The State of Hungary’s Opposition Parties

by Edith Oltay, On March 22, 2012

According to public opinion polls over the last few months, Hungary’s opposition parties have still not been able to substantially increase their public support, despite a general deterioration in the public mood. Now, 75% of all Hungarians and even 33% of Fidesz voters opine that “things are heading in the wrong direction.”

Recent polls taken in February by Median indicate that the largest governing party, Fidesz, leads with 40% among those who would definitely vote if elections were held today. The radical right party Jobbik (Movement for a Better Hungary) is second with 24%, the MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party) scored 22%.  The party Lehet Más a Politika LMP (Politics can be Different) scored a mere 8% just above the parliamentary threshold. Various polls indicate that Fidesz has lost 50% to 60% of its supporters since the April 2010 parliamentary elections. The difficult economic situation and conflicts over the restructuring of key areas of life such as social benefits and pensions are the major causes of public dissatisfaction.

The left-liberal opposition is still searching for its identity following its crushing defeat in the parliamentary elections of 2010. The MSZP has not been able to shake off its reputation for corruption and for ruining the Hungarian economy during its rule between 2002 and 2010. The MSZP’s various platforms fought each other following the 2010 elections and in the fall of 2011 the party split as former Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and his followers left the party. Gyurcsány set up his own party, the Demokratikus Koalíció  DK (Democratic Coalition) which defined itself as a Western oriented civic center-left party.  The party is, however, synonymous with Gyurcsány’s persona who is still very unpopular due to his role in ruining the economy and his admission in 2006 that he had lied to voters morning, noon and night in order to get elected. According to Median, only 4% of the sure voters would chose the DK today.

The LMP, after two years in Parliament, is still in search of its political profile and program. Upheavals at the leadership level such as the resignation of its parliamentary caucus leader indicate struggles over the party’s strategy toward the MSZP and the DK. Many in the LMP fear that cooperation with the MSZP and the DK would undermine the party’s credibility as a new force in the Hungarian political landscape. Currently, those favoring distance toward the two parties hold the upper hand.

As public disappointment with both the government and the parliamentary opposition grew, new protest movements emerged. The largest are: the Facebook group “Egy­millió­an a magyar sajtószabadságért” nicknamed Milla (One Million for Press Freedom), the left-wing party 4K! (4. Republic!)  and the Magyar Szolidaritás Mozgalom (Hungarian Solidarity Movement) led by the former head of a trade union representing the armed and security forces.  Thus far, the protest groups are only willing to cooperate with the LMP because they fear that any association with the MSZP and the DK would taint their image. The proposal of Szolidaritás to set up an opposition round table to discuss a common strategy against the government was not taken up.

Although Jobbik is shunned by all opposition parties it has become Hungary’s second most popular party. Jobbik recently benefited from the public’s reaction to harsh criticism of Hungary in the Western media and the European Union which also demanded the revision of some important laws and announced measures aimed at punishing the country for its budget deficit.  Such criticism, perceived by many as unjust, lent support to Jobbik’s contention that Hungary’s place was outside the European Union where it could better represent its own national interests.

While all opposition parties agree that it takes a coalition of parties to unseat the Orbán government in the next parliamentary elections, they are much too divided to cooperate.  Torn by internal conflicts, the opposition parties have not been able to present credible leaders and alternatives to the government’s policy.

—Edith Oltay is a Hungarian born political scientist, who currently resides in Germany. She has been an analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Oltay’s research includes the Hungarian party system, civil society, and church-state relations.

 

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