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How far to the right?

May 27th, 2010

Hungary after the elections

The April parliamentary elections resulted in a sweeping victory for the right-wing parties. Center right Fidesz secured an absolute majority, and, while left-wing parties suffered an unprecedented blow, the extreme right-wing Jobbik got into Parliament  with 16,7 percent of the popular vote. How will Fidesz govern after the landslide victory? Will it weaken democratic institutions by introducing authoritarian measures, or will it start painful and supposedly unpopular structural reforms? Does Fidesz see the extreme right an ally as some left wing liberal intellectuals fear, or will it face the radical challenge by moving to the center?

Back to the thirties?

In Népszabadság, the leading left-wing daily, writer Rudolf Ungváry compares the current party system to that of the 1930s, and envisions the return of right-wing authoritarianism. „Right-wing Hungary, going down in 1945, is alive again. Its populist majority lining up behind the leader of Fidesz expects authority, order and social provision only.”

Ungváry sees no sharp dividing line between the two right-wing parties, Fidesz, the ruling centre-right party and the radical Jobbik, the second largest opposition party. He adds that Fidesz’s radical supporters may soon get disappointed by the new government, and join Jobbik. „From now on, Hungary will be the scene of a competition between a populist, authoritarian and nationalist mass-based party on the one hand, and the extreme right and the neo-Nazis on the other.” Whether Fidesz manages to establish a dominant-party system or not, Hungarian politics will be haunted by populism – Ungváry argues.

Liberal authority against hasty judgements

János Kis, a well-known public intellectual, former president of the liberal Free Democrats Alliance (SZDSZ) and main moral authority on the left-liberal side, outlines a less grim possibility. “Many argue that Jobbik is Fidesz’s natural ally. I do not agree. The two parties do not belong together” – he writes in the left liberal weekly Élet és Irodalom. „The republic is in crisis. Trust in government and the political elites has declined. The radical right wing party has gained strength, the left wing parties are in ruins. There seem to be no institutional checks and balances counterweighing the new government’s power. Many are concerned that the democratic institutions and the rule of law can hardly be saved. I do not share such worries. Though I agree that political destabilization may undermine the republic, it also provides an opportunity to bolster democratic institutions”

Kis argues that Fidesz has two options. The new government will either choose to start structural reforms or face the consequences of an even deeper financial and social crisis. Fidesz will have to face the extremist challenge either way. The radical right-wing populist Jobbik will use the opportunity to gain supporters by criticizing reforms and opposing any cuts. Even if Fidesz tries to pay lip-service to of radical right-wing sympathizers, Jobbik will still see it as an enemy and will try to seduce its supporters.

The new government will soon have to realize that the extreme right wing is its “mortal enemy”, and will have to seek the support of the social democrats, who are no longer its main challengers. In order to keep the support of the moderate base, Fidesz will have to try and build a strong consensus around structural reforms. Which is only feasible if it stops flirting with the extreme right and if it starts consolidating Hungarian politics. If the antidemocratic challenge from the extreme right forces Fidesz to move to the center, “Hungary may become a normal republic over the twenty years to come” – Kis concludes.

Anti-radical alliance improbable

Such an agenda however, will not be easy to follow – adds Péter Tölgyessy, Kis’s successor for a brief period in the early 90s as president of SZDSZ, then a Fidesz MP and currently an independent political analyst. Fidesz will have to try to moderate the radical right wing party by offering it some key positions, otherwise Jobbik will radicalize and turn to extra-parliamentary politics, most importantly, street protests. In addition, the great loser of the elections, the Socialist Party (MSZP) has already made it clear that while in opposition it will not be supportive of consensual politics and will not refrain from populist anti-reform rhetoric in order to regain lost popular support.

Self restraint recommended

The apocalyptic visions so far have proved unfounded – notes Bálint Ablonczy in center right Heti Válasz. In the discussions about the distribution of parliamentary committee positions, Fidesz made generous gestures by taking into consideration recommendations from the opposition parties. It is in the best interest of Fidesz to show its commitment to written and unwritten parliamentary norms and prove that left-wing fearmongering alarmists are wrong in labeling it an antidemocratic party – Ablonczy writes.

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