Two important elections were held recently in two of Hungary’s regional neighbour states. Not only due to the geographical closeness of these countries, but also because of their membership in the EU and in the Visegrád Group Budapest closely watched as events unfolded in both Slovakia and Poland.
On the European level, the representatives of these three countries often share the concerns and vote together with Hungary, especially Poland—at least, it did so until now. The most recent issue the three countries were in full agreement on was the question of Ukrainian grain imports. Alongside Romania, Poland and Slovakia, Hungary also extended a ban on Ukrainian foodstuff imports once the EU-wide band expired. Hungary and the other CEE countries disallowed the import of grain and other Ukrainian agricultural products to protect their farmers from the flood of cheap, low-quality Ukrainian goods.
Parliamentary Elections in Slovakia: Good News for Budapest
Earlier this month, Slovakia held parliamentary elections that resulted in the victory of Robert Fico’s SMER party. Robert Fico is a returning prime minister: he already served three times as the head of the Bratislava government. SMER–SSD achieved about 23 per cent of the votes, or 42 seats in the 150-member parliament. The second largest party, Progressive Slovakia gained about 18 per cent of the votes, or 32 seats. The Hlas-Social Democracy has 27, OL’ANO 16, the Chirstian Democratic Movement 12, the SAS and the Slovak National Party have both ten seats. As neither of the parties secured an absolute majority, coalition talks were needed to form a government—coalition talks between SMER and Hlas took place naturally, as Fico and Hlas’ leader Peter Pellegrini are former allies. Pellegrini was a member of SMER until 2020, when he established his own party. Else than Hlas, to gain a majority, SMER also had the option to cooperate with either SAS or the Slovak National Party. Eventually, about a week ago, Fico successfully negotiated the formation of a coalition government with the participation of Hlas, and the Slovak National Party. SMER and the other two forces have the necessary majority to govern.
Hopefully, Fico’s victory will bring stability into Slovak politics,
which has been rather chaotic recently. Since 2021, when Igor Matovič resigned, Slovakia has had two prime ministers, Eduard Heger (who also resigned) and caretaker prime minister Ľudovít Ódor (or Lajos Ódor according to the Hungarian spelling) who was appointed by President Zuzana Čaputová and therefore lacked both popular and parliamentary support to govern. The quick turnover of political leaders, and the uncertainty it created led to a difficult political situation in Slovakia, that hopefully will now be resolved by a viable government.
Partly because of Robert Fico’s likeminded ideas concerning key European matters, as well as because of the enhanced political stability of the country and the possibility of a smoother cooperation with Bratislava, Budapest much welcomed the victory of SMER.
Parliamentary Elections in Poland: Bad News for Hungary
In Poland, the tense election campaign yielded a record high turnout not seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall. As many as 74 per cent of eligible voters cast their votes. In a much quoted exit poll, Ipsos predicted that the Law and Justice (PiS) party would win the elections with 36.8 per cent of the votes. Eventually, PiS ended up with fewer, only 35.38 per cent of the votes, securing 194 seats in the 460 seats Sejm, not sufficient for a majority government. But their victory proved to be Pyrrhic: the main opposition party, the Civic Coalition (PO or KO) came in second, garnering somewhat fewer voted than predicted by the exit poll suggested, 30.7 per cent, but even with that result gaining 23 more seats than in 2019, while PiS has lost as many as 41 seats. But that was not the fatal blow: likely KO allies Third Way secured 65, while the Left 26 seats, as opposed to the 18 seats of the only likely potential PO coalition partner, radical right-wing Confederation.
At this point, it is highly unlikely that PiS will be able to form a viable coalition government,
as even with the Confederation it falls 19 seats short of a majority. For a while, some conservatives had hoped that PiS would be able to negotiate a deal with the Third Way, which is composed of the Polish People’s Party and the Poland 2050 movement. However, as the Poland 2050 movement made it clear already during the campaign period that it would not enter a coalition with PiS, after the election, attention turned towards the Polish People’s Party. However, they, too, soon declared their unwillingness to form a coalition government with PiS. Albeit PiS is expected to be invited by the Polish President, Andrzej Duda to form a government, they stand practically no chance of succeeding. Once PiS fails to create a viable coalition, the party with the second highest percentage of votes, the Civic Coalition will be invited to form a coalition. In fact, KO, the Third Way and the Left are believed to be already holding coalition talks. In other words, the anticipated ultimate victor of the 2023 Polish election is unlikely to be the party favoured by Hungarian decisionmakers.
The demise of the Morawiecki government is very bad news for the Fidesz government, which may lose one of its most important allies in its fight against Brussels policies and federalist ambitions.