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Apathy – the real threat to democracy

August 20th, 2011

A liberal conservative political analyst argues that the primary enemies of democratic institutions are not Fidesz and Jobbik, as left wing pundits suggest, but the general public indifference, which is partly a legacy of the pre-1989 era, but also a sign of the paralysis of the opposition parties.

A democracy that can only be saved by an alliance which includes the far-right, is not worth saving,” writes political analyst Zoltán Somogyi in Hírszerző.

From 2008-2010, Somogyi was the chief strategist and, in the 2010 parliamentary elections, a candidate of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF). MDF failed to cross the parliamentary threshold, a fact which conservative party members blame on Somogyi’s liberal strategy.

Commenting on a proposal by LMP for a temporary alliance between the left and the far-right opposition parties to defeat Orbán and undo his reforms, Somogyi believes that it is still too early to make plans for the 2014 elections. In any case, an alliance of the opposition parties which included Jobbik would only weaken public support for democratic values, he believes.

Somogyi thinks that if voters show no interest in democratic institutions, democracy cannot be saved by any kind of party coalition. He quotes the findings of recent opinion polls, which show that a growing percentage of Hungarian voters are undecided, to support his argument that “the real problem is that voters have turned away from politics.”

The increasing apathy is partly the heritage of the pre-1989 era, where a tacit agreement prevailed between the ruling elite and the public, Somogyi writes. Voters did not care much for the antics of a corrupt political elite, provided they were allowed to get on with their own lives in a relatively free private sphere. “The same kind of modus vivendi that helped to sustain the happiest barracks of the socialist block is crippling for democracy.” If there is no public outcry, politicians are free to do whatever they wish.

In addition to the legacy of state socialism, the impotence and implausibility of the opposition parties also add to the growing indifference of the public, Somogyi notes. “A million moderate liberals and conservatives have no party to support.”

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