Tag Archives: election

What’s the remedy? Boycott of parliament and/or elections?

Over the weekend Ferenc Gyurcsány called together the elected leaders of the Demokratikus Koalíció to discuss the party’s strategy in the wake of the political developments of the last week and a half. Apparently, after a very long and passionate debate, the politicians came to the conclusion that the party’s four members of parliament–Ferenc Gyurcsány, László Varju, Ágnes Vadai, and Lajos Oláh–from here on will boycott parliament. They will not attend the plenary sessions, they will not take part in the work of the committees, and hence they will not vote unless their vote would make a difference as far as Fidesz’s two-thirds majority is concerned. The four realize that they may not receive their salaries and/or may be fined. But, as Gyurcsány said at his press conference, they refuse to be a cog in Orbán’s “System of National Cooperation.” They will not cooperate with a dictatorial power.

The idea of a boycott is not at all new in Ferenc Gyurcsány’s thinking. He was still a member of MSZP in 2011 when he first suggested a partial boycott of the plenary sessions. The occasion was Viktor Orbán’s sudden decision to write a new constitution. MSZP had already decided not to attend the preparatory meetings, but Gyurcsány’s suggestion went further: MSZP should boycott parliament altogether when the new constitution was on the table. At that time no party was ready to heed Gyurcsány’s advice.

In February 2016, after skinheads prevented István Nyakó from turning in his referendum question at the National Election Office, Gyurcsány came up with the idea again. He suggested a boycott of parliament as long as the government party refuses to change the rules on holding referendums. The opposition parties didn’t support the idea. LMP’s András Schiffer went even further in his condemnation of the idea when he declared that “people must decide whether they will support the rule of law or follow Ferenc Gyurcsány.”

An intelligent critique of Gyurcsány’s suggestion came from Sándor Révész, Népszabadság’s op-ed page editor, who felt that between 2010 and 2016 Orbán had done everything in his power to destroy all vestiges of Hungary’s weak fabric of democracy and therefore a boycott was justified. But, he continued, staging a boycott because of one particular undemocratic step of the government is “not a very good idea.” He rightly pointed out that Orbán, “together with his Fidesz accomplices,” would come up with some clever way to “remedy” the objectionable piece of legislation and everything would go on as before.

The idea of a boycott, this time of the national election, was on the agenda again when Miklós Haraszti, SZDSZ member of parliament (1990-1994) and OSCE’s representative on freedom of the media (2004-2010), was interviewed by 168 Óra in May 2016. According to his argument, one of the sources of Fidesz’s overwhelming power is the electoral law that it created for its own benefit. Fidesz, with a 44.87% share of the popular vote, in 2014 achieved a 66.83% presence in parliament, which allowed the government to do anything it wanted, ignoring the powerless opposition. In order to stop the dictatorship of a supermajority, this lopsided, disproportionate electoral system must be abolished. In Haraszti’s opinion, all opposition parties should join ranks to force Fidesz to adopt an entirely different electoral system where 40% in the polling station means 40% in parliament. The parties should make it clear that if the government party doesn’t play ball, the whole opposition will walk out, refusing to participate in the next election. Such a move would create a “European scandal.”

The reaction to Haraszti’s idea was mixed. Márton Kozák, a sociologist and journalist, wrote a glowing endorsement in Magyar Narancs, praising Haraszti for calling attention to the electoral law as the key to curtailing Fidesz’s power. The opposition parties from here on should concentrate on enlightening their voters about the importance of this issue. And, he continued, the opposition parties must not assist Fidesz in its attempt to make small, unimportant changes in a basically faulty electoral law.

As usual, others violently disagreed. Someone who calls himself Nick Grabowszki found Haraszti’s plan naïve. “What European scandal?” he asked. Western European commentators and politicians already look upon Orbán as a representative of the far right. They compare him to Erdoğan, Putin, and Lukashenko. The European Union expects Hungarians to take care of their own little dictator. Moreover, Orbán is very careful not to cross any red line when it comes to his dealings with the European Union. Brussels will not get involved. Yes, says Grabowszki, the electoral system produces disproportionate results, but it is beneficial not only to Fidesz but to all parties that manage to achieve a certain percentage of the votes. Even if Fidesz were stupid enough to agree to the plan Haraszti has in mind, it would still win the election. It would simply be forced to find a coalition partner. Grabowszki is certain that Jobbik would not join the boycott, and therefore all people critical of the Fidesz government would vote for Jobbik. Grabowski’s conclusion is that “a left-wing boycott would lead to a Jobbik government.”

To return to DK’s current suggestion, the reaction of MSZP to DK’s announcement of a boycott is slightly different from its earlier stance when the party insisted that boycotting parliament would offend its constituency and that being in parliament still gives them a certain measure of influence. This time their argument is that a party which is large enough to have a parliamentary delegation (frakció), with the privileges that come with this status, “cannot boycott because that would mean ceding the role of opposition to Jobbik.” On the other hand, according to Gyula Molnár, DK, which has no such delegation, “made the right decision.”

osszefogas

It would be indeed wonderful if all the opposition parties could together decide on a joint action, as Haraszti’s theoretical model would demand. But here even the two largest democratic parties cannot agree when it comes to the decision to boycott parliament.

Despite this, there is some hope that these parties are coming closer and will be, we hope, acting jointly. For example, Fidesz organized a five-party discussion of the proposed amendments to the constitution. The five parties are the ones with their own delegations: Fidesz, KDNP, Jobbik, MSZP, and LMP. For a while it looked as if LMP would attend, but at the end only Fidesz-KDNP, which is in reality a single party, and Jobbik had a friendly chat. From the media coverage of the event it seems that the two parties are largely in agreement on all points.

Another promising development is that MSZP, DK, Párbeszéd, and Modern Magyarországért Mozgalom (MoMa) will celebrate together in front of the Astoria Hotel on October 23. This will be the first time that, on a national holiday, these parties will hold their rallies together. Együtt is missing from the list. Only recently it announced that it will not cooperate with any other opposition parties. Broad-based democratic cooperation is a painfully slow process, but the events of the last few days, I think, will convince more people that Orbán’s regime must go. As Ferenc Kőszeg, founder of the Hungarian Helsinki Commission, said in an article that appeared in Élet és Irodalom recently, “nothing is more important than the removal of Viktor Orbán from his position.” He added that “against him one can even vote for Gábor Vona.” Of course, this remark raised quite a few eyebrows, but I agree with him. At the moment Orbán is a great deal more dangerous than the leader of Jobbik.

October 11, 2016

A possibly very strange end to Viktor Orbán’s political career

The following paragraph from an interview Ferenc Gyurcsány gave Somogyi Hírlap, a paper serving Kaposvár and the County of Somogy, has created quite a stir, mostly in the right-leaning media. Since there have been many, most likely purposeful, misinterpretations of what Gyurcsány actually said, here is a faithful translation of the controversial paragraph. This was Gyurcsány’s answer to the reporter’s question about cooperation among the opposition parties.

First we must wait until we find out what happens at the [forthcoming] congress of MSZP where four very different types of politicians will vie for the chairmanship. It is also not immaterial where MSZP will be by next spring. How self-confident they will be. I’m certain that there will be some kind of joining of forces before the next national election, even if not the kind that existed in 2014. But it is also possible that regardless of what we do or say the people—just like in Tapolca and in Salgótarján, in the former from left to right and in the latter from right to left–will vote for the candidate they think is most likely to succeed [against Fidesz]. Thus, a situation may occur—something Viktor Orbán hasn’t thought of—that left-right cooperation will take place over and above his “central power” scheme. It can happen that three large blocks are formed–the left opposition, Jobbik, and Fidesz-KDNP–but that none of them gets the necessary 50%, while they cannot form a coalition openly. Let me add that I wouldn’t be at all happy about such an outcome, but at the same time I cannot preclude the possibility of such public pressure that the current opposition forces will have to cooperate for the sake of dismantling the two-thirds laws. There is the possibility that the current political system will have a very strange end.

The Hungarian media is very Budapest-centric. Few journalists in the capital pay much attention to what appears in the provincial press. However, Gábor G. Fodor’s notorious new internet news site, 888.hu, immediately picked the story up from a far-right site called spiler.blog.hu. Both declared that “Gyurcsány would forge an alliance with Jobbik,” 888.hu adding that “things grow together that belong together.” Magyar Idők also indicated that Gyurcsány would work together with Jobbik and sarcastically added that “perhaps they could form one big party,” attracting voters from the entire political spectrum. “Gyurcsány would have a lot to talk about with [László] Toroczkai. Political success is guaranteed.” Toroczkai, the far-right leader of the Youth Movement of the Sixty-Four Counties, was an active participant in the destruction of the Magyar Televízió’s building when Gyurcsány’s Balatonőszöd speech became public. Válasz’s article ran under the headline: “Hang on, Gyurcsány embodies every anti-fascist’s nightmare.” The author of the article is pretty certain that nothing will come of such cooperation because both MSZP and DK said far too often: “Never with Jobbik!” However, he admitted that the last few by-elections showed that voters can create grand coalitions on “the theory of anybody but Fidesz.”

On the other side of the political spectrum there is deathly silence. No one wants to say anything about Gyurcsány’s assessment of the present political map of Hungary. I found only one blog, László Zöldi’s medianapló.blog.hu, that found this particular passage from the Gyurcsány interview important and thought-provoking. He can’t quite understand why no one explored the subject further with him, although Zöldi has heard at least two subsequent interviews. He simply can’t understand the silence. He even suggests that there may be topics the independent Hungarian media simply doesn’t want to talk about.

Source: pto.hu/post/1/6113

Source: pto.hu/post/1/6113

Indeed, it is a sensitive topic because in the last few years the strength of the various political blocs hasn’t changed substantially. As long as this constellation remains, Fidesz’s chances of winning the next election and perhaps even several more are good. On the other hand, there is the very real problem of Jobbik’s ideology and the democratic opposition parties’ determination not to cooperate with a neo-Nazi party. Gábor Vona’s announcement to get rid of some of his deputies was initially interpreted by many, including myself, as a move toward the center, but Vona’s candidates for the vacated positions hold views just as extreme as those of the party leaders he wants to dismiss.

Gyurcsány is actually not the first politician to talk about some kind of an arrangement between the left and Jobbik. Gergely Karácsony (PM), today mayor of Zugló (District XIV), brought up the idea of a short-term coalition of the opposition parties (MSZP-LMP-Jobbik) back in December 2011. At that point Karácsony was still a member of LMP. The Fidesz government was in the middle of working on a new electoral law. What the public could learn about the details convinced Karácsony that the law would greatly favor the government party and that even if MSZP and LMP faced the government party together they would not be able to get rid of the Orbán government. His suggestion was to forge an alliance among the three opposition parties for the sole purpose of breaking the stranglehold of Fidesz’s two-thirds majority rule. The goal of this alliance would be a minimum program that would remove the worst features of Orbán’s political system, including naturally the electoral system. After the essential changes that would restore the democratic functioning of the government were made, parliament could be dissolved and new elections held. The outcry on the left after this interview was so great that the idea was immediately dropped.

Of course, the political atmosphere today is very different from the one in which Karácsony made this suggestion, which sounded bizarre after only a year and a half of Fidesz rule. Today, however, we have a situation in which several by-elections have shown that the electorate is indeed ready to vote for the candidate who is most likely to succeed against Fidesz. Left-wingers are ready to vote for a Jobbik politician, while disappointed Fidesz and Jobbik voters are ready to cast their votes for a socialist. If such trends continue, one can easily foresee the kind of situation Gyurcsány talked about. And then what? The democratic opposition must have a viable game plan.

May 4, 2016

Regrouping on the left: MSZP on the brink

In the wake of the EU parliamentary election the non-Hungarian media will undoubtedly be preoccupied with the fact that the second largest party in Hungary is an extreme-right, racist, anti-Semitic party. But in the domestic press the “demise” of the Hungarian Socialist Party and the surprisingly good showing of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció is the chief topic. After all, Fidesz’s large victory was a foregone conclusion, and the Hungarian media had speculated for some time that Jobbik would surpass MSZP. But no one predicted that DK would almost catch up with MSZP.

DK’s performance was especially unexpected because most opinion polls predicted that DK had no chance of sending delegates to the European Parliament. Medián, normally a very reliable polling firm, forecast a large Fidesz victory, Jobbik as the second-place winner, and MSZP in third place. As far as E14-PM and LMP were concerned, their chances were slim, teetering around the 5% mark. The party that, in Medián’s opinion, had no chance whatsoever was the Demokratikus Koalíció.

As it turned out, the predictions were off rather badly in the case of the smaller parties. As it stands now, all three–E14-PM, LMP, and DK–will be able to take part in the work of the European Parliament. The largest discrepancy between the predictions and the actual results was in the case of DK, which with its 9.76% will have two MEPs in Strasbourg.

The talking heads were stunned, especially those who have been absolutely certain that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s name is so tainted that there was no way he could ever again be a major player in Hungarian politics. Even those who sympathized with him felt that he returned to politics too early and by this impatience jeopardized his own political future.

The very poor showing of MSZP had a shocking effect on the Hungarian public as well as on commentators. No one was expecting a large win, but Medián, for example, predicted at least 14%. Instead, the final result was 10.92%.  A devastating blow. On her Facebook page Ildikó Lendvai, former whip and chairman of the party, described MSZP as being asleep or perhaps even dead. Slapping around a dead man, she wrote, is a waste of time. The governing body (elnökség) of the party has already resigned en bloc, and Saturday we will find out whether Attila Mesterházy will have to step down. Some well-known blog writers suggested that he should leave politics altogether and find a nice civilian job.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened to the three parties that constituted the United Alliance in the April 5 national election. The supposition that MSZP did all the heavy lifting for the combined ticket turned out to be false, at least based on the new returns. DK and E14-PM together garnered 18% of the votes as opposed to MSZP’s 10.92%. A rather substantial difference. EP-valasztas 2014-2It is also clear that the relatively good showing of the United Alliance in Budapest was due to the two smaller parties. This time around DK and E14-PM received 26% of the votes as opposed to MSZP’s 11.5%. DK ran second behind Fidesz in the capital (13.1o%), very closely followed by E14-PM (13.07%). Which party won in which district? It seems that Gordon Bajnai’s party was strong in the more elegant districts of Pest and Buda: the Castle district, Rózsadomb, downtown Pest, and Óbuda. Gyurcsány’s party won in less affluent districts: Köbánya, Újpalota, Csepel. Altogether DK won in nine outlying districts.

DK also did better than MSZP in several larger cities: Debrecen, Győr, Nagykanizsa, Kaposvár, Érd, Kecskemét, Pécs, and Székesfehérvár. In addition, there were two counties, Fejér and Pest, where DK beat the socialists. I should add that Fidesz lost only one city, Nyírbátor, where MSZP received 41.12% of the votes to Fidesz’s 32.35%.

As I predicted, very few Hungarians voted. In 2004 the figure was 38.50%, in 2009 36.31%, and this year only 28.92%. There might be several reasons for the low participation. For starters, people took a large Fidesz victory for granted. They did not think their votes could make a difference. Moreover, it was less than two months since the last election, and only the very committed took the trouble to make another trip to the polling station.

As far as the composition of the European Parliament is concerned, it looks as if EPP will have 212 members and S&D 186. So, the candidate for the post of the president of the European Commission will most likely be Jean-Claude Juncker, the man Viktor Orbán would not vote for in the European Council. What is wrong with Juncker? One very big problem is his country of origin: Luxembourg. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding is also a Luxembourger, and she was very tough on the Orbán government. As Orbán put it: “the commissioner from Luxembourg has only hurt Hungary in the past. So, Hungarians cannot support a Luxembourger.” And Redding was not alone. There was another Luxembourger, Jean Asselborn, foreign minister in Juncker’s government, who criticized Hungary’s media law. It seems that Orbán developed a general dislike of Luxembourgers.

Orbán might not be alone in the European Council in his opposition to Juncker because it looks as if  David Cameron will also oppose him. Mind you, he also has problems with Martin Schulz. I doubt that the anti-Juncker forces will succeed, however, because Angela Merkel has thrown her weight behind him.

As for Juncker, naturally he was asked about his reaction to Orbán’s opposition to his nomination at his press conference today. Juncker started off by keeping the topic away from his own person, saying that “this is a problem that exists between Fidesz and EPP,” but then he told the journalists what was on his mind. “I cannot accept that just because a former minister from Luxembourg got into an argument with the Hungarian government it is en0ugh reason to exclude another Luxembourger from the post of president of the European Council. This is not elegant reasoning.”

Elegant reasoning and Orbán? In his fairly lengthy and exuberant victory speech, the prime minister called the Hungarian MEPs the “advanced garrison of Hungarians who defend the homeland abroad.” He sent them off with these words: “Greetings to the soldiers entering the battlefield!”

 

European Parliamentary Election in Hungary: Final Results

Here are the official results:

Fidesz:  51.9% (1,191,163)

Jobbik: 14.68% (339,501)

MSZP: 10.92% (252,494)

Demokratikus Koalíció  9.76% (225,762)

Együtt-PM 7.22% (167,012)

LMP 5.01% (115,957)

It seem that the “spy affair” of Jobbik’s Béla Kovács did make a difference as far as the party’s popularity is concerned. Jobbik lost about 25% of its supporters.

The other surprise was the lackluster performance of MSZP and the higher than expected results for DK. The difference between the two parties was only about 30,000 votes. MSZP did especially badly in Budapest. In the capital DK was the second strongest party after Fidesz. The third was Együtt2014-PM; the forth was MSZP followed by LMP.

 

Viktor Orbán’s speech in parliament, May 10, 2014

Viktor Orbán had a very busy weekend. He was in Berlin on the 8th where he had a brief conversation with Chancellor Angela Merkel and delivered a lecture at a conference on the future of the European Union. Two days later, on the 10th, he was sworn in as prime minister of Hungary and delivered two speeches, one to the members of parliament and another to a sizable audience recruited by party activists.

I would like to concentrate here on the longest speech of the three, the one he delivered in parliament. In this speech he sought to portray himself as the prime minister of the whole nation. By contrast, the speech that followed, delivered only a few hours later, was entitled “We must go to war again!” It was an antagonistic campaign speech for the European parliamentary election. Such rapid switches in Orbán’s messages are by now expected.

Not that the first speech was devoid of military references. Orbán described Fidesz’s election campaign as a “military expedition” that produced fabulous results. Some people want to belittle this achievement, he said, by talking about the jarring difference between the number of votes cast for Fidesz and the number of seats the party received in parliament. But he considers the result a true expression of the popular will and a reaffirmation of his leadership. It reflects (perhaps in a fun house mirror) the Hungarian people’s centuries-long striving for freedom and independence.

After assuring his audience that he will be the prime minister of all Hungarians, even those who did not vote for Fidesz, he shared his views on the politics of the first twenty years of Hungarian democracy and outlined what he would consider a desirable state of affairs in Hungarian politics under his guidance. The upshot of it is that Hungarians had too much freedom between 1990 and 2010. After 40 years of silence, suddenly everybody wanted to discuss and argue and, as a result, “we didn’t get anywhere.” Hungarian politics didn’t find the right proportion between discussion, argument, compromise, and action. But now that the Hungarian people have overwhelmingly voted for his politics, “it is time to close the period of unproductive debates.” Since he won the election twice, “the Fundamental Law, a society built on human dignity, politics that couples freedom with responsibility, a work-based society and unification of nation are no longer the subjects of debate.” One can talk about details but “the basic questions have been decided. The electorate put an end to debate.”

Members of the democratic opposition are missing Source: MTI/ Lajos Soós

Members of the democratic opposition are absent
Source: MTI/ Lajos Soós

We know from his earlier utterances that Orbán values national unity above all, but here he admitted that the much coveted unity cannot be fully achieved. The culprit? Democracy. He recognizes that democratic principles preclude “complete national unity.” He quickly added, however, that “the forces that are striving for unity scored an overwhelming victory at the polls, meaning the central forces were victorious.”  He considers this huge mass of people the “European center, which rejects extremist politics.”

At the very beginning of the speech Orbán devoted a short paragraph to the importance of proper word usage. If the choice of words is wrong, the thoughts behind them are muddled. The implication was that his way of expressing himself is crystal clear with no room for misunderstanding. Unfortunately, his discourse on democracy versus national unity is anything but clear and logical. So, let’s try to unravel the tangle.

It seems to me that he is trying to show that democracy and national unity are compatible after all. Since Fidesz won a landslide victory and those who voted for him belong to the political center (a group that stands against both right and left extremism), they embody the notion of national unity. Extremists have no place in the nation because “they pose a danger to Hungarians.” A rather neat way of justifying a basically autocratic, non-democratic system within the framework of a supposedly democratic regime.

Who are these extremists? If you think that he was talking about Jobbik you would be wrong. He talked mostly about the liberals. People who defend the rights of the accused at the expense of victims’ rights are extremists. Extremists are those who “take money away from working people and give it to those who are capable of working but who don’t want to work.” Extremists are those who “want to support the unemployed instead of the employed.” An extremist is a person “who wants to sacrifice our one-thousand-year-old country on the altar of some kind of United States of Europe.” (A clear reference to Ferenc Gyurcsány.) For Orbán, it seems, the socialists and liberals are just as extreme as the politicians of Jobbik who “want to leave the European Union.”  In fact, he spends far more time on the sins of the liberals than on those of Jobbik, whose only offense seems to be their desire to turn their backs on the European Union. Of course, Orbán himself would be a great deal happier if he could get rid of the Brussels bureaucrats who poke their noses into his affairs, but he knows that without the EU Hungary would have been bankrupt a long time ago.

As for his “program,” we know that before the election Orbán did not offer a party program. Fidesz simply announced that they “will continue” what they did in the last four years. The guiding principles will remain the same: Christianity, family values, patriotism, and a work-based society. Orbán is against immigration from outside of Europe and instead wants to promote large Hungarian families. He makes no bones about what he thinks of same-sex marriages. We’ve heard these themes before; they’re not worth dwelling on here.

I would, however, like to point out one delicious “messaging shift”  in this speech. You may recall that Viktor Orbán time and again called the 1989 constitution, which was a thorough rewrite of the 1948 constitution, a Stalinist constitution. Fidesz politicians liked to say that Hungary was the only EU country that still had a “communist” constitution. So, what do I see in this speech? The following sentence: “The liberal constitution did not obligate the government to the service of national interests;  it did not oblige it to recognize and strengthen the community of Hungarians living all over the world; it did not defend the nation’s common property; it did not shelter the people from the indebtedness and the pillage of the country.”  Wow, so the problem was that it was a liberal constitution! Now we understand.

Serious questions about Fidesz’s election results

The first foreign media reactions to the results of the Hungarian election were anything but enthusiastic, but now that the dust has settled and there has been time to take a look at the figures, it is dawning on journalists and analysts that these “fantastic” results were achieved in a highly dubious manner. Even the raw figures give food for thought. How is it possible to achieve a two-thirds parliamentary majority with less than 44% of the votes? And then there is the disturbing statistic that among voters outside of Hungary’s borders 95% opted for Fidesz. Pictures showed vote collecting in street stalls in Transylvania, the source of most of the votes, with no attempt to even feign secret balloting. The ease with which these new citizens could cast their ballots as opposed to the difficulties expats in the United States, Canada, Australia, and western Europe encountered when they tried to register and actually vote makes critics question the intentions of the government. The final verdict most likely will be that Fidesz won this election before a single vote was cast.

Viktor Orbán’s team designed an electoral system that pretty well guaranteed Fidesz a two-thirds majority, which ensures that Viktor Orbán can rule Hungary, with the help of his 133-135 minions in parliament, as a prime minister of unlimited power. A Russian journalist, Leonid Bershidsky, who works for Bloomberg, called Orbán’s Hungary “the European Union’s only dictatorship,” and he compared Orbán to Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdoğan. One could argue that it is incorrect to describe Viktor Orbán as “a ruler exercising absolute power without the free consent of the people” because after all he won two elections. Moreover, he is “restricted by a constitution, laws, recognized opposition.” But, given the two-thirds majority, any law can be changed. And indeed laws were changed to fit the needs of the government all through the last four years. As we know, the constitution was also changed several times, and there is nothing to prevent Orbán’s parliament from changing it again. As for the consent of the people, well, one could argue that point, especially if we look at the 2014 election. Because although it is true that Fidesz won the 2010 election fair and square, we cannot say the same about this past election. Finally, a dictator according to the dictionary definition rules without an opposition. Well, in our case there is an opposition in the sense that there are a few dozen people who can make speeches in parliament, but they are unable to make a difference. Orbán’s team can forge ahead without any effective parliamentary opposition. For the time being, the majority of judges still come out with some surprisingly fair decisions, but Orbán already managed to get his own men on an enlarged constitutional court and tried to decapitate the judiciary by sending seasoned judges into retirement at the age of 62. The system that was introduced resembles the political setup of the Horthy regime (1920-1944) which Orbán, it seems, finds attractive.

Perhaps Leonid Bershidsky’s description is too strong, although he knows Putin’s Russia quite well, but other West European journalists also find the Hungarian situation serious. For example, Cathrin Kahlweit, writing for Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich), talks of Orbán’s laying down “the foundations for a permanent one-party government” achieved by “the declaration of a permanent revolution.” And these journalists call attention to the dangers this new breed of populists pose to the European Union. In Austria, Wolfgang Müller-Funk, professor of cultural studies at the Institute of European and Comparative Linguistics and Literature at the University of Vienna, calls Orbán’s system “Führer-Demokratie,” which is a threat to Europe. MDR, a radio and television station from Leipzig, called Orbán “a political predator” and compared him to Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin.

Viktor Orbán at one of his press conferences in Brussels / Photo: dpa

Viktor Orbán at one of his press conferences in Brussels / Photo: dpa

Let’s see  what Freedom House had to say about “the state of democracy in Hungary.” According to its report, “the changes initiated by Fidesz contributed to an outcome that was both less than fair and of benefit to Fidesz, as critics predicted. Indeed, Hungarian analysts suggest that without the electoral revisions, the party would have lost the supermajority it has enjoyed since 2010.” And Freedom House’s report didn’t even mention one of the most unfair features of the new Hungarian electoral law, the so-called “reform of the compensation list.” András Jámbor, a communications expert, wrote a piece for Al-Jazeera in which he described the system as one “where votes for individual candidates who did not win their electorate were transferred to their party list, originally designed to amass votes received by runners-up in districts – have now also allowed district winners (in most cases Fidesz candidates) to add their surplus votes to party lists, widening the gap between winners and their contenders, and bringing seven more seats for Fidesz.” 

The Freedom House report also called attention to the far too cozy relationship between Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán. “It’s worth noting that the Hungarian election coincided with one of the most serious foreign policy crises faced by Europe since the Cold War’s end: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea. On this critical issue, Orbán has had surprisingly little to say. He and his foreign ministry have issued anodyne statements of mild criticism for Russia’s action, questioned the sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe, and made reassuring declarations about the safety of ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine’s Transcarpathia region.” The author of the article, Arch Puddington, vice-president for research, finds this attitude especially incongruous given Orbán’s anti-communist stand in the past. Moreover, he was until recently an outspoken critic of Putin’s authoritarian regime. He concludes that “Fidesz’s policies, both at home and abroad, are far from reassuring.”

It is likely that the combined effect of this questionable election and Orbán’s new pro-Russian policy will have a negative effect on his already strained relations with the United States and the European Union and will lead to the further isolation of Hungary in the community of western democracies. But Orbán doesn’t fret about isolation–at least as long as the EU money keeps flowing. As Jonathan Swift wrote (and Orbán’s quote-happy speechwriters might consider including at the appropriate time),“When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

The political bickering has begun

The disappointment among sympathizers of the democratic opposition forces is indescribable. But reasonable barometers of the mood in this circle are the call-in shows on Klubrádió and ATV, which by now are the only opposition electronic media in Hungary. Of course, among the callers there are always those who believe that, if they had been in a position to decide, they would have done much better than the Bajnai-Mesterházy-Gyurcsány trio and who offer their pearls of political wisdom. But a lot of the callers simply describe their utter shock when they heard that Fidesz would most likely win again with a two-thirds majority.

Not that these people ever thought that the Unity Alliance would win the election, but the size of the Fidesz victory made them despair. Many students are ready to leave the country at the earliest opportunity because they don’t want to live in Orbán’s Hungary. Even before the election every third person in the younger generation was planning to leave the country. I suspect that the emigration will only accelerate in the future because I very much doubt that the Hungarian economy will improve any time soon, especially if Orbán and Matolcsy continue their unorthodox economic policies. It is also unlikely that the Orbán regime will change political course. No, they will continue their aggressive war against all the foreign and domestic “enemies” of their regime. It’s enough to note that immediately after the election Orbán gave the go ahead to erect the controversial monument to the German invasion of March 19, 1944.

Yet the democratic opposition must continue to fight the good fight because its electoral results were not as bad as they appeared at first sight. As Árpád W. Tóta said in his last opinion piece, if 1,200,000 voters stuck it out with this two-left-handed Unity Alliance, not everything is lost. The opposition simply has to do a little better, which shouldn’t be that difficult.

The Unity Alliance before the election

The Unity Alliance before the election

The disheartened sympathizers will bounce back. Soon enough, especially if the democratic opposition finds someone who can actually lead the anti-Orbán forces effectively, they will once again gather around the liberals and socialists. I am not worried about them. I am, however, very concerned about the politicians and the so-called political scientists who are now engaged in a blame game.

The finger pointing has already started. Attila Mesterházy blames everybody except himself. He doesn’t think he should resign from the chairmanship of his party. Too bad he doesn’t listen to the callers on Klubrádió. I don’t know what his colleagues in MSZP think (perhaps we will see in May), but László Botka, mayor of Szeged, announced that “continuing in the same way and with the same set-up is not worth doing.”

Or there is Gordon Bajnai, who once it became clear that he would not be the candidate for prime minister succumbed to Weltschmerz. After a fleeting appearance in politics he has already had enough. He is throwing in the towel. He just announced that he will not take his parliamentary seat. And the PM people will all resign after the European parliamentary election. That would be fine if there were a second tier of politicians behind them. But there isn’t.

According to the politicians of Együtt2014-PM and MSZP, the whole Unity Alliance was a mistake. Mesterházy apparently announced right after the election that “we could have done that well alone.” Bajnai declared on Sunday night that they will “never again agree to any unprincipled political compromise.” These politicians are reinforced by the talking heads who also suddenly discovered that the whole alliance was a huge mistake. It was a forced and unnatural political amalgam of diverse political groups. Yes it was, but it was Viktor Orbán’s devilishly clever electoral law that forced that straight jacket on them. The great minds who ex post facto condemn the joint action don’t ask what would have happened if three or four opposition politicians ran against a single Fidesz candidate. In that case, surely, not one district would have been won by the democratic opposition.

Given the mood of  the Bajnai and the Mesterházy groups, it seems there won’t be a united parliamentary delegation either. Both Együtt2014-PM and DK have only four parliamentary representatives, not enough to form a caucus. Only parties with a minimum of five members can have a caucus. That doesn’t seem to bother Együtt2014, whose politicians already announced that no meaningful political activity can be conducted in a parliament in which one party holds a two-thirds majority. They will conduct most of their activities on the streets. Unfortunately, the last two years showed how difficult it is to convince sympathizers of the democratic opposition to take an active part in street demonstrations. MSZP has its own caucus and therefore could care less what the Bajnai group does.

DK politicians haven’t said much, but from the little I heard from Ferenc Gyurcsány it looks as if he is in favor of joint action and a joint caucus.  This solution now seems close to impossible. Gyurcsány did mention that DK might approach Gábor Fodor, the lone “representative” of the Hungarian Liberal party, to join them. After all, it was Gyurcsány who convinced Együtt2014-PM and MSZP to put Fodor high enough up on the party list to assure him of a seat in parliament. Yesterday Fodor said on ATV that no such request had come from DK. Today, however, in the early afternoon Fodor announced that DK did approach him and that “the leadership” of his party had decided against it. DK’s spokesman denies that they approached Fodor with such an offer.

Otherwise, DK has already begun its campaign for the forthcoming European parliamentary election. They are collecting signatures. It was decided some time ago that the three parties would try their luck individually at the EP election. Of the three parties, only MSZP has a chance of actually sending representatives to Brussels. But since people can vote only for a party list in the EP election, Együtt2014-PM and DK can use this election to get a rough sense of their relative strength among the electorate.

So, this is where we stand. Not a happy picture.