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Elections overshadowed by the drama of the Left

October 13th, 2014
In their last comments before Sunday’s municipal elections, analysts agree on one thing: Fidesz’s overwhelming superiority is mainly due to the deep crisis of the left-wing opposition. Few have much confidence that a sizeable left-wing might rise from the ashes any time soon.
In Népszabadság, Ákos Tóth likens the Left to a boxer trying to hang on for the final gong and avoid a knockout in the last few minutes. A comeback after a KO is the privilege of the greatest, and the Hungarian left wing is not one of them, he writes. Tóth believes that the kind of rule exercised by Fidesz will sooner or later cease to be attractive, and has already lasted long enough for that change to happen soon. For the moment, the left has only meagre chances and only in a few settlements. But those local successes may well be several times stronger than the scores the Left had four years ago and thus may help the boxer stay on his feet even if only clinging to the ropes with one hand. The problem is that on Sunday night at the latest, infighting within the Left will begin with DK leader Ferenc Gyurcsány trying to impose himself on the Socialists, although his Democratic Coalition party, while a strong combatant, “is unable to grow in numbers”.
In another Népszabadság column, Peter Pető finds it particularly devastating that in Budapest where the left-liberal audience is particularly strong, the Left hasn’t managed to put up a challenger to the incumbent conservative mayor. And this particular tragedy “is not Prime Minister Orbán’s fault”.
In Figyelő, political analyst Gábor Filippov remarks that the ruling centre-right forces are winning despite having lost hundreds of thousands of voters since 2010. Their hegemony may only be threatened in the long run by radical right wing Jobbik, rather than the left wing. The left hasn’t worked out how to address its own constituency for at least the past six years, Filippov remarks. It still commands over a million staunch supporters who are ready to fight under any circumstances, but has lost contact with another almost one and a half million Hungarians who could be mobilised by the Socialists and Liberals until 2006. It seems that the left has stuck with old messages that have lost their appeal by now. Calling on their audience to defend democracy just doesn’t attract new voters, because the purportedly antidemocratic measures taken by the government are seen by the public as an understandable punitive tax on shameless severance grants to former left-wing officials; while measures taken against banks and multinationals are widely seen as steps in defence of the everyday citizen as exemplified by public utility tariff cuts. The left cannot make people accept that the rule of law is more important than tangible material advantages especially because it is not seen by the public as a credible champion of democracy. The few successes the left can reap will not gloss over the general impression that it is till on a slippery slope and is falling apart. He asks whether political struggle for unchallenged leadership within the left is avoidable, and if one four year electoral term is sufficient for that struggle to end. If not and if Fidesz does lose further support among the electorate, Filippov continues, disenchanted voters might choose the radical right-wing Jobbik party instead of the Socialists.
In its regular weekly editorial, Magyar Narancs calls on left liberal voters to go to the polls, although the editors believe that the election is rigged because the public media is dominated by the government side as is most of the local press throughout Hungary and because the material resources at its disposal are incomparably superior to what the opposition can afford. They even think that at the sight of the preponderance of conservative posters, someone “coming from the moon would certainly deduce that he is not visiting a democratic country”.  They acknowledge, however, that Lajos Bokros, the strongest opposition challenger to Budapest Mayor István Tarlós has neither mass support nor a proper party with the required number of experts, volunteers and its own media, “besides being unfit for the job”. Magyar Narancs remarks that in many settlements the election will be characterised by general apathy or ridicule. The editors suggest that this was precisely the way Fidesz wanted it to be.
In Demokrata, editor András Bencsik suggests that what is at stake in these elections is whether Fidesz gets a mandate to make its reforms irreversible. As he sees it, the left has exhausted all its intellectual and moral reserves over the past twenty-five years. Old-style Communists, who at least were experts at the everyday business of being in power, are now drawing their pensions. The new generation of Socialist officials is only driven by the desire for ruling positions that can be converted into money. In other words there is no genuine left wing left, he says and doubts whether Ferenc Gyurcsány will be able to rebuild something that doesn’t exist anymore. It would take him a lot of time anyway and meanwhile new generations may appear who will reject him as no better than the zombies of the past.
In Heti Válasz, András Zsuppán describes how desperately uninteresting the election will be in quite a few Hungarian towns and villages. It makes no sense campaigning in settlements where there is only a single name on the ballots. In a great many villages, democracy is just a mere formality, but for the first time that has happened in four towns as well, in addition to another three settlements which are practically outskirts of the capital and whose inhabitants are well-to-do people who apparently are uninterested in local public affairs. Zsuppán sees that as evidence that apathy is not necessarily a result of misery and hopelessness.
In his regular weekly column, Heti Válasz editor Gábor Borókai believes that growing indifference towards public affairs is due to the widespread habit of the main political parties of blaming each other and avoiding facing their own responsibilities. The governing forces, he continues, have reason to be proud of their crisis management, but should also tell the public what negative traits of their rule must be eliminated, because if they don’t rectify their own mistakes, they might easily erode their own constituency. As for the left-wing opposition, Borókai thinks it must fundamentally change in order to be taken seriously. It must not serve foreign interests, nor must it plunge the country again into debt or put the reins of management into the hands of the business world. Borókai also comments on the recent criticism Hungary’s leaders have received from America and Norway for their negative attitude towards liberalism. In affluent countries, he explains, it is easier to credibly stand-up for the values of liberal democracy than in peripheral countries where there are masses of poor people and where the promise of affluence of the democratic transition has remained unfulfilled. Meanwhile he also cautions the left-wing opposition against asking for western support against the government because they would risk being seen as people who want to get into government thanks to foreign pressure rather than from the will of the Hungarian electorate.

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