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Passionate reactions to Orbán’s improvised speech, and his voter registration plan

July 30th, 2012

A centrist blogger joins scores of left-wing commentators in condemning Viktor Orbán’s statement that power is indispensable to create national cohesion. Debates have also erupted around the decision taken by the Fidesz leadership to introduce preliminary voter registration.

On July 26th, Viktor Orbán visited the Hungarian Association of Entrepreneurs and Employers (VOSZ). In response to a highly critical and doom-laden speech by Sándor Demján, president of the association, Orbán said he would “set aside” his prepared text and talk without notes. Commenting on the kind of national cohesion so badly needed for recovery, he said “it is a matter of strength, rather than of good intentions. It might be different in some countries – in Scandinavia, for instance – but not here, as we all tend to raise our own objections. For us, people of semi-Asian descent, there is no other solution but a kind of central(ly controlled) cohesion.” Such “strength” does not exclude consultations and democracy, he added. Left-wing politicians and commentators called his words proof of the PM’s anti-democratic leanings.

In Mandiner, a right-of-centre site whose young authors are becoming increasingly critical of the government, editor Gellért Rajcsányi warns that Hungarians have never had an Asian-type hierarchical society and the history of Hungarian statehood is a history of checks and balances and national liberation movements. 2010 could have been the year of the compromise between central power and self-organizing civil society, he remarks bitterly. Instead, he asks whether the poet György Faludy’s adage about Communist party Chief János Kádár might apply to Orbán: Kádár pushed Hungary over into Asia, Faludy said. Will Orbán do the same? – asks the blogger.

The pro-government press has omitted the controversial passages from the Prime Minister’s speech, which is interpreted as a sign that they did not express official government policy. In Népszabadság, Péter Pető notes that even the editors of Fidesz.hu, the Fidesz homepage, omitted the sentence with the reference to semi-Asians, and concludes that even the „orange media pack” find it wise to remain silent about the Prime Minister’s “berserk rhetoric”. He assumes that Orbán’s prepared text did not include such references, so it was an “honest-to-boot” Orbán who voiced these opinions concerning democracy. He interprets parts of the speech, touching on the public employment scheme, as a vision of Hungary being turned into a large “labour camp.”  It is hard to decide whether to laugh at or fear Orbán’s words, but they are signs of his increasingly messianic streak, which might turn him into another curiosity of the political amusement park – he concludes.

The day after his meeting with leading industrialists,, Viktor Orbán revealed the government’s proposal to confine voting to those who register in advance. Officially-speaking, rather than “voter registration.” the governing coalition wants to introduce a “sign-up” system for voters a month or more before election-time.

Róbert László, an analyst at Political Capital, a liberal think tank, contends that Fidesz leaders are wrong in asserting that any similar system exists in any European country: in France eighteen-year-olds have to register, but only once, to indicate that they have reached voting age. He says Fidesz analysts think they would benefit from keeping inactive and uncertain or independent voters out of the elections. The author warns that this assumption can be wrong. By 2014, the present supporters of Fidesz may become more disappointed, while even usually inactive voters might mobilize to protest against the government.

On Oikosz, a right-wing blog, philosopher Ervin Nagy explains the new proposal as a form of precaution against MSZP election fraud. He notes that Fidesz was leading in the polls both in 2002 and 2006 but eventually lost the elections. This must be a result of the MSZP’s last-ditch efforts, spreading food and money around in regions with an uneducated, “immoral” and poor population who regularly support the Socialists at elections. “I do not want to analyse the ethnic composition here,” he adds, in an unmistakeable hint at Hungary’s large Roma population. The records of local election committees show – he claims – that several irregularities were recorded but were dismissed as having no impact on the outcome. There can be and will be debates concerning voter registration, he admits, but it is wise to remember it’s other advantage – the prevention of election fraud.

Magyar Nemzet only devotes a five line note in italics to the subject. The author quotes a statement by the Democratic Coalition, former left-wing PM Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party, condemning the planned system of voter registration as undemocratic. He replies that “in that case, the United States is an Orbánist dictatorship”.

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