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Left-liberal pessimism about electoral chances

December 27th, 2017

Four months before the next parliamentary elections, leading left-wing and liberal analysts set modest goals for their parties. Two think they should try and prevent Fidesz from gaining a two thirds majority, while a third suggests the Left should boycott the elections.

In 168 Óra, former EU Commissioner László Andor regrets that the opposition is approaching the elections in a state of utter fragmentation. The voters, he suggests will find it very hard to identify with such a multifaceted alternative to the incumbent government. He finds it particularly sad that the Socialist Party has dismissed its original front runner László Botka, who at least had clear ideas about how Fidesz could be defeated. He was right in arguing that failed former Prime Ministers (meaning Ferenc Gyurcsány) should not be on the joint opposition list, and in proposing a consistently social democratic platform to convince dissatisfied voters who had not made up their minds about whom to vote for. The potential partners fought the incumbent government and the Socialist Party simultaneously, however, which prevented Mr Botka from uniting the left behind the MSZP. His failure was a hard blow to the Socialist Party and created a new situation in which there is nobody who could lead the left-wing forces. Andor concludes by warning that losing the elections would not be the real failure, despite everything. The real failure would be if the left-wing forces don’t even try to unite.

In the same weekly, sociologist Mária Vásárhelyi finds that the opposition has absolutely no chance of winning next spring, and contends that opposition chances are spoiled by the uneven playing field . None of the elements of a free and fair election are given in Hungary, she claims. She suggests that the ordinary citizens cannot get hold of all the necessary information because of what she calls a government monopoly on the media. She also complains that while Hungarian citizens living in neighbouring countries can vote by mail (although not for the candidates in individual constituencies), Hungarians working in the West must cast their votes in person. The national electoral committee consists of a majority of government appointed people, although parties taking part in the elections can send their own people there. She interprets the fine imposed on Jobbik for illicit billboard financing (see BudaPost, December 15), to mean that the ruling party would be ready to change the rules of the game even a week before the elections if that served their interests. She believes that boycotting an election is even more difficult than campaigning, but she warns left-wing forces that participating in the elections would amount to betraying the values of democracy and free elections.

In a lengthy essay in Magyar Narancs, philosopher János Kis, the founder of the now defunct liberal Free Democrats (SzDSz) warns against the idea of boycotting the elections. First of all, he doesn’t exclude surprises in public life before the elections, and secondly, he asserts that the stakes of the elections are high even if a Fidesz victory is taken for granted. He describes what he calls a favourable scenario, according to which the incumbent government is returned to office but not with a two thirds majority. If there is a strong opposition in Parliament, he argues, public servants will feel that the rule of Fidesz will not be eternal. He is not sure whether Jobbik’s shift towards the centre will prove lasting or not, but in any case he does not see a formal alliance between the former radical right-wing party and the left as possible, for the time being at least. He would find it helpful, nevertheless, if these parties refrained from attacking each other. As for the Left, Kiss deems it urgent for them to agree on joint candidates and stop quarrelling among themselves. Exactly what result they can achieve by doing so, the liberal philosopher concludes, is unclear at the moment. But he would consider it a success if only they could prove to be a strong competitor to Fidesz.

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