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Weeklies on EP elections

May 26th, 2019

In their last issues before the elections for the European Parliament, Hungary’s weeklies express diametrically opposed views on Hungarian politics and the country’s place in Europe.

In its lead editorial, Magyar Narancs asks whether it is worthwhile for the opposition to run for the European Parliament at all since it believes Fidesz ‘has already rigged the elections in advance’, as the playing field is not level. On the other hand, the editors believe the EP election is an important one both for the government and for the opposition. They think PM Orbán is losing ground among its former moderate conservative allies abroad and therefore needs to maximise its electoral support at home. As for the government’s opponents, Magyar Narancs believes they should use the election to show the world and themselves that Hungary is not an exclusive dominion of the Prime Minister. They admit that the opposition parties have added to the political chaos by pursuing their own short-term profit at each other’s expense rather than uniting in one single electoral block. Nevertheless, the editors invite the liberal audience to ‘forget that they have been abandoned by the opposition parties’ and vote for any of them. They themselves announced that their choice is Momentum but would appreciate every single vote against what they call ‘Europe’s gravediggers’.

In an editorial introduction to its pre-electoral analysis, 168 óra argues that ‘a lot is at stake at the European elections’. The European institutions are in need of reform, the left-liberal weekly admits, if they want to tackle the unprecedented challenges the Union is facing. It has to face competition from China, India and the United States as well as global crises like climate change or mass movements of refugees, in addition to its internal problems including increasing social inequalities. In responding to those challenges certain member countries urge deeper integration, while others want more national independence. Hungary’s government, 168 óra continues, has drifted onto the side of parties offering characteristically extremist solutions and finds itself in the company of Salvini’s League, Le Pen’s National Rally and Austria’s Freedom Party, while ‘squeezing itself out’ from the moderate conservative alliance. What is at stake in the elections, 168 óra explains, is whether far right forces will become strong enough to block Union processes. The left liberal weekly adds that behind the right-wing forces we can see ‘Russia’s shadow’ as shown by the fall of Austria’s radical right-wing Vice Chancellor. Viktor Orbán, 168 óra concludes, is thus a player on the international pitch but whether he will be an important one or an underling, depends on the outcome of the EP elections which will also influence Hungary’s future within the European Union.

In Heti Világgazdaság, co-editor Györgyi Kocsis sees a strange contradiction between the inclination of Hungarians to value the European Union and the larger half of its electorate opting for the governing Fidesz party. Latest polls confirm that most Hungarians are basically federalist, that is would favour an even more integrated European Union. A strong majority would support joining the institution of the European Prosecutors Office and only very few Hungarians would disagree with joining the Euro zone. Meanwhile, over half of those intending to vote told pollsters that they would vote for Fidesz and its programme of ‘a Europe of nations’. The liberal commentator believes such a concept would equal to sliding back to the integration model of the ‘60s which she deems anti-democratic because at the time, people could not vote for a European Parliament. ‘Fidesz voters are therefore preparing  to vote not to be able to vote any more next time’, she writes wondering how that is possible.

In Demokrata, Miklós Szánthó, director of the pro-government Alapjogokért (For Basic Rights) think tank suggests that on the European level, the election is a clash between pro-immigration and anti-immigration forces  interwoven with a struggle between various opposing ideologies. But he also sees an internal, Hungarian dimension to it, because it is a test of whether Hungarians opt for stability or for something new. Fidesz, he recalls, has won all national elections since 2006 – ten in all. The European Parliamentary election may or may not confer further legitimacy on the incumbent government and send the message that the direction followed by the government is either right or wrong. He compares the long rule of the Fidesz government to that of Helmut Kohl in Germany but remarks that in contemporary Europe, such undisturbed government longevity is unique. He invites voters to vote, if not for the Fidesz, at least against an opposition which has shown that it is unfit for government office.

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