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Can referenda be different?

June 3rd, 2011

The smallest party in Parliament (16 seats), Politics Can Be Different (LMP) is planning a referendum to challenge the government’s welfare cuts and the reduction of  employees’ rights. Commentators at the liberal webmagazine Hírszerző suggest that LMP wants to distance itself both from the governing centre-right parties and at the same time from the Socialists with whom they share the opposition benches.

Last week LMP announced plans to collect signatures for a referendum they hope will be held in 2012. The green, leftist party plans to ask voters about the government’s plans to cut unemployment benefits, extend the trial period for new employees, and abolish early retirement.

“[Holding such a referendum] is not a good idea, because politics can only be different if we finally manage to overcome partisan politics and resist the urge to counter the government at any price”, Antal Egei and Zsolt Horváth write in Hírszerző.

The liberal commentators add that any increase in productivity and competitiveness requires lower social benefits and more flexibility in dismissing employees. There is a trade-off between welfare and job creation, which would be crucial to boost the economy.

Egei and Horváth note that the referendum idea clearly echoes the 2008 “social referendum”  initiated by the current government parties, which were then in opposition. The 2008 referendum successfully blocked the Socialist government’s plan to introduce visit fees in the health service and tuition fees in higher education.

Nonetheless, LMP’s referendum is different, add the authors. The LMP’s concerns about the cuts in welfare benefits and diminishing job security are genuine considerations, and are not purely based on populist partisan calculations. LMP has in the past weeks been criticized by the Socialists for not joining them in their fierce attacks on the government, and now wants to distance itself from the governing centre-right parties as well. “That endeavour, despite the above reservations, makes their referendum plan excusable.”