BORSOD IS A sweet spot in north-east Hungary, whichever way you look at it. It is home to a big chocolate factory (Szerencsi Bonbon), a caffeine-packed energy drink (Hell), and a pudding wine traditionally favoured by kings and queens on their wedding night (Tokay). It is also the place where the opposition to Viktor Orban, Hungary’s autocratic prime minister, is up against a challenge.
Opposition parties hope that a by-election on October 11th will give a boost to their efforts to combine and defeat Mr Orban’s Fidesz party at the general election scheduled for 2022. Success in Borsod 6, the constituency in question, would theoretically end Fidesz’s super-majority in the Hungarian parliament, which allows it to alter the constitution; it currently has 133 of the 199 seats. “This would be above all a symbolic victory,” says Peter Marki-Zay, a prominent critic of Mr Orban. “The result will determine the political mood of the next 18 months.”
The task will not be easy. The joint opposition candidate is Laszlo Biro, a local entrepreneur from the formerly far-right, though now centre-right, Jobbik party. Early in the campaign, openly anti-Semitic remarks surfaced from his Facebook page of two years ago. Since then, the campaign against him in the government-sponsored media has been relentless, while Hungary’s few remaining independent outlets have professionally reported the agonising among opposition parties over their choice of candidate. Fidesz chose a 30-year-old political novice, Zsofia Koncz, to defend the seat held by her father, who died in July in a car crash.
Borsod 6 illustrates the problems the opposition faces. Its 77,000 voters are spread among four towns and several dozen villages. Fewer than 10,000 of them have degrees, well below the national average. Opposition gains in last October’s local elections were mainly in larger towns. The rural poor, dependent on government work schemes initiated by Fidesz, are easily persuaded that only Mr Orban can improve their lot—one reason why a Jobbik candidate, no matter how unpalatable, has the best chance of taking the seat. But Fidesz’s stranglehold over regional media is almost total, and its influence through social media is far greater than in 2018.
Mr Biro has apologised for his racist comments, which included the word “Judapest”—a slur that originated in the early 20th century, when perhaps a quarter of the people in Budapest were Jewish. Jobbik makes other opposition voters uneasy, and working together hard. Yet Hungary’s new electoral system means that only close co-operation will work in 2022. ■
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “Taking on Viktor Orban”