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Pre-election landscape

March 17th, 2014

Commentators on both the right and left fear that Jobbik may increase its constituency yet further in the 6 April Parliamentary election, after reaping almost 17 per cent of the popular vote four years ago. Left-wing commentators argue against despair, and one lays the blame for the bankruptcy of the Left on the Liberals and personally on Ferenc Gyurcsány.

In his regular weekly lead article, the editor of Magyar Narancs fears that Jobbik may prove the main beneficiary of public disenchantment with traditional political forces. Endre B. Bojtár describes the mood of the average voter as a rejection both of the government and of the left-wing opposition. He believes that in 2010 the mood was similar, and that is what helped two new parties achieve surprisingly good results. (Jobbik and the LMP got 24 per cent combined, while Fidesz won that election with just below 53 per cent of the votes cast.) He accuses Fidesz of “plundering and devastating the country”, while the MSZP is teetering on the edge of collapse due to a corruption case. The two parties that may profit from this are LMP and Jobbik, but while LMP battles to cross the Parliamentary threshold, Jobbik may well become the second largest parliamentary group (as the parties of the opposition alliance intend to form their own factions in the new house). Although it has never been so difficult as now to predict what voters will do on Election Day, Bojtár concludes that the strengthening of Jobbik “might deal a fatal blow to the Republic”.

András Bencsik editor-in-chief of Demokrata, and one of the organizers of pro-government Peace Marches, exhorts Fidesz voters to go to the polls, in order to halt Jobbik’s advance. He describes the idea that Jobbik might become a coalition partner in a Fidesz-led government as part of the “dirty machinations” of left-liberal opinion leaders. The EU would never accept a Fidesz-Jobbik coalition, he explains, while voters would never accept a Fidesz-MSZP coalition. Therefore an absolute Fidesz majority in Parliament is a must, which in turn means that every vote is critically important. He claims that although EU leaders would punish Fidesz if they chose to govern with Jobbik, the same EU would accept an MSZP-Jobbik coalition as a combination of “water and fire that neutralize each other”. Voters alienated by the MSZP scandals, he suggests, are not likely to vote for Fidesz or even the LMP, but to flock instead to Jobbik. As the MSZP and Jobbik are united by their hatred of Fidesz, why would they oppose an MSZP-Jobbik coalition? – he asks. Fidesz must mobilize all right-leaning voters, Bencsik concludes, just as it did four years ago: this is what the final Peace March before the elections intends to promote.

In his weekly 168 óra opinion column, Tamás Mészáros writes that even the publications most critical of the government teem with commentaries laying into the opposition alliance as a collection of ineffective, empty, weak parties who ought to know better. He describes left-liberal critics as “masochistic round table pundits hammering in hopelessness and crucifying undecided voters”. But “setting aside the question of whether this is the right time to criticize the opposition”, says Mészáros, the arguments of the critics do not ring true. How can critics demand that the opposition use the same fiery rhetoric and hate speech (as the government side) – he asks. Politics used to be, and should be, a competition of arguments about policy matters. Such debates can be heated or even populist, but should never incite hatred. Even though “activists on the left did mobilize too late”, he suggests, it is also true that the opposition has very limited opportunities to reach an audience because of a “media quarantine” created by Fidesz. And beyond this, his defence continues, people who are so poor that they are preoccupied coping with their daily needs are not easy to reach, they are too tired, resigned and frightened. “If we agree – he concludes – that Orbán must go, we should not unhinge those who think the same”.

Béla Galló, an advisor to Katalin Szili, a former Socialist politician who formed her own party last year, accuses Hungary’s liberals of having ruined the Socialist Party by imposing on it the “tribal hatred” that dominates Hungarian politics. In a piece published by Élet és Irodalom, he claims that the movement down the slippery slope started with the so-called Democratic Charta (a movement organized by Socialists and liberal intellectuals against the alleged anti-Semitism and Horthy-era nostalgia of the first freely elected government of József Antall). He thinks the driving force behind the Charta was the desire of the Liberals to extend their influence over the Socialists while the MSZP (built on the ruins of the Communist Party) expected to gain legitimacy by associating with the liberals. The result was “a strictly zero sum game of liberals against conservatives, masked as left-right polarization”. This is why the left is commonly called ‘left-liberal’, a name he thinks should refer to left-leaning liberals. Although the Socialists originally stood for protecting the poor and only embraced neo-liberal ideas as a temporary necessity, their coalition with the Free Democrats from 1994 to 1998 was the first step in losing their identity, leading to a factual Free Democrat supremacy. This was the period, he argues, when the political class was infiltrated by the new capitalists. Galló dedicates much of his piece to lambasting Gyurcsány, who he thinks is the epitome of entrepreneurs who enter politics. Gyurcsány’s attraction to the ‘third way’ of Tony Blair was a grave mistake, Galló says, as what might work in a society with a broad middle class, cannot be applied in Hungary. Gyurcsány and his neoliberal reform attempts, he concludes, are responsible not only for the two thirds majority of Fidesz in 2010 but for the rise of Jobbik as well.

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