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Therapies for a left-wing recovery

April 30th, 2018

Two weeks after the general election, commentators on both sides of the main political divide  try to figure out whether the opposition parties will ever become a match for Fidesz or whether a new one can replace them.

.In 168 Óra, political analyst Zoltán Lakner thinks that after its third crushing electoral defeat in a row, the left-wing opposition needs a complete overhaul if it wants to become a credible alternative to the governing forces. The first thing they must decide is whether to be present in Parliament, where they have not had a chance to influence legislation or government policies over the past eight years. True, their voters are entitled to be represented, but the efficiency of that representation is rather low. Lakner believes that the opposition should draw a line beyond which it will not ‘silently stand by’ at the sight of what it sees as autocratic governance, but he does not specify what he means by that line or whether he would in any event suggest that the Left should withdraw from the Assembly. He cautions the opposition from secluding itself inside Parliament and urges them to combine a parliamentary presence with protest in the streets. In his final remark he urges the Left to reform itself, ‘if it doesn’t want to lose its raison d’etre’.

On Mérce, András Jámbor challenges the widespread opposition view that since the Left won 12 out of the 18 Budapest constituencies, it must now ‘get on the train’ and conquer the countryside. Even in Budapest, he explains, Fidesz was stronger in the April election than the combined Left. Left-wing parties kept their constituencies but failed to gain strength. What caused Fidesz to lose eight constituencies compared to 2014, were the gains by Jobbik, and an increase in support for smaller parties. Jobbik has become the second strongest party in the traditional workers’ districts of the capital. Jámbor suggests, therefore, that ‘rather than the train, the Left should take the tram’ and reconquer Budapest. He agrees with those left-wing analysts who say that Fidesz is unbeatable without a strong opposition in the countryside. But the Left has to fight for the capital first.

In Élet és Irodalom, philosopher Ágnes Heller interprets the two anti-government rallies in Budapest as proof that the public needs a brand new opposition party to confront Fidesz in the future. She even believes that the ‘founding father’ of such a party has been discovered in the person of Péter Márki-Zay, the Mayor of Hódmezővásárhely. He was elected with the votes of the combined opposition from Jobbik to the MSZP in a surprise victory over the Fidesz candidate earlier this year. (Addressing tens of thousands of demonstrators on April 21, Márki-Zay said the opposition parties had lost the confidence of their voters, and that Fidesz can only be defeated if it has to face a single opposition candidate in all individual constituencies.) Heller advocated a formal Left-Jobbik alliance before the elections. She now suggests that the opposition should merge into one single force she calls United Hungarian Opposition Party, since mass demonstrations, although they express what she calls ‘the popular will’, cannot produce a regime change. Such a political act needs a political formation, she writes, but the current opposition parties have proven to be too ‘impotent’ for that job.

Commenting on Heller’s article in Figyelő, Dániel Deák calls her scheme ‘Heller’s new masterplan’ after she failed with her previous proposal to unite the Left with Jobbik. He finds it absurd to see in Márki-Zay the founding father of a new united opposition, as in his view the idea to unite those disparate forces failed in April because those forces are incompatible with each other. If the opposition intends to embark on the road shown by Heller, he predicts, its defeat in 2022 is guaranteed.

Demokrata’s Zsolt Ungváry also deems the proposal to unite the left with Jobbik absurd. He recalls that Gergely Karácsony, the left-wing candidate for Prime Minister, himself called Jobbik ‘the Devil’ when he justified local pacts with Jobbik on the grounds that ‘even an alliance with the devil’ would be acceptable in the interest of electoral victory. The sentence logically implies that Fidesz is worse than the Devil, Ungváry explains, which is ‘obviously absurd’. Besides, he continues, that sentence sent the message that the Left would do anything to grab power and it is no wonder that the electorate did not find that message attractive.

In Magyar Idők, political scientist Tamás Fricz also deems such strategies futile since an alliance of parties who could never govern together would be self-destructive. He believes that a stable system with one dominant party has taken shape in Hungary, with Fidesz (and its small ally, the Christian Democratic Party) winning two thirds of the mandates in parliament for the third consecutive term. He predicts that Jobbik will remain a ‘mid-size party’, while on the left, the DK and the MSZP are doomed to disappear as they represent elderly constituencies with nostalgic feelings about communism. New parties, like the LMP and Momentum may take their place but only if they refuse to ally themselves with them, since if they do, they will also ‘go down the drain’, Fricz concludes.

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