Boycott the 2014 Hungarian elections?

There are hundreds of political analysts and commentators in Hungary whose only job is to follow politics as it is unfolding. Admittedly, the information avalanche makes it increasingly difficult to keep up with the entire spectrum.

As I was preparing to write today’s post on the pros and cons of a boycott of the 2014 elections I happened upon a “letter to the editor” that had an observation that I found prophetic. The letters to the editor in Galamus are of exceptionally high quality, most likely because the readership of the website comes from an educated and politically savvy stratum of society. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago one of readers of Galamus, Miklós Ráczkevy-Eötvös,  predicted that “the new electoral law will be changed until the bitter end and always according to the given interests of Fidesz.” And this is exactly what’s happening. A few months ago Fidesz thought that doubling the number of endorsements would be advantageous to the party. But then the study by Gordon Bajnai’s foundation (Homeland and Progress / Haza és Haladás) came out and it was read not only by the opposition but also by the strategists of Fidesz. And they learned a thing or two about how the opposition parties, if they were to follow the advice of the Foundation of Homeland and Progress, could actually win the elections.

So, came the first serious change in the electoral law, which will be followed, I’m certain, by other changes between now and 2014. Instead of a larger number of endorsements that could disqualify smaller parties, Fidesz realized that there might indeed be fairly close cooperation among democratic parties. In such a case, the number of endorsements would be irrelevant. It took a few weeks to come up with a solution. Abolish the whole system of endorsements and deprive the parties of government subsidies. Let’s give the money to individuals and thus make cooperation among the democratic parties less likely. And I suspect there will be other “innovations” depending on “need.”

Under these circumstances I think that ruling out a boycott of the elections is foolhardy. But before I list some reasons for and against an election boycott, it might be useful to take a look at the recent history of the idea. As usual, it was Ferenc Gyurcsány who first voiced his belief that there might come a time when such a move would have to be considered. If it were to become obvious that all the fiddling with the electoral law would result in a certain victory for Fidesz, even if the majority of the voters didn’t support the party, the opposition would have to seriously consider the possibility of a boycott. Gyurcsány mentioned that possibility last November in a post on his Facebook page.

Interestingly enough, István Ujhelyi, one of the deputy chairmen of MSZP, also thought of it and about three months ago even voiced his opinion in front of a number of foreign diplomats. Even Gergely Karácsony, deputy whip of LMP, mentioned the possibility of a boycott if “Fidesz withdraws the parties’  financial support.” I would like to remind Karácsony that if the announced changes actually end up in the bill that János Lázár submits to the House next week, then he and his party might have to start thinking. After all, according to announced plans financial assistance will not be going to parties.

All this talk, however, was rather vague and not openly and widely discussed in the media, although József Debreczeni, deputy chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció, did mention it in a conversation with Olga Kálmán on ATV’s Egyenes Beszéd (Straight Talk) on July 31. Debreczeni wanted to use the rumblings about a boycott to deter Fidesz from introducing voter registration. In general, however, these rumblings didn’t arouse much interest and with the exception of a few blogs (PuPu, Veránusz, etc.) no one took notice.

But then came an MSZP gathering in Szeged on August 29 where György Kolláth, a constitutional lawyer, brought the idea up again. István Ujhelyi was present and seconded the notion. For Kolláth voter registration by itself warranted a boycott. Well, it took MSZP’s top leadership only a few hours to decide that the party under no circumstances would boycott the elections. László Bitó, professor emeritus of ocular physiology at Columbia University who now lives in Hungary and made a name for himself as a writer, retorted that announcing way ahead of time that a boycott is out of question is like a trade union declaring at the very beginning of negotiations that under no circumstances would it strike.

From that point on, the debate has been raging on the question of a possible boycott, and I assume that it will not die down for a while, especially after the announcement of the planned further changes in the electoral law. There are people who are adamant in condemning a boycott that, in their opinion, would only help Fidesz. In the eyes of the anti-boycott group the electoral law will be formally acceptable to the leaders of the European Union. As they said, “the outside world will not come to the assistance of the opposition.”

The pro-boycott forces argue that the boycott would call the attention of the international community to the fragility of Hungarian democracy. Perhaps the legitimacy of the elections wouldn’t be called into question but the legitimacy of the Orbán government would. Let’s assume that because of the boycott the entire parliament is comprised of Fidesz-KDNP and Jobbik members. Such a government’s position internationally would be close to impossible.

I think that the Fidesz leadership is somewhat worried about a boycott. Magyar Nemzet in two different articles, one on August 30 and another on September 10, condemned the idea of a boycott. András Kovács in the first article accused Ujhelyi and Kolláth of being ignorant of all those studies by right-wing researchers who proved that the electoral law in many ways is more democratic than the old one. The second article by the same author also appealed to the expert opinion of the same two right-wing researchers to show how unfounded any accusation of unfairness is when it comes to the electoral law and voter registration. Surely, Fidesz is aware of the danger of a possible boycott and would very much like avoid it.

Unfortunately MSZP made a mistake and, at least for the time being, removed that danger.

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Member

I vote for not boycotting the vote.

Sure it would be prettier for the FIDESZ if they win on a normal election and have a small ineffective opposition in the parliament, kind of like now, but they don’t give a “flying fook” ((c) Johnny Boy, 2011) how they win. They just want to keep the power. Propelling the opposition into a boycott is practically establishing a one party system without terror. No, no, no. The FIDESZ wants the boycott.

A vote is a vote. The only way to get rid of this regime. Go register, get in the booth and put the cross at the right party. As long as there is no AK-47 in your butt, this will work.

To win, the opposition must put forth alternatives instead fantasizing about boycotting. Right. Here we go again. The Hungarian way. Doing nothing is always easier …

I say no!

Guest
London Calling! MSZP don’t appear to be the sharpest knives in the drawer when it comes strategy and tactics. Their naïveté in politics generally. shows that they are still wet behind the ears when it comes to democracy – when they rule out any coalition with the other opposition parties. Principles are fine if you are prepared for eternal opposition – but after about 15 to 20 years of opposition, pragmatism starts to creep in! Our Liberal Democrats in England discovered this eventually too. However, when it comes to strategy, tactics and guile (a very necessary political ingredient!) then Orban is found wanting too – another blunt-knife metaphor required here! His nausing up of the Safarov/Bonds negotiations, and the backtracking of the endorsements issue shows that they can be ‘out-chessed’ in anything when deeper thinking is required. There are many examples where Orban’s intellectual ability has been found wanting. In two words – He’s thick. Matolcsy has never been overburdened with the power to over-intellectualise either – so together they make a right pair. So MSZP’s naïveté versus Fidesz’s razor sharp ‘intellect’ should provide for electoral spectacle. Because Fidesz’s victory is a foregone conclusion – the opposition parties would be… Read more »
cheshire cat
Guest

I agree with Mutt – it’s easier to announce a boycott than fight each and every change with a planned strategy.
I’m also worried that deep down opposition parties think they would not be able to / want to govern anyway. Not in 2014, not yet – and that might be behind their spectacular giving up. Everybody wants to get rid of Orban but nobody wants to replace him as a prime minister.
I hope I’m wrong.

Member

Eva S. Balogh :
A couple of important announcements. Yesterday, Ferenc Gyurcsány affirmed that he wouldn’t seek the position of prime minister because the opposition couldn’t possibly win with him heading the list. Second, he will support Mesterházy if he will be the common candidate of the democratic opposition. Mesterházy immediately announced that MSZP supports the hunger strike and urged MSZP supporters to attend the mass meeting. According to Magyar Nemzet there were more than 5,000 people attending the rally.

I am very happy to hear that Gyurcsany is willing to stand behind Mesterhazy if that is what needs to be done. Now, if they would be able to sit down and hammer out some ways on how to market their platform, and how to factually discredit the Orban gang.

I still haven’t heard about any data about how much money Fidesz wasted in total of all the Hungarian marketing cost from London to Washington. Would anyone have that data? Obviously that money was wasted, EXCEPT if Orban actually did not make them do to much but prepaid them for the 2014 election marketing plan.

Can the opposition afford to hire some kick-butt political consultants?

Petofi1
Guest

Gyurcsany’s support for Mesterhazy…

This is a savy move by Gyurcsany. It’s the first application of a kind of ‘glue’–faith in another–that should begin a process. At a later point, I expect a coalition to actually draft Bajnai
to head the opposition (soundest move). For the time being, picking Mesterhazy protects
Bajnai..

Respect Beauty
Guest

Haven’t most voters already decided to boycott the whole political process in Hungary? An electoral boycott sounds like an admission of defeat- the opposition has to learn how to excite a large portion of Hungarians. If they can’t do that, then a boycott will only be an excuse for their failure to articulate their ideas. This blog is a good start in showing an alternative to Orban, but it’s not enough.

Cherry17
Guest

Yesterday I was there at the demonstration and I was really happy that MSZP and the Solidarity Movement spectacularly supported the hunger strike and DK.
On the other hand LMP was spectacularly missing from the group who want the democrats to join forces. Do they really think they can survive alone?
The boycott could be a double-edged sword but it shouldn’t be excluded.

oneill
Guest

If you participate in an election then you are legitimising its processes and procedures.

If the opposition believe the election in 2014 will be a completely free, democratic and independent one, then fine. If they don’t, then putting up candidates merely strengthens the regime’s standing from a moral and in the wider arena, PR point of view.

Such a boycott would, afaik, be unprecedented within the EU’s modern history and should create more problems for the Fidesz Fuhrer than the opposition, in all likelihood, being destroyed electorally by an illegitimate and crooked process again.

Kingfisher
Guest

I should think many people outside Hungary will be a bit bemused by this. Boycotting the elections in a European country is an incredibly serious issue. Things must be really bad. So, bad that there should be demonstrations. Public disobedience. Smoke bombs. Riot police. Not in 18 months time, NOW. This is a major major issue! And how is the opposition protesting? Umm, a guy in an Armani shirt has decided to skip meals for a week …

My gut reaction is that yet again, the Hungarian intelligentsia has failed to grasp that one has to get one’s hands dirty from time to time.

Member

Kingfisher :
My gut reaction is that yet again, the Hungarian intelligentsia has failed to grasp that one has to get one’s hands dirty from time to time.

I believe this is the actual definition of the “intelligentsia”.

Member
Kingfisher : I should think many people outside Hungary will be a bit bemused by this. Boycotting the elections in a European country is an incredibly serious issue. Things must be really bad. So, bad that there should be demonstrations. Public disobedience. Smoke bombs. Riot police. Not in 18 months time, NOW. This is a major major issue! And how is the opposition protesting? Umm, a guy in an Armani shirt has decided to skip meals for a week … My gut reaction is that yet again, the Hungarian intelligentsia has failed to grasp that one has to get one’s hands dirty from time to time. I never read such a flat admission from someone not considering itself not be part of the “intelligentsia” or calling himself a failure. You see the logic here, you think that only the “intelligentsia” is protesting, and of course you not, so you are not part of it. If you are part of it I guess you consider yourself a failure. Let me remind you to read the comments of the blog (do not put your head in the sand), as a few of the “Hungarian intelligentsia” do not agree with the hunger-strike or… Read more »
Kingfisher
Guest

Some1, I’m English and live in the UK. I’m no longer a Hungarian tax payer, I am not a Hungarian citizen and it isn’t my battle. But as someone who lived in Hungary for well over a decade, I feel my neutral observations carry some weight, not least because I know the language rather well, and I also know a lot of Hungarian intellectuals! I could move back, I suppose, and protest. In the end though, I’d rather tend my roses.

spectator
Guest

The shirt in question wasn’t Armani – looked pretty much RL Polo – but this should have been beside the point.
Did anybody ever listened, what that guy in a whatever shirt was trying to tell to the general public, and through this pathetic act to the civilized world?
The present leader of Hungary – the name Orban something or other – using the overwhelming majority in the parliament (what he managed to con to people into supporting him) to grab and establish total authoritarian power in the middle of Europe, even as a member state of the European Union!
He’s intended to do this by any means and whatever cost.

To the country, that is, because he taking a good care of the nearest an dearest, cronyism and power play used for gaining unlimited control over just about every aspect of life in Hungary.

Some say, that they also living in the 21th century – would you believe it just by look at?

spectator
Guest

@Kingfisher
“In the end though, I’d rather tend my roses.”
I’d rather if you skip the red ones, in case if you intended to tend some ties with Hungary – the color pretty soon will be outlaw, will be forbidden even to mention it!
Presently they considering to change even words which contain references to this God awful recluse from the Communist past – for example “vöröshagyma” which translate to “red onion”
– just to name one, so, be careful with those roses..!

The government there over seems convinced, you don’t need to know a thing, particularly nothing of the economy – enough to be anti-communist, the rest will follow!
Oh, well…

Guest
The Orban Constitution is designed to give Orban unlimited power. If or when the Orban rule breaks down as a result of election boycott or something else the Orban Constitution may be used by somebody else for the same purpose. In order to safeguard against this possibility the opposition parties – if they cannot agree about anything else – should agree about rejecting the Orban Constitution and drafting a new and democratic constitution as their common election program. The Orban Constitution was claimed to be written by one person on an i-Pad. Possibly this claim was meant to create associations from modern technology to modern thinking. However, modern technology is the Internet and modern thinking does not favour authoritarianism. The Post-Orban Constitution should be drafted on the Internet in a blog open for comments by the public. It should not be an i-Pad constitution but an Internet constitution. I imagine that a Post-Orban Constitution committee formed by the opposition parties should launch proposals about paragraphs on the blog, study the comments from the public and then try to agree on a text. Let me give an example. The Post-Orban Constitution should embody facts not myths. As the Trianon Treaty is… Read more »
Member

The “intelligentsia” category is horrible. I think this was invented in the ancient regime by the communist ideologs. Not to define a group of intelligent people but to define everything outside of it. The working class. Who is this intelligentsia anyway? What’s the definition? Having a library of 10000 books like Varga? Not that nazi Varga, the other Varga, the misogynic Varga. Or the diploma? What degree? BSc? Then US has the biggest “intelligentsia” while only 30% believes in evolution … please.

No such thing as “intelligentsia” not in this planet called Hungary anyway. The same intelligent people who do nothing now will be on the streets in ten years when we get to point where Greece is now, protesting to spending less then the money we have.

trackback

[…] Éva, a Kanadai Magyar Demokratikus Charta szovívője és a Hungarian Spectrum szerkesztője pedig felvetette, hogy a Fidesz is biztosan olvashatta Bajnai Gordon által vezetett Haza és Haladás nevű […]

Member
Kingfisher : Some1, I’m English and live in the UK. I’m no longer a Hungarian tax payer, I am not a Hungarian citizen and it isn’t my battle. But as someone who lived in Hungary for well over a decade, I feel my neutral observations carry some weight, not least because I know the language rather well, and I also know a lot of Hungarian intellectuals! I could move back, I suppose, and protest. In the end though, I’d rather tend my roses. It is the same for me. Honestly, I just hate how all of us (and this includes me) try to tell us to the ones who are there what to do. In reality it is their choice. It is their choice they go about it. At the same time I do have family over there and I hate to see how the situation affects them. I will not tell my eighty years old dad to go out and start a riot, so people in the west would take them serious when they decide not to vote. It is sad to say but what is missing from young Hungarians is the spirit that Orban and his friends had… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

Declaring to boycott elections that will be held in one and a half years is a bit premature. That can be decided when the registration period ends or perhaps even later. Until then, everything has to be attempted to unite the opposition and get people to register. And to present a programme. Whether a boycott of the elections will mobilise the other Europeans more than the media law, I doubt. (By the way, it was Hungarians who replied that it is mainly the West who is allarmed by this law, in Hungary this is not a big issue.) From what I heard mainly of Germans who get information about Hungary when the German press reports about it, I suspect that the reaction of other Europeans will be a shock but accompanied by astonishment and disbelief that Hungarians are not doing much about it. This has complicted interference from outside up to now also.

trackback

[…] a Kanadai Magyar Demokratikus Charta szovívője és a Hungarian Spectrum szerkesztője pedig felvetette, hogy a Fidesz is biztosan olvashatta Bajnai Gordon által vezetett Haza és Haladás nevű […]

Kirsten
Guest

The problem is that it would be best to end OV’s rule through demonstrations or broad public protests, ie not within the newly established political order. But given the widespread lethargy, this is rather unlikely. In the absence of that, and in the absence of an outright autocracy, it makes sense to me to be at least prepared to participate in the elections (and keep

Kirsten
Guest

contact with European institutions). I apologise for these half-messages when I am writing from the phone…

Dubious
Guest

I agree with Mutt’s first comment. A boycott would be great for Fidesz They have shown that they really have no concept of international pressure. In fact, they steadfastly try to go against international pressure – it is one of their few predictable manoeuvres. Everything they do is for a domestic audience (with the possible exception of enabling the release of axe-murderers).

They will tell everyone that the opposition knew it was going to lose badly so they tried a boycott, but no-one was going to vote for it anyway. And half the country will believe them.

Then they will be in parliament with a two-thirds majority, and they can just continue to exercise power and line their pockets and pat themselves on the back. They will probably even increase funding to political parties, but there will only be Fidesz and Jobbik in parliament.

Of course, I agree with Éva and others that MSZP were silly to say that they ruled out a boycott, but privately I really hope that no-one does boycott the elections. The country really can’t deal with 6 more years of Matolcsyism.

Me
Guest

I would say it’s funny to read these brainless phrases about the end of democracy and that sort of garbage. After almost 50 years of communist terror (plus another 12 years of pseudo-communist liberal rule), the only thing to be afraid of in Hungary is the return of the liberal-communist horde. They are pests. They have nothing to do with equal rights, democracy or anything similar. They are children and grandchildern of the bestial criminals of AVO and AVH and should rot in prison. 21st century “democracy” is in fact media controlled dictatorship and as such it is worse than direct dictatorship which is at least transparent. So caring for the idea of “democracy” in today’s world is a pathetic lie. It is becoming stomac-turning indeed…

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