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Analyses one month after the elections

May 7th, 2018

Commentators across the political spectrum agree that the sweeping victory of the government side was due in the first place to the weaknesses of the opposition, although left-liberal analysts also contend that the governing forces enjoyed unfair advantages during the campaign.

In Élet és Irodalom, Júlia Lakatos castigates the left-liberal side for its inability to address the losers of recent Hungarian history. She admits however that their task was a difficult one, because the position of the poorest Hungarians could only be improved at the expense of the middle class, and any such attempt would have been fiercely resisted by influential social strata. The same goes for the government’s anti-immigration rhetoric – any attempts at counter-arguments would have been immensely unpopular. No wonder that the opposition refrained from both those options, opening them to the widespread charge that they failed to really work for change. On the other hand, Lakatos continues, the left is in trouble outside Hungary as well. Left-wing parties have established strong relations with influential business leaders while their intellectuals have put identity politics in the centre of their endeavours. The formerly left-wing working-class started voting for right-wing parties, and something similar has been happening in Hungary, where the left has lost the support of its former working-class base, while rural areas voted to a great extent for Fidesz. Lakatos concludes that it will take a very long time for the opposition to rebrand itself as a force capable of achieving significant change in the country.

In Heti Világgazdaság, sociologist Imre Kovách argues that people in rural areas did not simply vote for the government as a result of their openness to government propaganda, but because two distinct and important layers of the rural population thought that it was in their best interest to do so. Firstly, new local elites among whom entrepreneurs, local opinion makers and intellectuals coalesce to nurture and develop local identities. The one value which they treasure most, according to sociological surveys is stability, and they saw the guarantee of that in Prime Minister Orbán’s government. On the other hand, the large group of ‘disintegrated’ Hungarian citizens whose family and social networks have been shattered, can only count on local councils and government agencies for help, which made it easy for the government to recruit them into its electoral base. In a significant change in political orientations, Hungarian sociologists have found a negligible correlation between social status and political preferences. As a result, the role of capable political leaders has become more important than before in building electoral constituencies, Kovách remarks, and Fidesz is the only party which has such a leader in Hungary.

In Magyar Narancs, Bálint Magyar (a former Liberal party leader and Minister of Education in two separate left-liberal governments in the 1990s and the 2000s) and his co-author, Bálint Madlovics, a 25-year-old economist, claim that Fidesz’s two thirds electoral victory was due to a number of illegal acts by the government side. They admit that the main liability rests with the opposition, but believe nevertheless that the anti-migrant campaign of the governing forces amounted to incitement on ethical grounds; the public media was biased; and the government waged political campaigns in what amounted to a breach on the campaign financing law. Finally, they accuse the chief prosecutor of turning a blind eye to alleged cases of corruption. In their final remark they add up all the votes not cast for the governing parties and declare that they represent just a bit more than half of all the votes cast, which they interpret as proof that there is a potential for voting the government out of office in the future.

In Demokrata, András Bencsik dismisses allegations that the rule of law has been seriously damaged in Hungary. As an example he quotes the charges levelled by international watchdogs which have downgraded Hungary in their press freedom rankings, as two opposition outlets have been closed down by their owners. Press freedom means however that you can freely print or air your opinions, he remarks. And as for the possibility for Hungarians to get acquainted with opposing opinions on all kinds of issues, Bencsik claims that Hungary is better off than many advanced countries. Including Germany, he writes, which is ‘languishing under a left liberal media steamroller’.

In Figyelő, Csaba Szajlai points out an oft-forgotten factor of the victory of the government side at the elections one month ago. Hungary has produced 3 to 4% economic growth for each of the past four years, with double-digit real income increases over the past two. The many dozens of wellness hotels built from EU convergence funds are overbooked on weekends. Parking lots around hypermarkets in the Budapest area are full of cars throughout opening hours. While economic growth was fuelled until a few years ago by foreign investment and multinational enterprises, tourism, the construction industry and agriculture have become the main propulsive forces which have produced a 5% increase on a year-on-year basis in the first quarter of 2018, Szalai concludes.

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