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Editorial: Complaining is fun, but not enough

Elections

The following is the editorial column from the February 27-March 12 print edition of the Budapest Business Journal.

By winning a February 22 by-election to fill a vacated parliamentary seat in Veszprém, an independent candidate finally put an end to Fidesz’s two-thirds Parliamentary supermajority, which the ruling party has been making the most of for the last four years.

Truly undoing the damage caused by Fidesz’s rewriting of the laws can only happen after a change of government during 2018 elections. And because much of the bad legislation Fidesz passed is so-called cardinal law, requiring a two-thirds majority to amend, it may be necessary to build a coalition that includes a two-thirds majority of Parliament. While opinion polls, and the vote in Veszprém, make it clear that voters are tired of Fidesz, the popular Hungarian pastime of complaining about the current situation is not enough. If democracy is going to function, we need to do the work of establishing a viable new leadership.

It is understandable that people are tired of the current leadership. Even the best-behaved party should not enjoy a supermajority for so long, but Fidesz has not been very well behaved. Almost immediately after trouncing the Socialist party in 2010 and winning two thirds of the seats in Parliament, Fidesz used its power to rewrite the Constitution with dizzying speed, chipping away at freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary – and even tampering with our voting rights. By cutting the number of seats in Parliament, and creatively redrawing voting districts, Fidesz was able to maintain its two-thirds majority during the 2014 election, despite winning only 44% of the popular vote. Along with trampling on democratic freedom, Fidesz members also appear to be involved in rampant corruption.

Clearly an alternative is needed, but the question is: Who?

The second-most popular party in the country, Jobbik, has espoused a platform of hatred, of both Roma and Jews. Lately, Jobbik seems to be trying to soften its image, even dialing back its trademark Roma bashing, perhaps in the hopes of securing more mainstream voters. But anti-Semitism and xenophobia remain core Jobbik party values. They are also Euroskeptics, a position that is allegedly encouraged by funding from the Russian government. While fear and hatred of the other always gets a few votes in any country, as a whole, the Hungarian populace seems to favor a kinder, more-inclusive approach.

A center-right alternative to Jobbik would be welcome, but the only party besides Fidesz even trying to be center-right is its own longtime coalition partners, the befuddled Christian Democrats, whose main achievement thus far has been the horribly ill-considered Sunday closings law.

The biggest grouping on the left is still the Socialists, a party born out of the former communist leadership that resigned in 1989. Many of their older members did suspiciously well during the process of privatization, and during years of leadership, the Socialists gained a reputation for graft that makes them unpopular.

There is also a group of small parties on the left, who might coalesce together to help make a difference, though that seems unlikely, and has proved beyond them thus far. This small minority includes the LMP (Greens) who stand on principal and refuse to partner with others, relegating themselves to the role of frustrated gadflies.

Clearly the most effective current political grouping is the one chosen by Zoltán Kész, the winner of the Veszprém by-election: independent, with no party affiliation. Recent anti-government demonstrations have also succeeded by eschewing political affiliations, and organizers of those demonstrations say they do not want to belong to parties – or even to run for office.

But being sick of the current leadership is not enough. We can’t “vote the bums out” without voting someone else in. Hungarians have three years to get beyond complaining about the current situation and to actually coalesce behind an alternative. Let’s hope the people are up to the challenge.

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