Business as Usual in Wake of Election


British politicians, broadly speaking, do not “do religion”, which quite possibly has something to do with a deep suspicion of religious statements on the part of the British public. Similarly, this publication does not “do politics”.

We do, of course, cover national elections, and report on the legislative and tax environment, because those have a direct impact on how all of us go about our legitimate business, but we have more than enough on our hands just covering all the business news, without me climbing onto a soapbox and unleashing my inner policy wonk/political nerd.

That said, there has, understandably, been a lot of talk about last week’s local elections, and questions about what it might all mean. Allow me, therefore to share not some political opinions, but rather a few observations.

The first, but perhaps not the most obvious point, is that the Fidesz remains a very strong party, something that may well have been overlooked in all the excitement about the Budapest mayoralty. Those of us who cast their ballots on Sunday (and, yes, I was one), were asked to do so three times: once for a mayor; once for a local councilor; and once for a party for the county lists. I’m not sure exactly what this last part aims to achieve, but it was absolutely dominated by Fidesz.

The second point is that the opposition parties found a winning strategy for this election by combining forces: wherever an opposition candidate stood a chance of winning, the official opposition parties backed that candidate rather than fielding their own people, although independents still stood in most towns and cities.  

But that is not a strategy that is transferable to a national general election, unless a very serious attempt is made to build some kind of self-styled movement of national unity. Even then it would be problematic, as parties would still need to win 5% of the national vote to get into parliament. But could you honestly imagine a platform so broad that it ran from the Socialists at one end of the spectrum to Jobbik at the other, while also taking in the Democratic Coalition, Dialogue for Hungary, LMP and Momentum? The grand coalition succesfully served one very specific purpose, but it is likely to be a one-off.  

Thirdly, there is Budapest itself. In many ways, the wonder is that Fidesz held the capital city for as long as it did (technically, István Tarlós, the now erstwhile Mayor of Budapest, was an independent, but he had the full backing of the governing party). A tiny handful of Viktor Orbán’s cabinet are Budapest-born. Fidesz is a party of the countryside; that is where its root and stem support still lies. Given the size of Budapest’s bright lights, it attracts a younger, markedly more cosmopolitan mix of people, much less prone to being small “c” conservatives than the typical Fideszata. That is far from unique for a capital: in the United Kingdom, London is held by an opposition mayor, not the ruling party, and the same is true of Ankara in Turkey. 

The loss of Budapest will irritate and irk Fidesz, undoubtedly, but that does not mean it is the bellwether herald of some electoral swing. The next general election is not due until 2022, an age in political terms. Fidesz remains the strongest national force; the opposition parties are still, by comparison, fragmented and weak. They certainly could build some momentum on the back of these results, and they, or at least some elements, could decide to work together for what they would see as the “greater good” of ejecting the government. They could, but I wouldn’t bet the house on it anytime soon.  

Robin Marshall


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