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Left-wing media propose electoral TV duels

March 26th, 2014

Népszabadság and ATV propose a series of televised debates, including a duel between PM Viktor Orbán and Socialist Party leader Attila Mesterházy during the last week of the campaign. Right-wing pundits dismiss the idea that such pre-electoral debates are a must in any democracy.

In its front page editorial, Népszabadság announces an initiative of its editorial board and the management of ATV, a left-leaning cable TV station, to stage debates on specific policy areas during the first four days of April, with a final debate between the incumbent Prime Minister and his left-wing challenger one day before the election to be held on Sunday, 6th April. They invite all parties represented in Parliament, except Jobbik, which they deem as “not being part of the democratic forces”. The authors argue that their aim is to provide voters with crucial information about the competing camps.

In two successive editorials on the same subject, Magyar Hírlap rejects left-wing accusations of cowardice and anti-democratic manners levelled against Fidesz for its unwillingness to participate in such debates. Zsolt Bayer recalls an analysis by János Avar, a well-known left-wing commentator and former Washington correspondent, who blamed the defeat of the Socialist party in 1998 on Prime Minister Gyula Horn’s decision to face Viktor Orbán in a televised duel. Avar quoted Helmut Kohl, who served for 16 years as Chancellor of Germany without ever accepting the challenge of a TV debate from his Social Democrat opponent, with the argument that democratic rivalry could not be equated with some “personal show”. Bayer finds it dishonest on the part of the Socialists to claim that there is no democracy without televised duels, or that PM Orbán is a coward if he does not accept the challenge. The solution is simple, he says: a TV debate always serves the interests of the challenger, rather than the incumbent.

In the same daily, László Kiss remarks that the same people who now stage demonstrations demanding a TV debate, failed to do so four years ago. Nor did they claim afterwards that the elections could not be considered democratic because of the lack of a TV duel. He also recalls the last such debate, when in 2006 then Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány attacked his challenger, Viktor Orbán, for alleging that the Socialists were planning to charge money for medical check-ups. That was a lie, he said, and Orbán “as a gentleman, should stop spreading it”. (Two years later, Mr Gyurcsány did in fact introduce such a fee, but a referendum initiated by Fidesz forced him to back down.) On the subject of Attila Mesterházy, the left-wing candidate for Prime Minister, Kiss writes that while claiming the right to challenge the Prime Minister in a public debate, he refuses to address a parliamentary committee inquiring into the scandal of Gábor Simon who was his deputy until six weeks ago. (See BudaPost, February 10)



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