Exclusive interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Hungarian public TV channel M1

10 June 2024

I welcome our viewers, and I welcome the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán. Good evening.

Good evening.

44.6 per cent. To get straight to the point, is this a lot or a little?

It sounds better if you say 45, but 44.6 is a European record. We prefer it if we can run a world record in every race, but a European record has to be appreciated. It’s by far the highest support in Europe for any political player, apart from the Maltese Labour Party: a European record.

It’s also worth saying a word about the high turnout: 57 per cent, which is also a European record. This means that this is a record not only in relative terms, but also in absolute terms. So people have exercised their democratic right. What can we deduce from this in terms, say, of pro-Europeanism?

There are perhaps three or four countries in Europe where voting in elections is compulsory, and there the turnout is naturally higher than in Hungary, but this 56–57 per cent puts us in the top league. This shows that Hungarian democracy is doing well, thank you very much: it’s alive and well, there are competing players, there’s interest, there are people who have an opinion, who want to give it, who want to express it, who want to influence public life. So this is a fine achievement by the Hungarian electorate. And perhaps the most important thing isn’t to talk about our own percentages and the Government, but first and foremost to thank the Hungarian electorate, who set this fantastic record. It’s good that you mentioned this absolute figure, because it’s difficult to compare elections, but – surprising as it may seem – we’ve already had support of over 50 per cent in European elections, and now we have 44.6 per cent; but never before have so many people voted for us in a European election. If I have the figures right, we received 2.015 million votes, and our previous best was only 1.8 million. So it’s important to look not only at the percentages, but also at the absolute numbers. This gives an even more accurate and better picture of the state of Hungarian democracy.

It was a very strong campaign, which lasted almost down to the last minute. What was the significance of the campaign in terms of mobilisation?

There’s always a good percentage of citizens whom we have to contact so that they’ll go out and vote. In general they think that democracy and elections are important, but if there’s no mobilisation effort, they might well stay at home. Therefore mobilisation is key. The reason we had such a high turnout was because the stakes in the election were very high. Everyone knew that it was a question of war and peace, and every contestant also knew that the only way to have a reasonable chance of a result or success – a victory, in our case, let’s say – was to go to every single one of our voters, mobilise them and ask them to vote. This is why we were able to win. If we hadn’t done that, the numbers wouldn’t look like they do.

And if we’re honest with each other, there’s a party that was able to mobilise and form a strong opposition party over the course of three months: TISZA, the party of Péter Magyar. Péter Magyar has also said that there was a political earthquake. In German business circles they say “Konkurrenz belebt das Geschäft”, or “Competition stimulates business”. How did this affect your party, how did it affect the campaign? Did it make you stronger? Did you have to better unify your campaign because Konkurrenz belebt das Geschäft?

It complicated our lives. In principle, this election was a complicated election, because there were two elections at the same time: there was a European election and local elections. And within each municipality, there were elections for mayors and council representatives. So it was intrinsically difficult. What’s more, it was even more difficult for us, because when I started this campaign I knew that we had to defeat two oppositions: we had to defeat the old one and we had to defeat the new one. We defeated both the old opposition and the new opposition. We finished some 14–15 per cent ahead of the second-placed candidate – which I see as a particularly valuable result, given that what we had to fight wasn’t a united opposition, but two different oppositions.

The election ended yesterday, but will it change anything in Fidesz’s strategy or in Fidesz-KDNP’s strategy? Will the fact that such a strong opposition party appeared and grew in the space of three months rearrange the ranks?

What will influence us is the outcome of the elections. So there are cities where we’ve done well, where we’ve retained voters’ trust – and even increased support, even winning back large and medium-sized cities. And there are places where we haven’t worked well enough and where we’ve lost towns, and large and medium-sized cities. I usually take one lesson from every election, and that is that we have to work better. So only work can help, only work with humility. So the more competition there is, the more you have to work, and the more you have to work with humility. I’ve always believed in work, the campaign just being the end result. It’s a question of whether you’ve done enough work earlier; and if you’ve done enough work, people will show their appreciation for it.

Peace: this was the governing party’s most important message in the EP elections and the local elections. If now we look a little at the European elections, what’s needed for peace are allies. What does this kind of legitimacy that the governing party has received mean for Europe? Are you looking for an ally? Because peace can only be achieved if you really build a strong team.

The whole election was made even more complicated by the fact that we had to keep one eye – or the corner of one eye – on the European parties. Because our plan was – and this is all I talked about in the campaign – that everywhere I went I’d talk about war or peace, and the European elections being an opportunity to slow down or stop European politicians’ accelerating drift into the war. First in Europe, then in America. If we fail, if we fail to win these two halves, if we fail to win this match for the pro-peace forces against war, then we’ll be drawn in, and we’ll soon be up to our waist in a war in Europe. This was my message, this is what I wanted to talk to everyone about. Now if we look at what happened from this viewpoint, then what we planned and what we wanted to happen did in fact happen. This train’s been slowed down. It can be stopped, because in France, which was the country most strongly in favour of the war, there’s been a real political earthquake. There, a parliamentary election has to be called, or has already been called, because the pro-peace side won with such great force and by such a large margin. And if the pro-peace forces can win the parliamentary elections, then I think we’ve won the first half: 1-0 here, the forces of peace have won in Europe. And then we’ll wait for President Donald Trump to deliver the second half in the United States, after which there will be peace. So while we had local elections, we had an old opposition, we had a new opposition, we also had positioning for the European Parliament, and “war or peace”, in which we tried to shift relative power towards the forces for peace, and we briefly looked towards America. So over the last two months it was in this very complicated space that we had to intelligently steer our campaign machinery – or simply my political work. I’m glad we didn’t lose any towns or cities that would have hurt us very much – or at least we didn’t lose more than we gained. I’m glad that we weren’t weakened in Budapest, and I’m glad that in this election held in difficult, war-torn, complicated circumstances we won the European elections by a clear margin of several furlongs.

Since you’ve mentioned the French political situation, this was a European election, but as we’ve seen in France as well, it’s had domestic political consequences. And we’re seeing this in Germany, where this morning Markus Söder [the CSU minister-president of Bavaria] said that the current chancellor must draw the necessary conclusions, and even consider an early election. If we look at the European Parliament election result in Hungary, what are the domestic political implications and consequences? During the campaign it was also said that if the opposition party gained this much or that much support, new elections would have to be called in Hungary. Obviously this hasn’t happened. But what are the domestic political consequences of this, if any?

Every election needs to be won when it’s held. Here we had elections – local elections and a European election – and we had to win them. We succeeded. There will be more elections, in 2026 and after that, and they’ll have to be won when they come round. What we have to focus on now is that we have more than a year and a half – almost two years – in which to do the nitty-gritty work of governance. Of course war and peace are also important, but in the meantime we have the problem of restarting economic growth, and we have to watch inflation so that it doesn’t run riot again. So there’s plenty of work to be done in government, and we need to focus on this: so that we can protect pensions, so that we can continue to have full employment, so that the home creation programme that we’ve relaunched has the financial backing to continue. So there’s plenty of government business on the table. This is what we have to focus on. One can’t govern according to the logic of a campaign. A campaign is run according to the logic of a battle, when there’s an electoral battle to be fought. But governing is about the country’s peaceful daily life. They’re two different tasks, different states of mind, different work tempos. Now it’s back to the nitty-gritty of government. In the meantime, we must keep our eyes on the question of peace and war; because government work may improve or reach a higher level, but if we get into a war, everything will be all at sea. So at the same time we have to stay out of the war. And the NATO Secretary General will be here in two days’ time, when we’ll be discussing how Hungary can stay out of NATO’s mission in Ukraine. And there are also the day-to-day tasks.

The European Parliament elections clearly brought a strengthening of the Right. What does this mean from an alliance perspective? Is there any kind of plan, any idea of whom it’s worth sitting with at the negotiating table, and what kind of strong pro-peace unity can be formed in the European Parliament compared to the previous one?

What do we see now? What we see now is that if the two right-wing groups, the Conservatives and the Identity Group – each led by a lady – agree with each other, and we join in this cooperation, then the Right will be in second place, leaving the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Liberals behind. Only the People’s Party will be ahead of us. But if we create a strong right-wing, this will also exert a gravitational pull on the People’s Party, and people can come to us from the Right if we can create this. Whether we can do this is a matter for the next few weeks, for no more than a month. But here we need an agreement between the big players. If the two party leaders can reach an agreement, it will also open up a clear and straight path for Fidesz. If they can’t agree, then we’ll have to think differently. We won’t get an answer to this question in less than a month.

Let’s talk a little about the results of the municipal elections. As you’ve just mentioned, some were lost and some were won. If you take stock, how satisfied are you?

We did better than expected, but not as well as I’d have liked. You tend to want to keep everything you have, and to do that you want to gain the trust of some of the important municipalities. Now we’ve regained four county-level cities, but we’ve lost three, so it’s almost a draw. The fact that we’re by far the strongest in all the county assemblies – including in the Budapest assembly – means that we remain the dominant political force in twenty counties. In the districts – the Budapest districts, which are sometimes the size of a standalone Hungarian city, and are therefore important – we’ve tied in the elections: we’ve lost one and won one. I’ll say it again: to beat the second-placed party by 14 per cent is a respectable result in such a time of war, in such difficult circumstances, with a year of torturous, agonising, wartime inflation behind us, and before the start of a period of growth that will create good economic opportunities. Of course, as I said before, every election has to be won when it happens; but if you asked me now if I’d sign up for this result again in 2026, I’d say, “Where do I sign?” Because if I were to transpose this result onto the Hungarian parliament, it would have given the governing party a very confident upper hand in the next parliamentary term. So this isn’t like France: we don’t have to call a new election, but we can conclude that if this had been a parliamentary election, the power relations in terms of the number of seats for the governing party in the Hungarian parliament would have been roughly the same as they are now.

Yes, but 2026 is still two years away. In exactly these kinds of conditions, with war and inflation, holding that advantage even for two years will be a tightrope walk.

This is what democracy is like. All elections are difficult. I don’t remember an easy election. Here success isn’t granted for free: you have to work for it, you have to fight for it. And then you have to win the next election. For now, let’s be happy that we won the European and local elections yesterday.

It’s also worth saying a few words about the capital. The fact that Alexandra Szentkirályi withdrew at the last minute – or at the very end – was obviously appreciated. Could this be the reason for the result, with Gergely Karácsony winning – at least as things stand at the moment? Would the picture be different if she had stood?

Alexandra’s view was that if all three of them stood, there would be no change in Budapest. This is why she advised us to listen to her and take our only chance: the chance that would open up with her withdrawal. And this is what we did. It was a close election result. Budapest needs a lot of work, and it’s a financially bankrupt city. I was very surprised that this was hardly mentioned at all in the election campaign, but I can see the numbers. So there’s a lot of work to be done here to give the people of Budapest a city that they want and deserve to live in.

Some people have been lost in this election: there are even those who have gone from being government voters to being TISZA voters, perhaps to being opposition voters, or voting for small parties. How can they be lured back?

Everyone thinks that in politics there’s some alchemist’s laboratory or witch’s kitchen, where potions can be prepared for difficult questions like the one you’ve just asked. And then one can give it as medicine, or it can be taken. But that’s not the case. So in politics, only one thing matters: time. In this time one must work: gain experience, and work – and, of course, with humility, because our work is service. So we must serve the country well. And I think that what’s appreciated in every election in Hungary is that – unlike almost every other European country – here the work of government is stable, predictable and secure. Here we have public safety, here everyone has work. Here, even if at times the economy isn’t doing well, you can hope that there will be a new push towards a better time. So only 20 per cent of my work is political work, while 80 per cent is government work. I think that the fate of my colleagues in Western Europe tends to be the opposite: they have to spend 80 per cent of their time on creating the preconditions for government work, because of uncertainty and the need to keep coalitions together ; and only 20 per cent is left for really serious government work. Let’s be glad that Hungary is free of that, thanks to the decision of the electorate. So I believe that you have to do the work, then you have to stand up in front of the people, and if you’ve done your work, there will be a fierce campaign: a lot of things will happen, some nice and not so nice things, but you’ll fight it. If you’ve got the “gold backing”, if you’ve got the work behind you, you’ll win. And that’s why we’ve won now.

Because they’ve always been winning by such big margins, Fidesz voters are perhaps a little spoiled. This is why I ask with such scepticism. And when at the beginning I asked whether 44 per cent is good or not, well, obviously it’s good. But still, there’s a feeling in everyone: is this enough for us? Is it really? 

Because we’re human, and people think like that. Now people – especially Hungarians – look ahead and think: “Of course, we’ve done it, we’ve won this, but what about the next election? What will happen next?” And I always say, “Let’s work, the time will come, we’ll stand up, we’ll fight, and we’ll win – as we’ve always won in the last ten or more elections.” That’s what we have to do. We can’t swim world-record times every day. So there’s no athlete who wins every race with a world record – although in this respect this result, as I said, gave Fidesz the most votes ever in the European elections. But there’s no party in Europe today – and I don’t think there’s any party in Hungary – that wouldn’t be happy to change places with us, even immediately.

Thank you very much.