A surprising number of listeners, mostly men, to György Bolgár’s call-in program on Klubrádió keep suggesting that what Hungary needs today is a woman as prime minister. My first thought was that the reason for this unexpected enthusiasm for a woman to lead the country is the undeniable failure of the Hungarian political elite in the last 25 years. Female participation in politics has been negligible, so politics is associated with the male gender. Perhaps disillusioned voters think that with more women in high political offices politics itself would be transformed into something more civilized and less corrupt.
Regardless of whether Hungary had a conservative or a liberal-socialist government, women never made up more than 10 percent of the country’s legislators. With that figure Hungary is dead last among all member states of the European Union. Currently the percentage of women in the lower houses of parliament in the European Union is 29%. The goal is 40% by 2020. With the exception of LMP, Hungary’s green party, there has been no concerted effort to encourage women to enter politics and promote their careers.
In the last 25 years only two women were chosen to lead their parties: Ibolya Dávid of the by now defunct Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF) and Ildikó Lendvai of the socialist party (MSZP). At the ministerial level, again regardless of whether the government was conservative or liberal-socialist, the number of women was very small or nonexistent. Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz has had the worst record in this respect. The first Orbán government did have one female member, Ibolya Dávid, but her appointment was forced upon him by the coalition agreement signed by Fidesz and MDF. Once he was free of any such encumbrance, he had no desire to see a woman near the apex of power. Moreover, he doesn’t want to see too many of them in parliament either. Of the 114 Fidesz MPs only eight, or 7%, are women. We mustn’t forget that all MPs are handpicked by Orbán himself.
Sometime in the spring of 2015 Viktor Orbán paid a visit to his old college dormitory to have a chat with the current students of the famed birthplace of Fidesz. In the freewheeling conversation that followed, which was later leaked to the media, Viktor Orbán shared some of his thoughts on women and politics. I devoted a whole post to this topic, in which I summarized Orbán’s ambivalent attitude toward women in general and women in politics in particular. He characterized Hungarian politics as savage and said its main weapon was “character assassination.” Therefore, women should be spared this pain. Perhaps they are better suited to becoming ambassadors because in that position women “are not torn to pieces.” So, Orbán, by not allowing women into the political arena, is doing them a favor.
The other day “Integrity Lab” released a study based on polling of the public’s attitudes toward women politicians, which was most likely inspired by Hillary Clinton’s nomination to become the first woman president of the United States. If she is elected, three women–Angela Merkel, Theresa May, and Hillary Clinton–will have a substantial say in which direction the western world heads.
Considering the low numbers of female politicians in Hungary, the Hungarian public is quite open-minded on the subject. The first surprise was that 51% of the population believe that the socialist-liberal parties should name a woman as their prospective prime minister while only 30% would disapprove of such a choice. The rest (19%) have no opinion.
The enthusiasm for a socialist-liberal prime minister naturally varies by party preference. The most baffling result is the relatively low percentage of LMP voters who would support the idea of a female prime minister (43%) as opposed to those (38%) who would not welcome such an outcome. These figures are mystifying because LMP believes in a 50-50 quota system. In the five-member LMP parliamentary delegation there are two women, and if six of them had been elected, there would have been three women. The leadership is in the hands of co-chairs, a man and a woman.
The other surprise is the less than enthusiastic endorsement of a female candidate by the voters of the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK). Only 50% of them would support the idea, compared to 57% among MSZP voters and 65% among the smaller democratic parties (Együtt, PM, MLP). The explanation, I assume, stems from the standing of the party leader, Ferenc Gyurcsány, in the eyes of his devoted followers. Jobbik voters, as far as their attitudes toward a female candidate are concerned, are more enlightened than their friends in Fidesz. Thirty-eight percent of Jobbik voters would accept a woman as prime minister. A mere 15% of Fidesz voters would.
Only 12% of the population think that the reason there are so few women in politics is their unsuitability for the profession. This is heartening, even if a rather large percentage (22%) of Fidesz voters share their leader’s skeptical view of women’s suitability for the job. This 22% is especially glaring if we compare it to 11% of Jobbik, 12% of LMP, 3% of DK, and 12% of MSZP voters.
So, Hungarians are on the whole not as disapproving of women in high positions as one might have suspected on the basis of the very low female participation in politics and the present government’s attitude toward women. On the other hand, other widely held views might negate this somewhat optimistic assessment of the situation. For instance, Hungarians totally reject any kinds of quotas, especially the kind that would give preferential treatment to certain groups. This is one of the reasons that the path to higher education is often cut off for Roma youngsters. To promote the entry of women into politics would need a conscious effort, most likely some kind of hard-and-fast rule when it comes to the allotment of party positions. That would mean that a number of ensconced male politicians would have to give up their places, a move that would undoubtedly be fiercely resisted.
It’s nice to dream about a female prime minister for Hungary, but at the present I am hard-pressed to come up with a candidate with the necessary experience and stature. I can think of only five well-known women politicians: Ildikó Lendvai (MSZP), Ágnes Vadai (DK), Erzsébet Pusztai (Modern Magyarország Mozgalom, earlier MDF), Kinga Göncz (MSZP, former foreign minister and member of the European Parliament) and the still very young Ágnes Kunhalmi (MSZP). The Hungarian democratic opposition should work very hard to include more women within their ranks and to mentor and promote them so they would be prepared to hold top positions in the parties and in a future government. Otherwise, Hungarians will not have a female prime minister any time soon.