(Watching the) elections in Hungary

Reply Fri 20 Jan, 2006 03:12 pm
There's gonna be elections here in Hungary; the date is 9 April. The campaign has started early though, with billboard posters appearing well before new years eve.

I used to follow Hungarian politics quite closely, from 1990-1994 mostly and again in 1997 ... even improvising elaborate electoral maps in Photo de Luxe (crappy program). But then I lost track, focusing on other things - or rather, I gave up. Hungarian politics isnt necessarily pretty.

The choice, I must admit, for me personally, isn't particularly appealing - but then, I dont get to vote here anyway.

Three main patterns characterise Hungarian politics.

One: until now, the voters have systematically voted out whoever was in government in every single election since the fall of communism, be it with decreasing margins.

Two: every successive government, however, did complete its full four-year term -- an extent of stability that's quite rare in Central/Eastern Europe.

Three: the party system has been remarkably stable, at least in comparison with that of neighbouring ex-communist countries. Almost throughout, the country has been divided in two; it's just that sometimes, a party changed camps or one party replaced another. Even so, the main parties of today have all been there from the start.

In 1990, the country was split between the liberal SzDSz and Fidesz on the one hand and the conservative MDF and allies on the other (the conservatives won).

In 1994, it was split between the ex-communist MSzP and the liberal SzDSz on the one hand and the conservative MDF and allies on the other (the ex-communists won).

In 1998, it was split between the ex-communist MSzP and the liberal SzDSz on the one hand and the now-conservative Fidesz and the nationalist MIEP on the other (Fidesz won).

And in 2002, it was basically down to MSzP versus Fidesz, and a bitter fight it was too, even resulting in allegations of fraud - with MSzP winning, narrowly, and forming a government with the (ever smaller) SzDSz.

The major political forces are:

- the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP), the former communists. The top layer of the former dictatorship's ruling party was cleaned out in 1989, but its middle and lower ranks kept dominating the MSzP; when it formed the government in 1994-1998, the Prime Minister was Gyula Horn, who in 1956 was in the militia to clamp down the revolution. However, when it comes to its government policies, the MSzP, belying its name, has mostly profiled itself as pragmatic, EU-oriented, quite enthusiastic market reformers; they've been arguably more 'capitalist' than their conservative counterparts.

- The conservatives nowadays coalesce around Fidesz-MPP (Alliance of Young Democrats - Hungarian Civic Party). The "Young Democrats" part stems from when, back in '89-90, Fidesz was the liberal youth party, free-market but secular/cosmopolitan, in a pragmatic way; a small party that appealed to both twenty-somethings and their grandparents. After the demise of the conservative government of 1990-1994, and all the parties in it, however, Fidesz leader Viktor Orban reinvented his party as the mainstay of Hungarian conservatism. Ever since the late nineties, it's walking the line between mainstream Christian-Democracy and rather more virulent nationalism/populism.

- The Alliance of Free Democrats (SzDSz) was the party of the former dissidents and the intellectuals, and directly after the fall of communism it fought a fierce battle for dominance in the country's newly established democracy with the conservatives. Compared to the conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), the SzDSz was at once the liberal, cosmopolitan, secular alternative to the MDF's Christian-national orientation, and the more principled, fierce anti-communist (and pro-market) choice. The MDF won the battle, but in 1994 was voted out of power in a landslide defeat -- defeated, however, not by the SzDSz, but by the Socialists. From then on, reversing course on its uncompromising stand against ex-communists, the SzDSz became the junior, moderate-liberal partner party of the Socialists. The two parties governed together in 1994-1998 and again the past four years. Nowadays, the SzDSz profiles itself as the unfettered pro-market party, the classical liberal (in the European sense) party.

All other parties currently are marginal. The MDF still exists, mostly as a small partner party of Fidesz. On the far left, the Munkaspart (Workers Party) consistently gets 3-4% of the vote in the name of unapologetical communism; the party split off from the ex-communists in 1990 when they changed their name and dropped their allegiance to the old regime. On the far right, writer-rabblerouser Istvan Csurka has his Hungarian Truth and Life Party (MIEP), which was however competed out of parliament in 2002 by Fidesz.

OK, so the campaign has started and posters and commercials have appeared. Not seeing anything in particular that would rouse any sense of affinity, I'm not going to get into it very deeply, but I'll keep an update here of what I see on the street or hear from my colleagues!
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Reply Fri 20 Jan, 2006 04:03 pm
For those (like me) who like numbers better than descriptions, here's the results of the last national elections:

Code:Elections April 2002

percentage seats

- Fidesz - Hungarian Civic Party 164
- Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) 24

Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP) 42.1 178

Alliance of Free Democrats (SzDSz) 5.5 20

Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) 4.4 -

Centre Party 3.9 -

Workers' Party (MP) 2.8 -
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Reply Fri 20 Jan, 2006 06:04 pm
Hmmm...interesting, thanks Nimh.....mebbe voting people out because it's novel and feels good?
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Reply Fri 20 Jan, 2006 06:16 pm
What have I seen so far?

Well, the campaign stuff is definitely different from what would be accepted/normal 'at home'!

Each party seems to have chosen a language distinctly of its own.

- SzDSz. I havent seen any proper campaign stuff from them yet. But it was campaigning, in a way, already last summer when it organised a "Liberal Week". Took place downtown, Hungarian-language activities I dont know about. All I saw was the balloons.

I was walking down the town square with an American friend, and we saw these kids, and people, with blue balloons, that said, in big letters, EN! EN, you have to know, is Hungarian for "I", or "Me". What could these balloons be about? We joked and speculated. Life ensurance? Headhunters agency? I joked: no, its for the capitalists! You know, a commercial for the capitalist mindset! "Me, me, me, its all only about me!"

Err, so ... it was. It was the balloons of the Liberal Week. (Americans note the different meaning of "liberal" in Europe)

- MSzP. If the elections were about aesthetics, the Socialists would win. Hands down. Their campaign so far has been rather top-down, but prettily so. No hastily glued up posters on street corners for the government party, oh no. Instead, a set of huge, prominently displayed, and noble billboards.

They had one up on the Oktogon, the high-traffic, big square near where I live, and another one, I think, at Blaha Lujza. They showed, for example, in subtle-lit full-colour, the gracious dancer's feet of a girl gently, cautiously walking a balance beam. Another billboard featured a close-up shot of a woman, with a child in her arms, the cut so you could only see her shoulders, arms, and the baby. The billboards otherwise featured nothing but the name and logo of the party, and a single word. "Valour", for example.

- Fidesz. Fidesz has by far been the most active out of the starting blocks. Their stuff is everywhere, in the wild on street corners, officially on advertisement pillars and bus stops, and among the cinema pre-movie ads. They've so far come in two flavours: the bland and the evil.

The official Fidesz posters have been bland to the point of meaninglessness, as I pointed out in annoyance on another thread:

nimh wrote:
The concept was clever enough: first, stickers with different slogans started appearing across town, without any indication of who or what they were by or for, kinda to evoke curiosity.

Also, as the latest in a long line of European parties/movements to adopt the orange theme post-Ukraine, it dropped the blue in its orange-blue colour scheme and now features only hip, orange circles.

The problem is with the slogans itself. They are, respectively: "There are mistakes that need to not be made again", "There are good things that need to be continued" and "There are bad things that need to be changed".

No fuccing kidding, dude.

As the posters proliferated, they also featured politicians to go with the slogans - a range of different candidates, all sticking up their thumb in a feel-good, can-do, but also cheesy gesture. I saw the movie-ad version of it too, a low-budget looking affair with lots of smileys (yes, smileys).

This naive-cutesie imaging is however offset by an equally ever-present "black campaign" (as they're called in ... Russia, I think).

The first thing to appear was a big poster that featured the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance (?). Looked like a movie poster. Both are featured in their most menacing, murky shot. If you didnt recognize them, you'd think: mafia crooks, powerful gangster businessmen. That was exactly the intention. The poster fades into black, and in the dark-grey shade behind the men you can make out a car with tinted windows, and a black helicopter. The big, red text: "For Whom Nothing Is Too Expensive", with the S in Semmi (Nothing) turned into a dollar sign.

Mind you: nothing on the poster indicates who put it up. It only says: "read more in the [name of free paper thats been distributed door-to-door]". The free paper is supposed to not be by Fidesz; Fidesz denies all involvement. Unfortunately, the postal company, which distributes the paper, leaked to the press that they received the latest issue from a fax machine in Fidesz HQ. Unconvincingly, Fidesz claimed that someone else must have used their fax. Right...

(Mind you, this is from my colleagues, I cant verify the press reports myself).

Now a new set of posters is up, everywhere. They show the face of Budapest mayor Gabor Demszky, of the liberal SzDSz - again in the most unflattering shot, looking deflated and clueless, with either of two texts. One says: "Jean, What do people have enough of? -You, Sir".

Again, the only other thing featured on the poster is the front page of a special zine, with Demszky's pic and the text "BURNT OUT" across it. The publisher of the mag says he's not linked to Fidesz..

The SzDSz has struck back with a cartoon that has one guy saying to the other: "Jean! Are you Fideszes?"

One thing seems for sure -- if elections were about good taste, Fidesz would deserve to lose, already.
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Reply Fri 20 Jan, 2006 06:58 pm
dlowan wrote:
Hmmm...interesting, thanks Nimh.....mebbe voting people out because it's novel and feels good?

Hhhmmm ... well, its been sixteen years now, an entire generation...

Fourfold reaction.

First: Nah, its just because Hungarians are by nature perpetually disgruntled, at the very least about politics. Razz

Second: Actually, thats the name Hungarians have - being eternally depressed - but I've found the people (of my generation at least) all very laid-back and cheerful actually...

But then, this voting every single government they got out again at the first opportunity is hardly a Hungarian monopoly. The Poles, too, have yet to ever reelect a government since '89. Same for the Latvians I think. Bulgarians too, voted out their government every single time, and some of them fell prematurely too.

In fact, the only government leaders so far, in postcommunist Central/Eastern Europe (excluding the former Soviet Union itself), to have been in power for successive terms have been the national-populist type that ran a government on the edge of autocracy (Milosevic, Iliescu, Meciar, Tudjman), and Vaclav Klaus's free-market/nationalist Civic Democratic Party in the Czech Republic. I might be overlooking some of the smallest states, Albania and Macedonia for example, but in the main countries the kick-em-out pattern is clear.

Third: Its no wonder, either. The dichotomy between promise/expectation and reality has, throughout the postcommunist period, been of a scope incomparably larger than in the West.

In general, hopes and expectations were extremely high, initially, after 1989. Yet what followed was, throughout the ex-communist bloc, economic collapse. Even the most successful rebounders (Czech Rep, Hungary, Poland) took almost a decade or more to get back to the GDP they had when communism collapsed. And the slump in between was deep, with massive unemployment and in some countries, massive inflation.

I'd be pissed too. "Flowering landscapes" (as Helmut Kohl notoriously promised the East-Germans) my as$.

Fourth: It's important to note that there was also, continually, a specific, striking political dichotomy between what voters voted for, and what they got.

Take Hungary. In effect, Hungarian voters have voted, in every successive election, for gradual rather than radical economic reform: for social-democratic sounding economics rather than the shock therapy. Of course, other (cultural) motives played a major, at least rhetorically dominant role, but the pattern on socio-economics is striking:

In 1990, the SzDSz vowed radical reform, while the MDF promised to be more moderate: the Hungarians voted MDF. In 1994, faced with the experience of four years of economic crash under the MDF and the alternative of the SzDSz, the voters instead voted for the ex-communist MSzP, which promised to temper reforms. In 1998, faced with the MSzP having broken its promise and ruled with a mix of capitalist shock therapy and corruption, the Hungarians voted for Fidesz, which promised a clean start and family-oriented politics. But of course, after 1998 Fidesz too was, in terms of economic policy, largely tied to the demands of EU accession, and thus further market reforms.

What this comes down to is that basically, the Hungarians voted to temper the reforms every single time, and as soon as the party that promised them exactly that settled into government, it turned around and continued the course of neoliberal reform.

Pretty much exactly the same happened in Poland throughout, though to be sure there too cultural issues played a deciding role as well. In '91, the voters opted for the economically moderate conservatives over the liberal Mazowiecki government and its shock therapy; in '93, when the conservative government fell, they voted the ex-communists back into power; after those turned out to be both neoliberal and corrupt, they turned back to the conservatives; et cetera.

Now, this in itself doesnt need to be some kind of dramatic indictment. Economic analysts will tell you that it wasnt necessarily deliberate deception, but simply that each government, once it got to work, inevitably was confronted with economic realities, with the inevitability of further, painful reform.

Personally, I'm suspicious of this kind of reasoning, which all too gladly passes off the liberal IMF/World Bank recipes as a kind of laws of nature. But I'm not knowledgeable enough about economics to argue about it either. What is obviously true is that this is a recipe for political disaffection, and its therefore no wonder that abstention is high and that if people do vote, they tend to be cranky about it.
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Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 07:32 am
Well, judging purely on the election posters, the roles seem to be divided. The opposition goes for fierce attacks; the government party MSzP responds with hautain indifference and opts for business-like summaries of achievements.

After the opposition Fidesz (directly or by stealth) dominated the street scene with its schizo combinations of happy smileys and anonymous attack ads, the MSzP regained some street-level dominance with a series of billboards that opted for the technocratic approach. The slogan is: "Igen. Megcsinaltuk", or: "Yes. We made it happen", preceded with a random achievement of the government. For example, they lowered VAT by X percent. They established a thirteenth month payment for pensioners (if I understood that one right).

As of today however, there's new campaign billboards of the opposition. Fidesz is sticking with the anonymous approach, apparently, as the billboards, which attack the government record, feature no party name, no candidate name, no sign of who put them up. But since there's only one major opposition party, and it's been shown to campaign by proxy before, it's a sure bet that Fidesz is behind it.

The tone, however, at least is more business-like itself than in the previous set, like the "gangster" poster described above or in the anti-Demszky posters. Basically, they're responding to the MSzP posters in kind. The slogan is: "We are living worse than four years ago", and underneath there's a picture of, for example, a building worker with the text "320,000 unemployed", or a frail old lady with the text "Prices of heart medicine raised by 108%".

Meanwhile, the polls show the MSzP closing in on Fidesz. Compared to December, both parties have gained in support as the camp of the "don't knows" is depleted by the campaign; but Fidesz won only 1%, while the MSzP won 5%. At the moment, 32% plans to vote Fidesz, 29% MSzP, and 31% doesn't know yet. The unequal division of extra votes means that, among decided voters, Fidesz's lead over the MSzP has shrunk from 11% to 4%.

Neither the MDF, nor, crucially, the Alliance of Free Democrats (SzDSz), the junior government party (and back in 1990 still the second largest party of the country) are polled to cross the election threshold. (link)
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Reply Thu 6 Apr, 2006 03:45 pm
OK, so I totally flaked on the Hungarian elections thing. Sorry folks. They're in three days, the first round is, but I dont think I can make up for much still.

Moreover, I missed the big event when I went to Germany this weekend. There were two enormous rallies, one of the Socialists and one of the conservative Fidesz of course, both camps rallying around the flag to thump their chests and boost their prestige. Fidesz won easily, in terms of numbers, though its claim of having mobilised 1,5 million demonstrators on Sunday was widely laughed away. The MSzP had gotten some 300,000 to cheer its leaders the day before.

Instead, I caught a glimpse of the fascists gathering on Tuesday evening. The forces of the far-right held their rally - they're running a common list these elections in the hope of surpassing the 5% election threshold that way. The so-called "Third Way" includes the nationalist, anti-semitic MIEP of Istvan Csurka, the populist poet who turned out to have been a secret police informer in communist times - this party crossed the threshold in '98 but failed last time as its voters rallied behind Fidesz. It also includes the newer formation The Jobbik ("jobb" meaning both "to the right" and "[the] better [ones]"), and some part of the populist Smallholders Party, which was prominent in the early 90s but then splintered.

The rally was held, defiantly, at the monument to the Soviet 'liberators' of 1945, which is still there, on Freedom Square, if perennially protected by an imposing fence drawing a large no-go circle around it, and it was interesting for two reasons. The first was because it was reassuringly small. Pathetically small, even - no more than a few hundred people, listening, when I crossed through, to a stern yet frail-looking older man who grandiosely meandered on about how important it was to him that he was Hungarian, and that he was proud to be Hungarian, and that he appealed to all those here to also be proud to be Hungarian - etc.

Slightly unnerving, however, was that the people constituted a pretty representative cross-section of the Hungarian populace. Sure there were skinheads sprinkled through the crowd, but there were severe-looking older men, there were young, studenty-looking men with ponytails, little old ladies with a discrete Hungarian flag on their lapel, proletarian-looking worker-types, a goth girl with a Jobbik t-shirt.

Lots of flags, but also bizarre placards: one man, standing by himself, proudly held a hand-made sign aloft that touted, on the one side, an appeal to vote for the MSzP, spelled, instead of "Hungarian Socialist Party", "Hungarian Sociozionist Party", and on the other side one to vote for the liberal SzDSz, made out to be the Jewish Free Democrats, or the like, adorned with a David star. (I've seen a David star scribbled on an SzDSz poster in town as well - it's a 'classic' in Hungarian political discourse.) Posters attacked the SzDSz especially too, surreally juxtaposing an SzDSz leader with Michael Jackson and claiming: More Free Democrats, More Pedofiles. That genre.

At the same time, another poster of the far right neatly shows up the dynamics of the overall race, making a blatant appeal to tactical voters. You see, all the polls agree: Fidesz and the MSzP are in a neck-and-neck race. Generally Fidesz is shown ahead a point or two, but here's the trick: if the liberal SzDSz, the party of former dissidents that bizarrely transformed into the Socialists' junior coalition partner come the mid-nineties, also makes the 5% threshold, then the two of them together should easily outscore Fidesz. Whether that will happen is the big question: the SzDSz has edged to a few tenths of a percentage over the 5% threshhold in the latest polls. So here's how the "Third Way" sells itself, in this context: the posters show a TV-type election graph with, on one side, the orange column of Fidesz towering up, and on the other the red column of the MSzP, slightly smaller - but topped off by a small blue block for the SzDSz. The plot: on the poster, a little yellow block for MIEP/Jobbik is in its turn pushed on top of Fidesz's orange column.

Funny ad, if you think about it - on the one hand, it assumes a certain level of tactical voter sophistication. On the other, of course, it doesn't make sense; after all, those who really care that much about Fidesz's orange column outstretching that of the centre-left opposition, will just vote Fidesz.
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Reply Thu 6 Apr, 2006 04:02 pm
Csurka in the parliament? christ almighty! well, at least it will be fun... So who would vote for, nimh? I, admittedly not following along for some time, would probably have to go with SzDSz... Or MSzP, though I still have a problem with voting for ex-communists, no matter how progressive they be. Can't bring myself towards it.
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Reply Thu 6 Apr, 2006 05:44 pm
dagmaraka wrote:
Csurka in the parliament? christ almighty!

Well, he's been there before ... but no, I dont think the far right has a chance of getting in this time. Fidesz has effectively cornered the 'national' market, and with them in a neck-and-neck race with the MSzP it should be easy for Orban to rally most nationalists behind him. But the MIEP/Jobbik team is definitely prominently present in the street, with all its posters, and the Jobbik seem to attract plenty of youngsters, so dont count them out for next time.

dagmaraka wrote:
So who would vote for, nimh? I, admittedly not following along for some time, would probably have to go with SzDSz... Or MSzP, though I still have a problem with voting for ex-communists, no matter how progressive they be. Can't bring myself towards it.

Me? No effin' clue. It's weird. I have no dog in this race - there isn't even one party I remotely feel sympathy for.

Yes, back in the (early) nineties I would have gone for SzDSz as well, of course, like a good, reasonable cosmopolitan intellectual. But they've turned into the equivalent of Germany's FDP (or I suppose, Slovakia's Democratic Party): ardent free-market purists.

Fidesz is obviously out, so yes, that leaves the MSzP, but no, I wouldnt vote for ex-Soviet-era communists, and definitely not for ones that dont actually have much of a leftist bone in their body either. Blairite pragmatists we have enough already.

So I havent got a clue. If I were Hungarian I'd probably cast some protest vote for some small party that stands no chance of crossing the threshold. The Greens or something.

Its weird tho witnessing elections from so close up without feeling affinity for any of the players. It all seems so totally meaningless, just different brands competing with each other like in the supermarket. What a waste of money and polarisation, division. I havent liked Dutch politics much either the last ten years, but at least there's always good guys as well, there. Here - zilch, and that totally changes your experience of the phenomenon 'elections' itself - I suddenly realise how disaffected Dutch non-voters must feel.

It doesnt help that the Hungarians I talked to about the elections feel the same way. My colleague A. hasn't actually voted in any of the elections since '89. She cant bring herself to it, thinks they're all crooks anyway. My colleague Cs. voted for Fidesz in '98 - her first elections - but was quickly enough turned off by them when they got in power, and in '02 voted for Centrum, a middle-ground group thats since been wiped off the map. I think she'll probably vote MSzP this time, but grudgingly. She thinks politicians are crooks too. (And these are people who work in a highly politically-aware NGO).

I came across this guy I know at Tilos the other night and he was throw-away gesture despising of all three, Fidesz, MSzP and SzDSz, as well. And "Susannah" will vote MSzP and is even quite ardent about her vote; although she grew up dirt-poor under communism, had to work from when she was 15, she obviously feels a belonging to that party. But even her ardency is all about despising Fidesz and its style and campaign methods - not about much positive enthusiasm about the MSzP.
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Reply Thu 6 Apr, 2006 05:59 pm
I used the term "centre-left", above, with GREAT relativity, by the way. To group the SzDSz under any such label would be sheer folly in any Western-European country. The party has developed into the country's pure and ardent defender of the free market economy and neoliberal policies. One of its slogans is: "More SzDSz, Smaller State", with variations like "More Knowledge, Less State", in which you have to read "State" as a synonym for "Government".

But economy is not what determines the left-right divide here - much like in Poland, that dimension seems subordinate - at least in identifying one's place in the political spectre. It's about the nation (unlike in Poland, religion plays little role here), it's about culture.

Fidesz stands for conservative values - its slogan is "Work, Home, Family". The MSzP meanwhile emphasizes competency, either listing its various achievements in government ("Yes, We made it happen") or putting forth abstract and neutral-sounding values like "Security", "Valour", "Justice". And in fact, the Socialist-led government has gone further in market reforms than Fidesz did previously, and is more pro-European - while the right-wing Fidesz tends to hammer more on the importance of protecting the national market and domestic workers and farmers against globalisation and the EU - and thus frequently ends up to the left of the Socialists when it comes to economic policy (or at least, the rhetorics about it..).

In these final weeks, the faces of district candidates have finally made way for those of the two leaders, Orban (Fidesz) and Gyurcsany (MSzP) - where for the accompanying final appeal Fidesz goes for "Hajra Magyarorszag!" (Go Hungary!), and the MSzP simply for "Yes!". In smaller type, the Fidesz posters have "Success and solidarity", and the MSzP posters "I see [him], I believe [him], I want [him]". (I reserve the right to make faulty translations, by the way, since I only have a rudimentary command of the language after all.)

Yes - bland and meaningless. There's not much of a message anymore there, just the all-surpassing attempt to create the sense of momentum, the sense of victory, the message of mobilisation. But Fidesz, seems to be the received wisdom, might have gone too far in trying to rally the troops.

The dreary to-and-fro of campaign promises, boasts about past records and retaliatory, anonymous attack ads regarding the two parties' real and perceived sins and achievements wasn't apparently doing the trick, tho they've sure involved a veritable orgy of retaliatory statistics, and much inventivity was demonstrated. (Thus, for example, when MSzP posters boasted something like, say, "a thirteenth month for pensioners - yes, we made it happen", anonymous billboards would strike back that nicked the design, but said: "the price of heart medicine went up by 78,5% - nah, nice stuff they made happen").

So instead, Fidesz has pulled out the anti-communist card with renewed fervour. It's pointing out how the MSzP careerists were all young Communists, which is a fair enough point to make in a country where 1956 is commemorated with intense and solemn reverence, even if the relevance of a past that by now lies seventeen years behind us for the tasks of government ahead is tenuous at best. But bizarrely, Orban also went as far as comparing the boyish, pragmatic MSzP jeune premier Ferenc Gyurcsany with Stalin, Mao and Kim Il Sung - no less.

Some suspect that this kind of rabble-rousing overkill has backfired, and will do Fidesz in. One mock-poster that appeared online features Orban himself in one of those "anonymous" anti-MSzP billboards, but with the texts, "Nah, a nice cock-up I made happen" and "depression up by 99%", with a smaller slogan mocking Fidesz's (err, I mean, the anonymous) "We are living worse than four years ago" posters: "I speechify worse than four years ago"...
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Reply Thu 6 Apr, 2006 06:03 pm
Perhaps because most all Hungarians outside the two parties' core constituencies are well and truly sick of all the chest-thumping, attack ads and random stats, there's a flourishing online scene in such mock-ads, actually. Following them will be tough without understanding the Hungarian, but do give it a look: HERE for example, or HERE.

One of my favourites, obviously, is the one that features both Orban and Gyurcsany and says "We have a lot more posters, than four years ago", "293% more wasted money and paper", "Yes, we made it happen" Razz.

One can't blame sceptics for resorting to such flippancies. On the one hand, Fidesz is also engaging in much fear-mongering about how the Socialists will try to steal the election - many Fidesz partisans still believe that this is what happened in 2002. Fidesz demonstratively pleaded with the OSCE to send election observers, but it politely responded that it saw no need for such a mission. It then announced that it would itself vigilantly monitor voting stations for any election fraud. In turn, the government's surprise announcement of a terrorist threat (apparently based in Slovakia) out to destabilise the country around election time is generally taken to fit in the same category of opportunistic fear-mongering. All that just to give you an idea of how hyperdistrustful and poisoned the political atmosphere here is.

There's one political party that has picked up on this vibe and is trying to ride it. The Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), once the main party of the mainstream, post-communist right, has long been eclipsed by Fidesz. Their programmes don't differ much, though the MDF goes more for the reliable, centre-right Christian-Democratic image, leaving the more strident nationalist hystrionics to Fidesz. However, there's bad blood between the two, especially since Fidesz started systematically persuading MDF MP's to cross over, one by one.

The MDF now stands little chance to pass the threshold, but they've grabbed the distaste for the main parties as their last straw. "For a normal Hungary", one of their slogans reads, leaving no doubt what they think of the two giants. "We are adults", reads another, leaving equally little to guess about what they think the others are. And one of its posters has a red, a green and an orange Christmas tree, and pleads for voters to vote MDF (green) if "you want to have a peaceful Christmas", identifying the red and orange trees alike with "agression" and "economic waste" (I think, I'm doing this by memory).

Remind me to still get back about the ever-present 5-year old, Pisti Kovacs ("Johnny Smith"), who 'sells' the SzDSz brand on every street corner (for a party with a predicted 5% of the vote, the liberals sure have an impressive campaigning budget, apparently), and Gyurcsany imitating Hugh Grant's disco dance from Love, Actually..
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Reply Sat 8 Apr, 2006 03:32 pm
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung today has an article about the Hungarian elections that seems to sum things up nicely. Here's some (striking) translated excerpts:

"Luxury as term of abuse"

Original: "Luxus als Schimpfwort, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 8 April 2006, p.9

[..] Gyurcsany's Socialists, which came forth from the former communist Workers Party [..], have a wonderful command of the social rhetorics of solidarity. But in practice they pursue the centrist politics of the Tony Blair model.

The oppositional Young Democrats of Fidesz-Civic Union, on the other hand, once agitated against the stagnation of the communist era, but also against the pusillanimity of the early post-communist governments. But today it's they who are praising the nation, appealing to bourgeois mediocrity, and who combine authoritarian overbearance with purely socialist demands. [..]

There is nothing liberal anymore about the Young Democrats, and almost nothing left-wing about the Socialists.

The transformation of Fidesz was definitively completed in the years 1998-2002, when Viktor Orban once already was Prime Minister in Budapest. [..] It had much money flow back into social expenditures, which the Socialists under Prime Minister Gyula Horn in the years before had harshly cut down. [..]

In earlier days Orban, who loved to appear in fine clothes, had the aura of a youthful, fresh face. But Prime Minister Gyurcsany, a rich entrepreneur, is even more suave. So Orban has switched tack: he now appears in plain suits and propagates the "struggle of cultures". The struggle between city and country and between Hungarians and the rest of the world.

"Luxury" is the word of scorn of this season. Like the little man from the country, [Orban] is suspicious of the luxury of waterhead metropolis Budapest. He derides the luxury government, the luxury Prime Minister. He demands less hedonism and more pious, Christian families. [..]

His deputy announced that a future Orban government will secure power for at least twenty years, by granting citizenship to the millions of Hungarians across the border [in Romania, Slovakia and Serbia]. [..]

The Treaty of Trianon [..] is the trauma of the nation. But as election theme it doesn't suffice anymore to win over the masses. Unemployment and low pensions damp the patriotic fervour: one should do everything for the Hungarians abroad, is the dominant mood - as much as is needed for them to stay where they are. [..]

The old, ever-well-behaved conservative Democratic Forum [..] has long distanced itself from Fidesz. But not because of its nationalist slogans, but because it has turned into a "leftwing" party. [..]
0 Replies
Walter Hinteler
Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 01:27 pm
Exit polls, conducted by Tarki and Four Sense-Szazadveg, both gave the Socialists and their coalition partners, the liberal Free Democrats, a combined lead in the polls over the main conservative opposition Fidesz party.
Tarki said the Socialists won 43 percent of votes along with 6.0 percent for the Free Democrats, compared to 45 percent for Fidesz.
Szazadveg-Four Sense said the Socialists won 39.1 percent of votes with 6.4 percent for the Free Democrats, compared to 44.9 percent for Fidesz.
0 Replies
Walter Hinteler
Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 03:19 pm
With 87 per cent of the votes counted both the Socialists and conservative Fidesz party had won 43 per cent of the vote.

But the liberal Free Democrats, the Socialists' junior coalition partner, took nearly 6 per cent, clearing the crucial 5 per cent threshold needed to enter parliament. This result could prove crucial to the coalition's bid to retain power.

The surprise of the night came from the centre-right Democratic Forum, which appeared on the verge of passing the 5 percent barrier. Their inclusion in parliament would likely spur a furious round of negotiations, with both major parties hoping to secure their support.

via FTcom
0 Replies
Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 04:15 pm
Yes, it's quite the nailbiter, apparently. Many cafes had the TV on; the cafe I went to didn't, but you could hear they had the TV on in the kitchen, and it was otherwise relatively quiet.

I checked the news halfway through the evening when about two-thirds of the votes were counted. The Socialists then had a lead of some tenths of a percent to Fidesz, but more importantly, the Free Democrats were set to pass the thresshold with close to 6% whereas the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) seemed to narrowly fail it. That result would have, together, given the governing coalition a clear advantage.

But now 97% of the votes has been counted, and not much has changed (the Socialists have expanded their lead on Fidez to 1,1%, the Free Democrats are safe at 6,3%), except that the MDF is now set to get its heels over the threshold too: 5,03%! That almost balances out the government advantage.

In the neighbourhood Fidesz headquarters (right here on the square), it was extraordinarily quiet earlier tonight; people were inside, walked in and out, but in intimidated, depressed silence. Down the street at the "Red Point" of the Socialists, however, the scene was relatively bustling. (Where in Western Europe do you find that, eh? Party offices/centres by district?!)

The MDF score is indeed the surprise, I heard someone exclaim about it in exasperation passing the Red Point. I think it's probably their campaign this last week or two. It struck me as a pretty brilliant last resort for a party that otherwise is hardly distinct from Fidesz, to capitalise on this disgust with both main parties ("For a normal Hungary", "We are grown-ups").
0 Replies
Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 04:46 pm
In Budapest, the Socialists and MDF did about the same as nationally, but Fidesz did noticeably worse and the Free Democrats (SzDSz) noticeably better:

44,4% MSzP
34,7% Fidesz
11,7% SzDSz
5,4% MDF
2,9% MIEP/Jobbik


12 Socialist candidates for 'district seats' in Budapest already won theirs by getting more than 50% in their district; all of them in working-class suburbs.

0 Replies
Reply Mon 10 Apr, 2006 10:54 am
This is a funny take of the expat Budapest Times on the elections, listing the pros and cons of each party - funny and pretty spot on, especially for Fidesz and the smaller parties:

Pisti gets the nod ahead of Ferenc and Orbán


Here's what Parliament looks like so far, after the first round: these are the seats that have already been filled now. The rest will be filled in after the second round.

0 Replies
Reply Mon 10 Apr, 2006 11:01 am
Viktor Orban of Fidesz used a soccer metaphor to describe the situation now. He had counted on more voters, a higher turnout, he admitted, but it's not all that hopeless. The match is now at the 70th minute, he said, but the chances are not bad that we will still leave the field as the winners after 90 minutes. Sure the other side is ahead now, but if you add up the numbers for the left and right, its still 50-50, so that creates opportunities for the second round. (link - in Hungarian).

That seems optimistic considering what he himself is quoted here on what is needed in the second round for a Fidesz win:

Hungary MDF party denies pre-vote opposition talks

The centre-right Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) denied on Monday it was in talks with the conservative Fidesz party on the mutual withdrawal of candidates ahead of a second round of a parliamentary election on April 23.

The ruling Socialists and their liberal ally, the Free Democrats, edged ahead of the conservative opposition in the first round of voting on Sunday, and Fidesz said it needed cooperation with the MDF party to keep alive its hopes of victory.

[..] MDF party president Ibolya David told national television [:] "We have said ... that we don't want to help (Fidesz president) Viktor Orban or (Socialist Prime Minister) Ferenc Gyurcsany into power."

Orban told supporters on Sunday Fidesz needed to win 75 out of the remaining 109 individual constituency seats in the 386-member parliament to defeat the ruling parties, and that he would immediately propose cooperation to the MDF.

A further concise enough update:

Hungary's Socialists Take Lead in First Round of Vote (Update2)

[..] The European Union has given Hungary until September to say how it will curb its burgeoning budget deficit enough to adopt the euro by 2010. Meantime, the Socialist Party pledged to spend 10 trillion forint ($46 billion) of mostly European Union funds to build roads, schools and hospitals if it wins, while Fidesz promised to raise the minimum wage, add an extra month's pension and cut social security contributions.

The forint [..] has lost 6 percent to the euro this year on concern over the government's inability to balance the budget [..]. "Both parties have made spending promises," said Michael Sonenshine, who helps manage a hedge fund worth $59 million at MT Thaler New Europe Fund in London. "It is difficult to see how Hungary's fiscal position can improve in the absence of very robust economic growth."

Of the 386 parliamentary seats, 173 will be distributed in the second round. The Socialists and their coalition partner, the Free Democrats, secured 114 mandates, Fidesz won 97 seats and its smaller opposition Hungarian Democratic Forum got two seats in the next parliament, according to the election bureau.

The second round will decide 108 constituencies where no candidate in the first round received more than 50 percent of the vote. Of the undecided districts, the coalition of the Socialists and the Free Democrats is ahead in 57, while Fidesz leads in 51. A single, independent candidate leads in one district.

The second round will also allocate parliamentary seats set aside to compensate losing candidates. The Socialist Party's Web site said party leaders will meet with the Free Democrats today to discuss withdrawing candidates in certain districts so the governing parties can mount a united front against Fidesz. [..]

With the two large parties so close, the Free Democrats and the Forum may determine the next premier. Gyurcsany has said he would work with the Free Democrats. The Forum pledged to remain in opposition regardless of the outcome.

"We won't help Viktor Orban to power and we won't help Ferenc Gyurcsany to power either," party Chairwoman Ibolya David said in a televised interview.

Gyurcsany and Orban urged supporters after the first round to continue campaigning and called mass rallies for today.
0 Replies
Reply Thu 13 Apr, 2006 03:29 pm
Oddly quiet here since last weekend. Perhaps on the airwaves the struggle still rages on, I dunno, my TV doesnt work and even if it would, I wouldnt understand what they were saying. But on the street there's not much sign of a second round still coming up; the old posters slowly get torn down, nothing new in its place.

Meanwhile, in HVG, Péter Tölgyessy commented:

Orbán began as a liberal politician. What brought him over to the other side?

At first, the Fidesz president really did want to be a different kind of prime minister from that envisaged by the traditional right. [..] Fidesz, which seemed to be breaking [the] impasse, received much support from intellectuals. [..]

[But] Fidesz made a historically rapid switch to the other side of the political spectrum. They adopted the world view of the more radical wing of the traditional right. The ideas of the Hungarian Right had not developed over the post-war era and were still stuck in the inter-war period, a time that was not kind to market economies or parliamentary systems. Fidesz made little effort to create a new synthesis. They tried not to win the political centre, but to divide it in two. [..]

Fidesz's land grab, seen by the Left as a sinful fall from innocence, was like a new conquest for the Right. But the enthusiasm of the radical Right is not enough to win an election in Hungary, so Viktor Orbán, holding to his role as leader, tried to draw the small man of the Kádár era away from the Socialists. [..]

The Socialist Party, a technocratic party, which two decades before ran a dictatorship in our country, a party which had served the interests of its own petit-bourgeois members, became the standard-bearer for new Hungarian capitalism, and a pillar of parliamentary democracy.

The Free Democrats have retreated into becoming the intellectuals' doctrinaire micro-party. But if they were to leave parliament, civic politics, already weak, would be further undermined. Those 1.5m voters who support the emergence of a Western-style middle class now have no large party to turn to. [..]

0 Replies
Reply Sat 15 Apr, 2006 07:54 pm
nimh wrote:
Oddly quiet here since last weekend. Perhaps on the airwaves the struggle still rages on, I dunno, my TV doesnt work and even if it would, I wouldnt understand what they were saying. But on the street there's not much sign of a second round still coming up; the old posters slowly get torn down, nothing new in its place.

Of course, the ink wasnt dry on that post yet or Zsuzsi of my morning coffeehouse told me about a Fidesz action just a street down.

They'd created an impromptu little garden there, laying down a catwalk of grass surrounded by plants in pots down the middle of the pedestrian zone of Hajos utca. "A green island in a sea of asphalt", the leaflet said (if memory serves).

Apparently, the local district Fidesz candidate is also actively campaigning to save the (indeed beautiful, old and elegant) trees on Jokai Square. He's got my sympathy, and the little garden was a nice gesture in this very urban district, where even the once-bombed out (or simply collapsed) plots that have laid waste for decades are now rapidly being filled up with new development. Since there's no Green party of note, I'm glad at least the conservatives are picking up on this count.

Plus, today, it was announced - since the 'garden' could only be there for two days - people could take plants home with them if they passed by! Razz
0 Replies

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