Centre-left opposition vs. Viktor Orban: Will it work?

It was announced that Hungary’s two main opposition parties joined forces ahead of an election due in 2014. The alliance that will replace Viktor Orban has been born, said Socialist leader Attila Mesterhazy. How (un)realistic is his statement in your opinion, and why and who should lead this alliance to increase its chances, and why? Read few comments.

Gábor Tóka, Professor, Department of Political Science, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

I think the new electoral system created a very difficult situation for the left of center opposition without simple answers – indeed without any really good answer. First, it forces them to coordinate candidates because the election will be mostly divided in single member districts, in a single round of voting. To get the most votes, these candidates should ideally be running as so-called ‘joint candidates’ of multiple parties. However, the votes of the losing candidates will, to a smaller extent than in the past, be compensated with list seats. However, if E14 and MSZP had so called joint candidates in the single-member districts (which would be ideal for maximizing their vote-winning potential), then the votes for the losing E14-MSZP candidates will only be compensated with list seats if there were a joint E14-MSZP list. But such a joint list would not suit the two parties very well: it would probably not get as many votes as the two separate lists could, and it would require the two parties to agree whose leader is the candidate for prime minister and in what proportion they divide the list seats among themselves without really giving the voters an opportunity to show which of the two parties is preferred by more voters. This predicament is not accidental: Fidesz wrote the new election law with the intention of creating such complications for its relatively divided opposition. The agreement that E14 and MSZP reached now is, I think, is one of the possible not too bad answers. It is not ideal but there was no ideal solution. However, it is perceived and discussed by the public – both by opponents and supporters of the left – as a failure to reach the kind of comprehensive and genuine agreement on electoral coordination that the two parties supposedly negotiated for many-many months.

The chances of the left-wing opposition in the 2014 election were badly damaged by how they went about these talks, how long the talks went on, what expectations they raised, and how they failed to produce a joint candidate for prime minister, which they had kept presenting – quite mistakenly, I think – as the main goal of these negotiations. So, briefly, objectively this agreement is not too bad for the left-wing opposition, but it is seen as a failure – and this perception of failure, which was already around for some time as the negotiations dragged on – will probably have a bigger influence on their chances in the election than how adequate this agreement this is given the electoral rules.

Dariusz Kałan, Central Europe analyst, Polish Institute of International Affairs

In my opinion, the recent unification of the left-liberal opposition is an agreement with feet of clay. Indeed, right now both sides seem to need each other: MSzP wants to take advantage of the huge personal popularity of the Együtt 2014 leader, Gordon Bajnai, while the latter has to “hook” his weakly-organized small movement to the much bigger political player. However, a long run stable cooperation will be difficult due to few factors.

First and foremost, the stocking point will be who is the candidate for the premiership: Bajnai or the young MSzP leader, Attila Mesterházy. This was actually the main reason why the negotiations between the two sides has lasted so long. The spectacle of the personal ambitions and pressure from the closest political environment – this is what this agreement can be turned into in the future.

Secondly, it is worth remembering that Bajnai and Mesterházy head a parties that play in a totally different leagues. MSzP is not only in the parliament, but also has a well-established national organization, while Együtt 2014 is a small non-influential social movement with only 7-10% of public support. The agreement thus will never be based on a factual partnership (rather than on domination), the fact that may become the reason for frustration especially for proud Bajnai.

Thirdly, it is far too early to call the Bajnai-Mesterházy agreement “the unification of the anti-Orbán opposition”, as outside this cooperation remain two other leaders: Ferenc Gyurcsány (Demokratikus Koalíció) and Gábor Fodor (Liberálisok). Despite poor results of their parties in the polls, both still enjoy significant personal popularity among non-right voters, who would prefer to establish much wider anti-Orbán platform before elections. But here again, mixture of tactical mistakes and personal misunderstandings makes this aim quite unrealistic.

Lee SavageLecturer in European Politics, Department of European & International Studies, King’s College London

Until we see the next batch of opinion polls it’s actually quite difficult to envisage how well the alliance will work out for the parties in electoral terms. Despite the unpopularity of the Orban government and the declining support for Fidesz, the party is still the most popular in Hungary (with 26% support in a recent poll). The Socialists and Egyutt-2014 are still struggling with 15% and 4% support respectively. This is actually quite a concern for all parties as close to half of voters do not know who to vote for which points to a growing disillusionment with party politics in Hungary. How this manifests itself is unclear but we are likely to see a low turnout in 2014 unless something can galvanise voters and I’m not sure that the alliance of left-wing parties will be the impetus for this.

The alliance of left-wing parties could potentially maximise votes for both parties as Mesterhazy claims but this is based on an assumption that electoral support will be transferable between the Socialists and Egyutt which is far from certain – a Socialist supporter in a constituency that has no Socialist candidate may simply decide not to cast their ballot rather than vote for the Egyutt candidate. A greater potential problem is that Egyutt is itself an electoral alliance and therefore will need to gain 10 percent of the vote in the party list ballot inorder to gain seats in the legislature. As indicated previously, the party’s support currently stands at 4%. The alliance may change things by boosting support, and Egyutt could still benefit from the lack of Socialist opposition in the constituency ballots.

It’s also worth mentioning that Mesterhazy has said that he intends to invite Ferenc Gyurcsany’s Democratic Coalition for talks ahead of a potential alliance. Gyurcsany left the last Socialist-led government under a cloud and it is hard to foresee an alliance between MSZP, Egyutt and the Democratic Coalition functioning smoothly; the imperative of removing Fidesz from government may keep any disputes under control until the election next year but these are unlikely to remain buried int he long-term.

Anton PelinkaProfessor of Nationalism Studies and Political Science, Central European University

The announcement of the opposition could indicate a significant change concerning next year’s elections: The center-left opposition has only a chance to win if all parties left of Fidesz agree to back in all single-membership constituencies one and only one candidate. The new electoral system pushed through by the ruling majority is perfectly tailored by and for Fidesz – as long as the opposition cannot unite.

What I cannot say at this moment is whether all significant parties of the center-left are really willing and able to agree to such an alliance -and to implement it. If so, the opposition has a fair chance to win. If not, Fidesz will win even with a much reduced percentage of votes.


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