings synthesized from the literature, I examined agency-based variables in more detail and identified the following independent variables determining the strength of the electoral challenge posed by opposition agency: 1) opposition coordination, 2) campaign strategy, 3) voter mobilization, and 4) cooperation with civil society.

Based on the review of the existing academic literature, I have come up with the following hypotheses that are tested in my empirical analyses:

1) Opposition agency resulted in electoral success when all four independent variables were present and skillfully utilized



2) Opposition agency resulted in electoral success when a sophisticated campaign strategy tailored to authoritarian manipulation was present, coupled with innovative strategies

To be able to measure the independent variables, I also identified a set of indicators, following the model detailed by Bunce and Wolchik (2011:241). The indicators measuring opposition coordination are the following: the temporal start of the coordination, the participating members of the coalition, and the competency of the coalition’s single candidate. Campaign strategy is measured using the following indicators: the size and composition of the campaign team, the utilization of available resources, ambitious and high-energy campaign, utilization of opinion polls data, and efforts to offset incumbent advantage. Indicators measuring the opposition’s voter mobilization: energetic voter turnout drives, involvement of youth movements (Momentum) encouraging youth mobilization, and last-minute voter mobilization strategies. Cooperation with civil society is measured using the following indicators:

involvement of civil society in the campaign team, cooperation with local CSOs, and cooperation with other CSOs.

Empirical country analysis

Looking at the national level, the following two chapters explore two dimensions of variation within the independent variables that determine opposition success: one variation on the longitudinal level, and one variation on the cross-sectional level.

Chapter 4 introduces the ‘System of National Cooperation’ and is intended to examine the stability of the Orban regime (structure) in order to understand the challenges posed by authoritarian manipulation to opposition success - the historical background, the incumbent’s characteristics, the institutional structure, and the long-term economic and international trends. The chapter also informs successive empirical sections of the thesis: the historical background introduces the political setting, the incumbent’s characteristics show the nature of the authoritarian regime, the institutional structure aids the understanding of the underlying processes, and the economic and international trends show the constraints of the regime.

Chapter 5 introduces the agents (opposition parties) by presenting their ideology, development, importance within the opposition, and ability to cooperate in a cross-sectional way. The second half of the chapter shows longitudinal variation, i.e. opposition parties’ successive efforts to challenge the Orban regime. The last section of the chapter provides an introduction to the 2019 local elections, informing the case study chapter.

Empirical case studies

Given the regional nature and significance of local elections, Chapter 6 provides an individual analysis of five different local elections based on opposition agency. Case selection was informed by the intention to provide sufficient variation: the first and last case studies are of local elections in the countryside, whereas the second, third and fourth case studies are local elections in the capital city.



Case selection was constrained by the data collection process (see below). Attention to details shows in the variation between the political settings of each case: Hódmezővásárhely and District I of Budapest were believed to be Fidesz strongholds; Dunakeszi and District VI of Budapest used to be leftist strongholds before 2010, and District VIII is unique in a sense that it had a liberal leadership until 2009, since when its politics was subject to total domination exercised by the oppressive local chapter of Fidesz, which was characterized by clientelism, extensive patronage networks, criminal groups intertwined with the political leadership, and existential threats coercing the electorate to support the regime.

The case studies serve as a within-case comparison where the case is understood as opposition agency in the 2019 municipal elections. Local electoral successes can give a good indication of the opposition strategies that could work on the national level. The number of cases is small enough to sufficiently explore each case, but at the same time sufficiently large to be able to compare the cases and produce findings that can be - to a certain extent - generalized to a wider group of cases. Some of the case studies are related, as the opposition coalitions of the three districts of Budapest all cooperated and participated in the Budapest-level negotiations. The first case study (Hódmezővásárhely) provides a strong link to Chapter 5, and introduces the event that transformed the very nature of cooperation between opposition parties. The last case study (Dunakeszi) analyzes an unsuccessful electoral challenge, providing a good basis for comparing the other four (successful) cases. Throughout Chapter 6 attention was paid to using a consistent terminology, e.g. I used the term ‘constituency candidate’ for the candidates running for the position of city/district council member in the local elections. The interview questions, based on which the case study analyses were conducted, were formulated to measure the electoral model constructed by Bunce and Wolchik, and are based on theory (see Annex A).

Data collection

My data collection process involved both obtrusive and unobtrusive methods, but the majority of my sources were already existing material. In general, most of my sources were in Hungarian. Secondary sources included scholarly books and articles dealing with East-Central Europe, and specifically Hungary and its elections, as well as the coverage of the 2019 municipal elections by experts and in the Hungarian and international media - since these events happened quite recently, few academic studies were available and an abundance of online news articles were used. Primary sources included statistical data (most of it sourced from valasztas.hu, the official government database of elections data), party and coalition strategies (including calculations and summaries informing mobilization strategies), mayoral programs, campaign slogans and communication, and public opinion data.

I also produced new data for my paper. I conducted five in-depth, semi-structured personal elite interviews with opposition mayoral candidates, since then four of whom became the elected mayors of their districts/city, and one candidate who did not win the election - the unsuccessful candidate was included for comparison. The data collection process involved personally reaching out to successful



and unsuccessful mayoral candidates. Fortunately, contacting the mayors themselves and asking for their knowledge and perspective proved to be an effective strategy, as it was easier to build up trust between us this way, than just asking their campaign directors about the little details straight away. In four out of five cases, the mayor or the mayoral candidate was able to answer all my questions, not requiring any follow-up interviews or further conversations with members of the campaign staff. In the fifth case, I also got more than satisfactory answers to my questions, but the nature of that election campaign differed substantially from the other cases, implying a different approach in operation, which inclined me to ask further questions and conduct two follow-up background conversations with members of the campaign team. The low number (1) of unsuccessful cases I included is a result of a general non-response from said candidates. One unsuccessful candidate accepted my request, then at a later point halted communication - potentially following their party’s instruction to do so.


COVID-19 placed considerable challenges on producing data, given the delicate nature of conducting elite interviews and the tools available to convince relevant people to agree to an interview in the first place. Not being able to approach and interact with politicians face-to-face had its impact on the writing process since they had extraordinary responsibilities in protecting their municipalities from the coronavirus.

Another setback my research suffered was the number of declines and non-responses to my requests.

Although this is fairly common in case of a sensitive topic, Hungary’s - now officially - authoritarian government puts enormous pressure on opposition figures as they need to be cautious when approached to talk about the regime. Furthermore, using the opportunity the pandemic had created, Viktor Orban's government passed a 'Coronavirus law', giving uncontrolled powers to the government. Under this law, 'scaremongering' became an offense, threatening government-critical intellectuals with jail sentence.

Some interviewees mentioned how they had to double-check whether my intentions with these interviews were honest and academic or just a sophisticated maneuver orchestrated by Fidesz, before they agreed to talk to me.

Confidentiality is another challenge I need to address. Since the case studies are analyzing deep-rooted processes, some of the material I used cannot be disclosed to the public. As the interviews also contain an abundance of confidential information, I requested the interviews guaranteeing that only summaries would be provided upon request.

Limitations, quality criteria (based on Guba & Lincoln)

To ensure the credibility of my research, I triangulated data through the use of a variety of methods. As for my secondary sources, I used a multitude of sources both in English and Hungarian. Primary sources were collected to confirm findings of secondary sources and my own findings. For the interviews I used comparative content analysis; open-ended questions increased ‘response validity’. Extensive research



was devoted to each case study interview; member checks also boosted credibility. Transferability was guaranteed by an extensive description of time, place, context and culture in which I made my claims.

As for dependability, I made sure throughout the research that all my conclusions and methodological decisions are rooted in and informed by theory. Finally, confirmability is fulfilled, given that I paid careful attention to all my data to be precise and accurate. A limitation of this research is that the small number of unsuccessful cases does not invite far-ranging generalizations, therefore generalizations are only made based on the four successful cases.


26 Chapter 4) The System of National Cooperation - structural variables

Since 2006, the Orban regime has demonstrated a remarkable ability to dominate Hungarian politics and adjust to decisive changes in the majority opinion on key issues. His party used every opportunity to gain political advantage over their opponents, while cementing their lead and primacy in the playing field. Even before the free but unfair 2014 parliamentary elections, there were a series of constraints introduced restricting civil liberties, the freedom of press and civil society organizations. Academic freedom also witnessed a steep decline – after the Orban government forced the Central European University to leave the country and transfer almost all its teaching activities to Vienna, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences came under fire as the government essentially took away the independence of their research institutes (Lührmann and Lindberg, 2020:16-20). This chapter is going to introduce the System of National Cooperation and demonstrate its distinctly authoritarian features.

4.1 Historical background - Hungary’s disillusionment with democracy

The events of 2006 fundamentally transformed existing dynamics in Hungarian politics and triggered a long process that derailed the country from the path of democratic consolidation. In September 2006, excerpts of a voice recording of a speech got leaked, permanently destroying the credibility of the country’s previous prime minister and the entire political left. The speech that Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany gave at a confidential meeting of the socialist party in Balatonőszöd, was an evaluation of the government’s performance, in which he admitted that the socialist-liberal coalition government had been lying to the electorate in order to conceal the lack of meaningful governance and win the elections (Lendvai, 2012:140). After the recording was broadcasted on state radio, right-wing extremists took to the streets and started a series of anti-government protests involving street fights and violent clashes with the police. The ensuing chaos took police forces by surprise, and they reacted with disproportionate violence. Police brutality and Gyurcsany’s unwillingness to resign triggered the erosion of trust in democratic institutions and a significant radicalization within Hungarian politics (Ibid., 171-174).

The 2008 economic crisis further eroded public trust in the government, as it responded with a package of strict austerity measures. Proposed healthcare and higher education reforms were rejected by a large majority in a referendum initiated by Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party. In response to the defeat, Gyurcsany wanted to dismiss his liberal Minister of Health, which resulted in the breakup of the coalition. The deteriorating economic situation forced the prime minister to negotiate a financial rescue package with the IMF and the EU. As the combination of the economic crisis, the split in the coalition and his plummeting approval ratings left him very little room for maneuver, Gyurcsany announced his resignation in May 2009. He was succeeded by Gordon Bajnai as PM, who formed a cabinet with the primary goal of economic crisis management.

The period between 2006 and 2010 not only destroyed the socialists, it also had catastrophic consequences for the liberal SZDSZ party. As the Socialist Party (MSZP) was the legal successor of



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