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Is Victor Ponta applying Viktor Orbán’s recipe?

July 16th, 2012

Commentators across the political spectrum ponder possible parallels between the practices of the prime ministers of Hungary and Romania. Those on the left think that although Ponta follows a recipe devised by Orbán, the Romanian PM has not initiated a fully-fledged offensive against democratic institutions. Right-wing pundits, on the other hand, note that Orbán became PM in democratic elections and his government complies with democratic norms – neither of which applies to his Romanian counterpart.

Viktor Ponta has been following Viktor Orbán’s political blueprint, Mária Gál writes in Népszava. She believes that the European Union, which has learned a lesson from Orbán’s centralizing efforts in Hungary, will confront Ponta’s attack on democratic checks and balances.

In the same daily, editor in chief Péter Németh finds it peculiar that the Hungarian government should criticize the new Romanian PM for his undemocratic measures. After all, it was Orbán who provided Ponta with the recipe for antidemocratic centralization, Németh contends.

“,” Népszabadság notes comparing the records of the governments of Hungary, Slovakia and Romania. The left-wing daily points out that although Socialist Robert Fico is not less populist and nationalistic than before, he seems to have understood that he can further his aims better by finding a conciliatory tone and following a more pragmatic line, instead of a full blown attack on the opposition. The Slovak PM has also realized that he could only lose by opposing the EU outright.

Although many dared hope that Orbán would also apply such a reconciliatory strategy once he had secured power, he launched a fierce attack instead on all his opponents both in Hungary and abroad in order to entrench his power, Népszabadság claims.

As to Victor Ponta, Népszabadság believes that although he started off as Orbán did two years ago, it would be too hasty to draw a parallel between their policies. While Orbán attacked each and every independent democratic institution which could have counterbalanced his absolute majority in Parliament, his Romanian counterpart seems to have only gone against his country’s autocratic President Basescu so far. “It is not yet clear whether Ponta will slow down in the future,” Népszabadság concludes.

The leaders of the European People’s Party have been misled this time,” Levente Szőcs adds in the same daily. Szőcs notes that the Romanian Prime Minister, in contrast to Orbán, has not tried to curtail the independence of the courts. The left- wing pundit suggests that Ponta’s widely criticised measures could also be seen as efforts to restore the democratic regulations which were in force until Basescu’s recent autocratic reforms. Although the way the Ponta government enacted the law on the removal of the President may not have been elegant, the President could have been recalled by a referendum until Basescu’s party modified the rules two months ago, Szőcs points out.

“,” István Pataky remarks in Magyar Nemzet. The pro-government columnist thus finds comparisons between Orbán and Ponta unconvincing. He points out that Ponta could become Premier only after some MPs of the former governing majority deserted their party and by doing so practically overthrew the previous government. “This method can either be called a Parliamentary coup d’état or opportunistic politics – neither of which has anything to do with democracy”, Pataky contends.

In contrast to the new Romanian government, which tries to rewrite the electoral law in order to make sure that it will win the next Parliamentary elections scheduled for the autumn, Orbán fairly won a two-thirds majority in a democratic contest, Pataky notes.

As for the reforms of the Ponta government, Pataky writes that they exceed Orbán’s policies both in depth and scope. He believes that Ponta wants to uproot all democratic checks and balances by curtailing the independence of the constitutional court and the media by various decrees. In his interpretation, all this suggest that “the Romanian Social Liberal Union sends the clear message that it wants to completely destroy the centre-right democrats who are now in opposition by any means .”

Pataky finds it strange that the EU was rather moderate and hesitant in its reactions towards Ponta’s obviously undemocratic initiatives. He suggests that Brussels, with the help of the Hungarian Socialists (see BudaPost July 5) is again applying double standards: while it was quick to fiercely criticize the reforms passed by the Orbán government, it is much more lenient with Ponta’s undemocratic policies.

In Jobbklikk, Miklós Thaisz also finds comparison of the Ponta and the Orbán governments groundless and also does not fail to mention that while Fidesz came to power in democratic elections, Ponta’s government can claim no comparable democratic legitimacy. As for their reforms, Thaisz writes that the Orbán government has so far fully complied with all the rulings of the European Union and the Hungarian Constitutional Court by changing some of its criticized laws, including the media law and reforms concerning the National Bank. Romanian PM Ponta, on the other hand, seems to completely ignore the rulings of the Romanian Constitutional Court, Thaisz notes.

Another symbolic, but nonetheless telling difference between the Hungarian and the Romanian regimes is related to the plagiarism accusations, Thaisz continues. While Hungarian President Pál Schmitt had to resign after his doctoral title was revoked, Victor Ponta, who also seems to have copied a large part of his PhD dissertation, simply disbanded the university committee which was due to investigate the case.

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