A few days ago I was pretty much forced to engage in a verbal duel with an ardent supporter of the Orbán government who wrote an article in Die Welt, a conservative German daily. Her piece was not only a vehement defense of the current government; it was also an attack on the majority of German journalists who in her opinion misinform the German reading public with their slanted reporting on the Hungarian political situation. Among other things she was especially outraged by the often heard opinion that the majority of Hungarians prefer authoritarian rule to democracy. This sounds like "a birth defect," she said, which she rejects. I, in my answer, suggested that we leave "the birth defect" theory alone and concentrate on Hungarian history. I asked when there was real democracy in Hungary. Perhaps never, and therefore Hungarians' lack of appreciation for democracy is not really surprising. It is not a "birth defect" but the result of a historical accident.
In the past I wrote a lot about Viktor Orbán's ideas concerning the necessity of building "a central power" that has such an overwhelming majority that for fifteen or twenty years no other party has a chance to challenge its dominance. This new "regime" would not be a one-party dictatorship because there would be other parties and the parliament would be a functioning body, but it could be called a "quasi democracy." Hungary has a long history of this kind of "one-party rule," starting with the establishment of the parliamentary system after the Compromise of 1867.
Between 1867 and 1918 basically one party, first led by father and then son, was the only political power in the country. The name changed once from the Liberal Party (Szabadelvű Párt, 1875-1905) to the National Party of Work (Nemzeti Munkapárt; 1910-1917) but the ideology remained the same. The organizers of the two parties were Kálmán Tisza and his son István Tisza. During the Dual Monarchy the Hungarian political system was formally a multi-party democracy but because of limited electoral rights one political group was able to hang onto power for decades. Before 1918 only 6% of the population had the right to vote and there was no secret ballot.
The old regime fell in 1918, but soon enough another quasi-democracy was in place. By July 1920 the various smaller parties decided to form a large Party of Unity (Egységes Párt). The first election after the war took place in early 1920, and it was held under the so-called Friedrich election law, named after István Friedrich, prime minister between August and November 1919. It was a liberal law that included suffrage for women and a secret ballot. However, the old conservative political elite, left over from the pre-war years, was not satisfied with the composition of the parliament of 1920. The majority of the members belonged to parties of far-right coloring. The remedy according to István Bethlen, future prime minister, was to restrict voting rights once again so that neither the far right nor the social democrats could challenge the Party of Unity. By 1922 they managed to change the election law, excluding women without a higher education and making voting once again non-secret in the countryside. According to Ignác Romsics, quoted in HVG, this 1922 election law enfranchised only 28% of the adult population as opposed to the earlier 40%.
With the establishment of the Party of Unity, in a parliament of 213 members the opposition shrank to 20 people. The party may have changed names over the years, but basically the composition of the party remained very much the same. First it was called the Christian Peasant, Smallholders and Civic Party, later it changed its name to the Party of National Unity, and after 1939 it became the Party of Hungarian Life.
The organizers, the strong men, of these parties all argued for more rational governing. They felt that if they wanted to achieve something, an overwhelming majority in the House was necessary. Otherwise party squabbles would intrude and the real interests of the country would not be represented by anyone. Governing would become impossible.
Viktor Orbán makes no secret of the fact that he shares this view of effective government. If Fidesz manages to take over the position of a "central political force" then it will be able to represent "the real interests of the nation." That is, Fidesz's view of national interests. In his opinion the views of others are wrong and therefore there is no need for discussion of their vews. We might recall, however, that both István Tisza of the Party of Work and István Bethlen of the Party of Unity believed that they represented the interests of the nation, yet the party leaders led the country into two wars which Hungary lost. Therefore, perhaps the quasi democracy that Orbán finds so appealing may not be the best solution for the country's problems.
Viktor Orbán, when he complains about party squabbles, is simply articulating what many Hungarians feel. People want peace and quiet and "unity." But perhaps one day they will realize that squabbles are still preferable to what is in effect one-party rule.