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The Tapolca by-election and the ’central power field’

April 13th, 2015
Analysing the possible outcomes of Sunday’s Tapolca by-election, Hungarian weeklies all call attention to the mounting popularity of the far right Jobbik party. Some even suggest this may signal the demise of the undisturbed rule of Fidesz.

In its weekly editorial comment, Magyar Narancs believes that while Fidesz’s popularity is shrinking, no potential adversaries seemed last November to represent a credible alternative. Jobbik however is making headway, by first winning over originally left wing voters, and lately by turning towards moderation in order to broaden its constituency towards the centre. Its new sympathisers are recruited from among disillusioned Fidesz voters. Magyar Narancs speculates that in the long run if none of the three main forces can muster a parliamentary majority, then Prime Minister Orbán will not hesitate to choose Jobbik – “once it is re-modelled to appear presentable” – as his coalition partner.
In Heti Válasz, Anita Élő reports that the by-election campaign is centred around false allegations about the local hospital from all sides. A total of 13 hospitals in a county of 300 thousand inhabitants were deemed too many. In fact, they were built in an era when significant Soviet and Hungarian forces were stationed in the area, to provide medical assistance for the military and civilian casualties of a potential world war. The government decided to replace the general purpose Tapolca hospital with a new emergency unit and a rehabilitation centre which are under construction, albeit slowly. But although citizens of Tapolca used to prefer more modern hospitals in neighbouring towns, they now want their own hospital back. So Fidesz is promising to re-establish at least some earlier functions in the hospital, while the Socialists and Jobbik demand the full restoration of the previous status quo. Just a few months ago, this constituency was considered one of the twenty-five easiest to win for Fidesz, Élő remarks. The atmosphere has changed since.
In Figyelő, political analyst Attila Juhász believes that the legendary “central power field” which was supposed to guarantee Fidesz rule for two decades, according to the then opposition leader Viktor Orbán in 2009, may be in danger. In his now historic analysis Mr Orbán explained that the Socialists had been discredited by misgoverning Hungary, while Jobbik was not presentable enough to govern, so Fidesz would stand alone and unchallenged in the centre for a long time. Now that position will be in jeopardy if the ruling party continues to lose one constituency after another.
In Hetek, Gábor Gavra quotes the Prime Minister’s own analysis leaked a few months ago according to which there was to be “no trouble” as long as Fidesz commands over 35 per cent of the electorate, with both left and far right under twenty-five. The original idea was that such a privileged central position would enable Fidesz to put an end to the demagoguery so pervasive in Hungarian electoral politics. According to an analysis by sociologist Gyula Tellér, one of the Prime Minister’s key advisers, the regime change in 1990 was a failure in that it produced an exceptionally low labour rate, with over half the population dependant on social transfers and various welfare subsidies. That was why parties felt compelled to buy votes with irresponsible promises which ultimately ruined the public finances. The undisputed rule of a “central power field” would, according to that theory, make it possible for future governments to prioritise performance, and thereby launch Hungary on a path of sustainable growth. Until last autumn, Gavra writes, the government was convinced that nobody threatened its positions. Since then, much has changed. Two by-elections have been won by the left, while the size of Jobbik’s constituency is dangerously approaching that of the Fidesz camp.
In Demokrata, editor András Bencsik likens Jobbik to “a thief in the backyard”. He asks voters whether they would entrust an aeroplane to pilots like some of Jobbik’s leaders and if not, why should they empower them to rule their country. He calls Jobbik a party of chameleons which created its electoral base by exploiting exclusion and xenophobia, emotions which are “latently present in all societies”, while Jobbik is now suddenly pretending to be the “nicer profile” of Fidesz. “Wake up ladies and gentlemen!”, Bencsik exclaims in conclusion.

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