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Is the “Orbán régime” here to stay until 2022?

April 22nd, 2014

In their analyses on the causes of the defeat of the Left at the elections on 6th April, commentators across the political spectrum believe that there will be no left-wing alternative to the incumbent government until the far reaching lessons of two consecutive electoral catastrophes are learned. Opinions differ, however about what those lessons are.

In his Figyelő editorial, György Dózsa thinks left-wing parties combined might get less votes at the elections for the European Parliament on 25th May than Jobbik. Nevertheless, their main rivals this time will not be the right-wing extremists, nor even the governing Fidesz-KDNP alliance. First and foremost, they will be fighting each other in order to decide which are destined to survive. The European Parliament is often considered “a cemetery for party cadres”, e.g. former Fidesz frontmen József Szájer and Tamás Deutsch as well as this year’s MSZP front-runner Tibor Szanyi, whose candidacy rids Party Chairman Attila Mesterházy of a potentially strong critic.

(As Sándor Révész writes in Népszabadság, campaigns and debates rarely focus on important issues, even when mandates in the national parliament are at stake, and even less so before the European parliamentary elections. No wonder the turnout is low.)

Because of the low turnout and also because many hesitant right-wing voters feel the victory of Fidesz is guaranteed and might thus vote Jobbik, Dózsa concludes, the extreme right-wing party may, for the first time end up second in an electoral race with more votes not just than the MSZP, but than the left-wing parties combined.

In Magyar Narancs (print edition), Anna Unger suggests that the left must re-create its own grassroots background. It should learn from the example set by Fidesz after its defeat in 2002 when it created a vast network of circles, “an almost carbon copy of the American right-wing model”, she writes. She admits that Attila Mesterházy has managed to “restore order” within the MSZP, but remarks that by doing so he has only reaped credit within his party. Similarly, Unger adds, Ferenc Gyurcsány may well be extremely popular among his own folks, but that is too little “to restore democracy”. Since opposition parties are doomed to a secondary role in parliament and since “moving out onto the streets”, is only a show of force without too much recruitment potential, new actors must be included. Namely NGOs that the left should not either consider as rivals, or try to forcibly incorporate, Unger concludes.

In Heti Világgazdaság, Dániel Mikecz argues that the left has not recognised the changes that have occurred in the general attitude towards politics. Its leaders tend to mistakenly believe that voters have become more passive. People are distancing themselves from political parties because these are no longer useful channels for them to express their opinions. People – especially the young – are less and less engaged with particular parties, and increasingly express their views on specific issues on social websites. Mikecz suggests that the left-wing parties should promote the cause of the “empowerment” of the people, because many voters feel frustrated at not being able to influence events. One detail he mentions is to enable voters to express their personal preferences when voting for party lists, and thereby changing the rankings determined by the party leaderships.

In Magyar Demokrata, Péter Farkas Zárug criticises Socialist Party leader Attila Mesterházy for confining his much publicised renewal of the MSZP to evicting former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and some of the old party luminaries. Mesterházy assumed, Zárug suggests, that by laying all the blame on the previous leadership and surrounding himself with his own loyalists, victory would automatically be his, thanks to the mistakes committed by the government and the support coming from the European Left. Instead, the right-wing analyst continues, he was caught in the cross-fire from Mr Gyurcsány’s new party and from Gordon Bajnai, unexpectedly “parachuted in from Washington,” by forces who had supported the MSZP earlier on. Zárug concludes by suspecting that the MSZP has thus reached “an ‘event horizon’, a boundary, at which it becomes impossible to resist the pull from a black hole”.

Vasárnapi Hírek suspects that the MSZP is so harmed that it now depends on support from pro-government forces. In an unsigned article, the left-wing Sunday newspaper writes that the Socialist Party has accumulated a two billion Forint debt and its bank account has been “frozen by the creditor bank”. “And who has two billion to spare for political purposes nowadays?” VH asks, in a clear hint at pro-government tycoons. VH relates that several Socialist politicians give credit to the rumours that party chairman Attila Mesterházy has met Árpád Habony, the Prime Minister’s private advisor several times privately and speculates that the two may have discussed the placement of government ads or commercials by “Fidesz-friendly” enterprises on pro-Socialist media outlets.  Unexpectedly, at any rate, VH remarks, ads by Közgép appeared in Népszava and Népszabadság just before the elections “at an estimated value of 300 million Forints”. The Sunday newspaper (whose editor, Zoltán J. Gál was a close aide of Ferenc Gyurcsány when the latter served as Prime Minister), echoes widespread rumours about Socialist Party luminaries dissuading left-wing media from airing news about financial wrongdoings by at least two pro-government politicians.

In Magyar Nemzet (print), Péter Techet thinks Hungarians were mistaken in opting for an electoral system offering a bonus to the predominant party, since the dominant trend throughout Hungarian history has been that of one ruling party, rather than a multitude of splinter groups that would be unable to form a coalition. A proportional system would have forced opponents to compromise and tolerate one another, which might have helped avoid the deep divisions of the present day. However, the “majoritarian system” and the government it produces are fully legitimate, he adds. Techet also believes that the latest elections have produced an “anti-Liberal coalition”. He argues that the defeated left-wing alliance was the last attempt at a comeback by the liberal intelligentsia and its last effort to impose its will on the Socialist Party. The “liberal consensus”, that is “the liberal interpretation of the rule of law, capitalist market economy, and unconditional Euro-Atlantic integration,” had already run out of steam by 2010, and “finally disappeared altogether” on 6th April. Techet thinks the Socialist Party will never again represent those ideals, for they say nothing about the material needs of the majority of the population. Unlike the policy pursued by the government, which “resigned itself to the country’s peripheral status and intends to use its only competitive advantage – low wages and poor employees’ rights”. That course offers society some sort of stability, which makes the victory of the government forces almost certain in 2018, Techet writes. The dissatisfied are more likely to turn towards Jobbik than towards the Socialists and might help the radical right-wing party to win more seats in Parliament, but without jeopardizing the primacy of the centre-right alliance. Fidesz can safely make plans well up to 2022, Techet concludes.


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