Guest Post

The lack of democratic opposition

Contrary to common belief, Orbán is not the biggest obstacle to restoration of liberal democracy in Hungary. It is his loyal opposition.

You have only hours left, Orbán!  

–Anonymous voter standing in line to vote in London, during Hungarian elections in 2018

In my previous post, I wrote about how Orbán has created an imitation of democracy in Hungary. Although he depends on loyalists for maintaining this charade, the most important element is still the illusion of free and fair elections. That would not have been possible without the participation of oppositional parties.

After gaining supermajority of two thirds of all seats in the parliament with only 52% share of votes in 2010, Orbán created an election system, which is probably the least fair and proportional in the EU.

The new electoral law secured supermajorities for Orbán’s Fidesz two more times, despite getting less than 50% percent of votes. Orbán’s unrivaled position in Fidesz has made him the most (and probably only) powerful person in Hungary.

Ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries can vote by mail, while citizens registered with Hungarian home address, but currently living abroad can only vote in person at designated embassies and consulates. This is time consuming and a financial burden for many. Legal and technical reasons have been given for this, but it is a well-known fact, that Fidesz is polling stronger among ethnic Hungarians than those living in mostly western countries.

As it stands now, the opposition parties, backed by almost 50% of the voters, have less than one third of all seats in the parliament. As a consequence, both the process and the outcome effectively mean that non Fidesz voters are treated as second-class citizens.  The “opposition” has done nothing to fight for their voters’ right for decent elections. Instead, each time they have promised a victory pretending that Hungarian elections are just like any others in the EU, albeit more challenging.

The election system has forced the opposition to unite, thus depriving the voters to choose. A liberal may be forced to vote for a former neo-Nazi among individual candidates and support a party coalition from far-right to the Greens.

Imagine a coalition in Britain trying to sell itself as a viable alternative, consisting of Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon and Russell Brand.

The opposition’s main selling point is that everything will be fine once Orbán is removed from power. They have taken a page from Orbán’s playbook. In Orbán’s world the main enemy is George Soros who can be blamed for everything, among the opposition parties this role is played by Orbán.

One of the parties – Democratic Coalition, has started to imitate Orbán’s rhetoric, and using tasteless phrases like “the murderous Orbán government of death” in the wake of the mismanagement of the covid crisis.  Momentum a party supposedly targeting urban and educated people is promising four-day working weeks in a country with notoriously low productivity

The same party has also proposed term limits for prime minister, revealing a lack of knowledge of the true nature of power. Orbán, could with his present power base run the country from the locker room in the football stadium in his home village. Hungary is not unique. Does anyone remember Russian president Medvedev? Or the fact that Poland’s de facto leader is the deputy prime minister?

The current opposition doesn’t have any coherent plan for government, since their main and basically only platform is the removal of Orbán, which should solve everything. Whereas in most democratic countries voters can choose a party based on issues and policies, the 2020 elections will be basically a referendum on Orbán, which suits him and his loyal opposition fine. The real loser will be the mislead electorate.

Hungary desperately needs a democratic government which is accountable and relatively transparent. But first it needs a democratic opposition.

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