Guest Post

Hungary’s zombie opposition secured Orbán his fourth supermajority

“In societies under the post-totalitarian system, all political life in the traditional sense has been eliminated. People have no opportunity to express themselves politically in public, let alone to organize politically. The gap that results is filled by ideological ritual. In such a situation, peoples interest in political matters naturally dwindles and independent political thought, insofar as it exists at all, is seen by the majority as unrealistic, farfetched, a kind of self-indulgent game, hopelessly distant from their everyday concerns; something admirable, perhaps, but quite pointless, because it is on the one hand entirely utopian and on the other hand extraordinarily dangerous, in view of the unusual vigor with which any move in that direction is persecuted by the regime.”

Vaclav Havel: The Power of the Powerless (1978)

zombie

noun C ]

UK  /ˈzɒm.bi/ US  /ˈzɑːm.bi/

(in stories) a frightening creature that is a dead person who has been brought back to life, but without human qualities. Zombies are not able to think and they are often shown as attacking and eating human beings:

: dictionary.cambridge.org/

If we define politics as open competition for power through transparency and a fair set of rules that apply to all parties, politics as we know it, has ceased to exist in Hungary. It didn’t happen on April 3rd 2022 when Orbán awarded himself his fourth supermajority, this time with 54 percent of the votes.

We don’t know exactly when politics was eliminated in Hungary, but it was sometime around when the new election law was implemented without any resistance by the opposition parties or society as a whole.

The opposition opted to participate in the rigged and gerrymandered elections once again. It shouldn’t be a surprise that doing the same thing three times keeps giving you the same results, and yet many where shocked.

When Vaclav Havel wrote his famous essay in 1978, Czechoslovakia was a communist dictatorship and very different from Orbán’s Hungary. And yet there are certain similarities. Not all, but a huge part of political life in the traditional sense has been eliminated.

There are no debates to speak of between political opponents. Scandals exposed by the remaining independent media don’t bring change. Demonstrations don’t bring change in policies with the revolt against a tax on the internet as a notable exception. Unless a huge majority of society decides to vote out Orbán, he is unremovable. A coalition that receives more than fifty percent of the votes doesn’t get the majority in the parliament, unless it’s the ruling party. Forty percent of the voters are represented by less then than one third of all MPs. Not one opposition party leader resigned after the defeat.

Voters of Fidesz have long been denied any say in their party’s behavior. They were presented by a choice: either you accept all of it, or you are welcome to vote for the opposition. Aspiring politicians in Fidesz compete for Orbán’s, not the members’ support

When the mayor of Győr was involved in a scandal before the 2019 local elections, he nearly resigned. But that would have given the opposition candidate the victory. The official line was that the voters should decide. They duly re-elected the mayor, who was forced to resign by the Fidesz leadership shortly after, paving the way for a more acceptable Fidesz candidate. In Orbán’s eyes it’s not the voters who have the final say in who gets elected if he can help it.

Competition is the cornerstone of a genuine democracy, and following Orbán’s lead, the main opposition parties have also moved to eliminate it. Their primaries didn’t cover the proportion of seats allocated to the parties after the unification. It means that unlike in a traditional democracy, voters don’t get to decide which party gets most seats in the parliament. Voters thus secured seats for several parties which were unable to meet the threshold of 5% in the previous election. The green party which couldn’t get one seat in the election for European Parliament in 2019, was rewarded with four seats in the Hungarian one this year.

I was genuinely surprised how many people in my environment believed that Orbán could be defeated in his election system. And it wasn’t just opposition voters. A friend of mine who works in the civil service told me that many of her Fidesz-voting colleagues were anxious about an electoral victory of the opposition.

The reactions to the defeat among opposition supporters ranged from soul-searching to blaming the supposedly uneducated and brainwashed countryside voters. No one is addressing the elephant in the room – the election system. And they have good reasons for that. The dirty open secret is that too many people and industries depend on these sham elections.

MPs are very well paid, and there is very little work and responsibility for an opposition politician. Their staff is also paid by the taxpayer, and so are the parties which receive funding from the state. A modest success in the local election has enabled these parties to support their functionaries through local government. These gains may be peanuts compared to what Fidesz-clients get, but it matters to people who are too old or lack the talent to start a new career. The think tanks, the remaining media outlets have all an interest in maintaining the illusion that elections matter, and there is still real competition.

These parties have in fact become the zombie opposition which enables Orbán’s legitimacy and supports holdovers from the socialist-liberal era before 2010.

Zombies are dead people who at first glance can give the impression of being alive. They eat the brains and flesh of living people, who also turn into zombies. That is what has happened to the new opposition parties after 2010. Former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány founded his party Democratic Coalition (DK) on the ruins of the liberal and socialist parties. In ten years, this group aided by journalists and intellectuals has forced new parties founded originally as an opposition to both Orbán and Gyurcsány to join the so-called democratic unified opposition.

Just as zombies turn living people into zombies, so do the zombie parties kill off fresh forces – just look at the fates of Jobbik, Momentum and LMP. For a few seats in parliament, they have given up their identity and independence. While unable to function as a potent opposition and defeating Orbán it has secured Gyurcsány, the most unpopular politician in Hungary, the biggest parliamentary group after Fidesz.

We can only hope that enough voters realize that these zombies should not be fed any longer. This horror movie is already getting too long and boring.

One thought on “Hungary’s zombie opposition secured Orbán his fourth supermajority

  1. I don’t know the election system in Hungary, but the German Bundestag is elected the very same way as the Russian state Duma. It results in pointless proxy-parties, one claims to be libertarian, the next openly supports communis, the third conservatism and the fourth environmentalism. Strange enough they all form coalitions after the election and do the exact same thing. Unremovable faces grin from TV screens year after year, decade after decade. I don’t know how it’s done in Hungary, but I understand the frustration of being unable to have a peaceful transition of power as a result of elections.

    Does anybody know if Orban is bribed by the Russians? What’s going on with him?

    Also we have the same issue with a largely rubbish opposition. In Turkey Erdogan benefits from a rubbish opposition, too.

    Like

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