Kövér made a speech, perhaps he shouldn’t have

László Kövér, as I indicated yesterday, is prone to say outrageous things. I already mentioned that his advice to pessimistic people–defined as the opponents of Fidesz–that they should go down to the cellar and hang themselves badly misfired in 2002. A couple of days ago Kövér gave another speech, this time in Makó. Makó is a town not far from Szeged close to the Romanian border, famous for its paprika and onions. It is a town of about 20,000 and in the local government MSZP is in the majority. One of the local Fidesz leaders invited Kövér; after dinner in front of a rather small audience he delivered a speech. Unfortunately for him in addition to the Fidesz faithful there was the stringer for Népszabadság who usually reports on events in the southeastern corner of the country. Whether Kövér knew the reporter is unclear but in the audience there must have been quite a few people familiar with István Tanács, the reporter.

This latest outburst of Kövér was most likely prompted by the results of the by-elections in District VIII (Ferencváros) of Budapest. The district is a stronghold of MSZP and SZDSZ, but the SZDSZ mayor who was also a member of parliament, without discussing his move with anyone in his own party, resigned his seat. Thus by-elections had to be held. The whole campaign was a disgrace in which the parties accused each other of cheating and a number of candidates were actually barred from entering the race. The SZDSZ's candidate was a young woman in her ninth month of pregnancy whose chances from the beginning were slim. In addition, there were accusations of impropriety concerning the party's campaign. However, MSZP's candidate, the deputy mayor of the district, should have done relatively well. But his campaign, it seems, was not exactly vigorous. On the other hand, the extreme-right Jobbik campaigned with great gusto. In the end the results were invalid since only 23% of the voters showed up. But the Fidesz candidate received almost twice as many votes as his MSZP rival, which by the end was not a great surprise. The big jolt came when the Jobbik candidate ended up in third place with 8.5% of the votes while Emese John (SZDSZ) ended up fourth. Since then she has abandoned her quest for office and will not run in the next round in two weeks.

One shouldn't draw far-reaching conclusions on the basis of these few thousand votes, but it seems that Fidesz, or at least Kövér, did. It is clear that Jobbik's gain is Fidesz's loss. Part of Kövér's speech dealt with the issue of a united right. His message was that in unity there is strength. There is nothing terribly new in this as far as Fidesz strategy and communication is concerned. Viktor Orbán's idée fixe is that there should be only one party on the right and that should be Fidesz. In order to achieve this Orbán came up with the idea of transforming his party into an alliance of right-wing parties. He even devised a slogan "One camp, one flag" (Egy a tábor, egy a zászló). He managed to get the Christian Democrats on board who by that time actually had no independent base (and still don't). Orbán planned to do the same with MDF, but because of Ibolya Dávid's insistence on MDF remaining an independent party the only thing he managed to achieve was to split the party. To Orbán's obvious chagrin Ibolya Dávid refused to cooperate and MDF managed to get a little over 5% of the votes in 2006. Orbán was furious. He figured that if MDF had been under the Fidesz umbrella he could have won the elections. And now here is this Jobbik on Fidesz's right while MDF is on its left. What will happen to the overwhelming Fidesz victory this year or next?

I'm sure that these were the kinds of considerations that occupied Kövér's mind in Makó. He talked about the elections of 1994 when MSZP did exceedingly well. MSZP had an absolute majority in parliament (54.15%) and therefore could have formed a government alone. SZDSZ with 17.62% and Fidesz with 5.18%, both leftist parties in 1994, waged a joint campaign that year. On the right were  MDF with 9.84%, the Smallholders with 6.74%, and the Christian Democrats with 5.7%. How did Kövér manage to get a right wing majority out of this? He counted Fidesz as well as SZDSZ as right-wing parties. A rather gross falsification of history and bad arithmetic to boot. The lesson learned, according to him, is that there mustn't be any party on the right other than Fidesz . He accused Jobbik of being the creation of MSZP, a suggestion Jobbik vehemently denied. Not surprisingly.

Further falsifications of history followed. According to Kövér, in 2002 MSZP-SZDSZ cheated at the elections. That is a very interesting proposition considering that it was under the watchful eye of the Orbán government that the elections were held. Another interesting observation followed: out of the almost twenty years of democracy there were only four decent years–when Fidesz was in power. People on the right will think of those four years as fondly as people on the left think of the Kádár regime. Then came the usual name calling: everybody who is not a Fidesz supporter is a "communist." What the communists couldn't achieve prior to 1990 with weapons, they almost achieved in the democratic market economy: "to cut our throats in our own country."

Then he turned against the intelligentsia, the intellectual elite. Obviously he was talking only about those who are not in the Fidesz camp. According to Kövér "no other country has such a no good, gangster-like intelligentsia, real prostitutes" as Hungary has. (It is rather hard to find good English words for this incredible description, so here it is in the original: "ilyen gazember, senkiházi, protituált értelmisége egyik országnak sincs.") I'll bet the Hungarian intellectual elite is thrilled to hear that. So too the IMF when they learn that their director belongs the same "base gang" of communists as Gyurcsány. They can call each other comrades. The IMF didn't really want to help the country, only Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Kövér more or less sidestepped a tricky question when someone asked whether there is any comparison between the fate of Hungarians and Palestinians. He first rejected a conspiracy theory but at the end he said something that might have satisfied his audience. "The trouble starts only when someone thinks as Biberach did: my fatherland is where the profit is." The reference is to a nineteenth-century Hungarian play, Bánk bán, in which Biberach is a rather unsympathic foreigner in the entourage of the queen eventually killed by Bánk for patriotic reasons. I leave the interpretation of this reference to the reader's imagination.

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Sophist (aka Adrian)
Guest

I’m encouraged by the turn-out for Jobbik. For me, the biggest questions in Hungarian politics are the size of the Nationalist faction within Fidesz, and whether – once in power – Orbán will still be able to conrol this faction. This explicit break between Jobbik and Fidesz means the Hungarian people can see more clearly what they are voting for.
The proportional representation system in Hungary is driving Orban’s strategy, and both polarises and destabilises Hungary’s politics. To quote the Economist on another country with a similar problem:
” This system has been depleting Israel’s political energies for decades: it radicalised the territorial debate, debilitated the economy, obstructed long-term planning, derailed government action, distracted cabinets, diverted budgets, weakened prime ministers, destabilised governments, enabled anonymous and often incompetent people to achieve positions of great influence and responsibility and blurred the distinctions between the executive and legislative branches of government. Perhaps most crucially, it has led talented, accomplished, moral and charismatic people to abandon the political arena to the mediocre, unimaginative and uncharismatic people who currently populate it.”
http://www.economist.com/specialreports/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10909941

Mark
Guest

Excuse me Sophist, but Hungary’s system isn’t a proportional one – but it is a hybrid consisting of majoritarian, proportional and compensatory elements.
In a proportional system the number of parliamentary seats reflects the number of votes casts. In all Hungarian elections there has been a discrepancy. Hence – in 1990 the MDF won 42% of the seats with 24% of the first round votes; in 1994 the MSZP won 54% with 32% of the vote; in 1998 FIDESZ came first with 38% of parliamentary seats, 28% and second place in the votes; in 2002 FIDESZ-MDF took the largest number of parliamentary seats (49%), with the second largest number of votes (41%); in 2006 the MSZP got 49% of seats with 43% of the votes.
So, how is this system proportional?

Eva Balogh
Guest

Op: I deleted your post and will everything that is not fit to print.

Op
Guest

“Op: I deleted your post and will everything that is not fit to print.”
This is not the NY Times.
Articles and responses are not printed, only displayed on computer screens of the few people who may find your ultra-liberal biased opinion amusing.
Why don’t you tell me what did you find objectionable in my comment? High level of truth-content? Not leftist enough? What?
I never use foul language, so what was it?

Sophist
Guest

Mark,
“So, how is this system proportional?”
If those are the figures, I can’t see that it is. But why is the electoral system like this?
Whatever it’s called, I think its a bad system: the government and it’s policies are decided by political horsetrading rather than a popular mandate. The Economist’s criticisms still apply.

[Sic]
Guest

@Sophist and Mark: The outline of the electoral process on Wikipedia has a stab at explaining the electoral process in Hungary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_Hungary
Some discrepancy can be accounted for by voter turnout being below 50% in the first round or below 25% in the second round. Are there any other reasons?

Sophist
Guest

Sic,
thanks for the link, we are very far away from one man one vote and no explanations as to why.
Is this a development of historical Hungarian electoral systems, or something that was cooked up in 1989/1990?

Mark
Guest
I’m not sure that the Economist’s criticisms really apply to Hungary. The electoral system is a hybrid and is designed to balance three different priorities – to ensure stable majority government; to ensure the representation of significant political minorities; and to make sure that the votes of those who vote for small parties in the first instance are not wasted when it comes to choosing a government. It isn’t really for me to tell Hungary what electoral system it should have, but it seems to me that it has worked reasonably well. The time when it was most tested – in 2002, which was as close to a tie as makes no difference – it produced a clear outcome, and one which the losing side attempted, but failed to attack. The problem of the Hungarian political system doesn’t stem from its electoral system. The basic problem is left-right political polarization and a very small political centre. While under different electoral systems you might have had different results (under a one-round majoritarian system like the UK for example, it is likely that the MSZP and not FIDESZ would have won in 1998 for example; though under a purely PR-based system like… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Sic,
I could be very boring on this. So, I’ll simplify it as best I can. The main issue is the individual constituencies which provide the majoritarian element in the system. In most seats (those where there is a run off), the result of these are determined in the second round. Because the second round rules allow either the top three, or all candidates with over 15% through automatically, this system encourages pacts between parties, to wthdraw in each others’ favour. Thus in 1998 the disproportionate nature of the result stemmed from the fact that voters for the Smallholders’ Party were prepared to back FIDESZ candidates in the second round. In 1994, however, the defeated right-wing parties did not combine with the SZDSZ thus ensuring that MSZP was able to maximise its advantage. It is a lot more complicated than this though, and I am simplifying.

Sophist
Guest

Mark,
“The problem of the Hungarian political system doesn’t stem from its electoral system. The basic problem is left-right political polarization and a very small political centre”
The centre isn’t small, look at Eva’s recent post on the political map of Hungary: “The scatter plot below shows that an overwhelming majority of the population (88%) falls within the two left quadrants (those who believe in a paternalistic state), it is just that either side of the natural division between Fidesz and the MSZP within that centre “40% of the population is more open to the world of ideas than the 37% below them (in green) who are nationalistic” is insufficient to guarantee to a “a stable majority government”, every democratic government has been a coalition.
The polarization in Hungarian politics exists only at a rhetorical level and stems from the need to attract votes from the edges rather than the centre hence Fidesz’s attack on Jobbik, and the MSZP’s pushing of a liberal agenda that the overwhelming majority of Hungarians are not ready for.

Mark
Guest
Yes, Sophist, but you will also notice that the researchers who put together the political map also concluded that the value orientations they measure are not a very good indicator of party preference. And, in a competitive party system, citizens are represented through votes cast for parties. The combined score for the two big parties of right and left in Hungary was 85% in 2006. You have to go back 25 years to find similar figures in (West)Germany and Austria, and almost 40 in Britain. Furthermore, we know there are very few switchers between parties – differential turnout tends to have the most impact on party vote share. And lastly, when we look at why people vote, what we know is that this is not much about issues, but follows key cultural divides, i.e. communist/anti-communist, religious/secular, European/nationalist. Look at electoral behaviour, and tell me, where is this political centre? I’m intrigued as to why you believe a coalition can’t be stable, and you imply single party rule necessarily is. You have to go back to 1957 to find a single party winning an outright majority in Germany, and their record of stable governments – all coalitions – since the early… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest

Mark
The reason for a single party being unable to command a consistent majority is that all parties are in themselves coalitions. You can draw similer scatter diagrams for any party showing different opinions.
Actualy amongst the party supporters (as opposed to party members there can be a quite large switch in voting habits. Labour in the UK never had a 180 seat inbuilt majority so differential turnout has only a minor effect

Mark
Guest

Odin,
You’re absolutely right about large parties being coalitions.
The main difference between the UK and Hungary is that Hungary’s current party structure looks like Britain’s did in the 1950s, when party support was quite stable and differential turnout determined elections (usually to Labour’s disadvantage). Since the 1970s, however, the UK, like other western states has experienced what is called “partisan de-alignment” as the vote shares of the two big parties have fallen significantly – firstly Labour’s, and then more recently the Conservatives. This has happened because of the erosion of traditional party identification and the generation of a much more consumerist attitude to politics (which benefited the Conservatives under Thatcher, and to which Labour adapted in the 1990s). We’ve quite a few barriers to overcome, I think, before a process of serious “partisan de-alignment” affects Hungary ….

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