"Fidesz appears strong because the opposition is weak"

January 8, 2016

The Fidesz-KDNP political alliance was returned to parliament in 2010 with over a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
The Fidesz-KDNP political alliance was returned to parliament in 2010 with over a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

Translation of “Fidesz appears strong because the opposition is weak” („A Fidesz azért tűnik erősnek, mert az ellenzék gyenge”) appearing in the January 7, 2015 edition of print weekly 168 Óra.

Terrorist attacks, refugee crisis, a weakening Europe, worsening Middle-East crisis, Quaestor scandal, protracted debate over Paks, war with Simicska, the shifting cast of marque Fidesz supporters—last year was an eventful year.  But what wlil 2016 bring?   Will domestic opposition strengthen?  Will we live better this year?  Will Europe rebound or will Schengen fall apart?  168 Óra asked experts in domestic politics, economics, and foreign affairs what events and developments they expect.

Will the opposition overcome voter apathy?  Will there be new, effective forms for the discontented in 2016?  How can the opposition parties strengthen?  The activist believes it is not enough to ask nicely or to launch petitions on the internet—it is necessary for civil discontents and peaceful opponents  to employ other means in a deliberate and determined manner.  The legal rights defender believes that the protection of the autonomy of different kinds of social groups wil be the primary task in 2016.  The political scientist, however, warns that Orbán’s challenger needs to appear by the end of this year.

51 percent.   According to (public pollster) Median over half of decided voters polled supported Fidesz in Novemember of last year.  This was a record in the history of the company’s polling.  It never happened before that more than one and a half years after the elections a governing party led by such an advantage.  The customary script is that some opposition party takes the lead as we approach the middle of the political cycle.  In December 1999, 52 percent of decided voters supported the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) (which went on to win the 2002 general election.-ed.)   In November 2003, 51 percent of decided voters supported Fidesz (which narrowly lost to MSZP in 2006-ed.) and at the end of 2007, 67 percent of decided voters would have voted for Fidesz.

Did the number of dissatisfied people decrease?  Or are they just more passive because they see no point in mounting a struggle?

-Since 2010 we have experienced dissaffection arriving in waves following a period of civil activism says Political Capital director Péter Krekó.  During the second Orbán government first the university students organized, then the demonstrations organized by Milla mobilized the most people.  Since 2014 the internet tax and the anti-corruption demonstrations  have moved society.  However, after each wave, apathy follows, and the opposition parties were not able to strengthen over the course of the demonstrations.   Unable to choose a party but opposed to the government, civils see that the street actions do not lead anywhere, and for this reason disaffection is growing.  Meanwihle, the refugee crisis is still the government’s favor topic.  This script is perfect for Fidesz: the opposition is weak, and the public life is depressed.

Sociopolitical activist Bálint Misetics believes part of the liberal establishment likes to criticize people for their passivity, but it is readily possible that the object of their criticism is mistaken:

-What should they do?  In what can they participate when they see no strong, credible, movement or party seeking an answer to their problems?  Maybe if there would once again be a credible, actual left wing party, as opposed to MSZP and DK, then those would participate who today do not find a channel through which to express their political dissatisfaction.  Nor should we forget that the mass migration from our homeland to Western Europe is one of the guarantors of political stability.  Many of those who are dissatisfied leave.  If this were not an option, it is conceivable that part of them would mobilize (themselves politically).

Misetics simultaneously believes even that weak, fractured opposition has more means than which it uses.   The world of local governments could furnish a suitable platform for the expression of dissatisfaction and the practical building up of a leftwing political alternative.   Their independence and significance in the area of social services grew significantly since last March.

-Most leftwing run local governments are not availing themselves appropriately of the possibilities given by local power: they consider themselves lefwing, but still offer no alternative to Fidesz’s openly anti-poor policies.  A good example of this is Zugló, where last spring they introduced the minimum income support and a higher level of household maintenance support, and now they are working on reforming the management of social flats.  Or if the “leftwing” considers it unfair that public work scheme employees work eight hours and yet earn less than minimum wage, why don’t the local governments supplement their wages?  Of course it is not possible to rebuild the social welfare state from below, but there would still be room for maneuver.

According to the activist’s experiences, local governments should pay more attention to areas of potential opposition.  After the City Belongs to Everyone movement protests, for example, Budapest 8th district Máté Kocsis himself stopped the 8th district evictions.

-In this system it is certainly not enough to ask nicely, make demands, or launch petitions on the internet.  Civil disaffection and non-violent opposition need to make use of other means in a deliberate and determined manner.   In this way it would be possible to hit the ever higher threshold of tolerance to better awaken people’s consciences.   Standing organizations are needed.  Facebook groups do not take the place of this, no matter how many followers they have.  It is an illusion to hope that the occasional big demonstrations organized via the internet but otherwise lacking organizational structure are capable of achieving a long term effect.

The primary task of 2016 will be protecting the autonomy of different social groups.  That is what Eötvös Károly Public Policy Institute (EKINT) president László Majtényi believes, who thinks it is an “outright lie” that people are only interested in political themes.

-The constitutional matter, for example, is everyone’s concern as it is synonymous with freedom.  Of course, people are not concerned with minor constitutional problems, such as how the president is elected or whether the prosecutor’s office should be subordinated to the government.  However, voters can be made sensitive to limitations on freedom if they experience the consequences of this in their own lives.  Teachers are, for example, one of the most exploited social groups:  if a teacher speaks out a lot, he or she can be fired at any time, even though we are talking about one hundred thousand people and their family members.  For this reason EKINT in 2016 wants to call attention to the importance of freedom and constitutionalism through specific issues.   For example, the obligatory teacher profile which is seriously troublesome from the point of view of data protection and handling.  The elite schools are already in revolt, and upon seeing protests the Educational authority continuously retreats.  Where there is opposition and actual determination, there the National Cooperation System (NER) will retreat.  They are not the heroes they make themselves out to be.

Misetics adds that it is not realistic to hope that the Orbán government collapses in 2016, but what can be done, must be done.

-The Kádár system was toppled by neither the “Beszélő” nor the SZETA.  The end of the Orbán regime will not necessarily be the product of enthusiastic activism, but we are already building the post-Orbán world political culture when, for example, we struggle against poverty.  We have to appreciate the small steps and the small work that is invisible for a long time.

The sociopolitical includes the different forms of providing assistance, for example the collection of clothes and food.   Providing assistance in itself is a value, but it is even better with a political vision accompanies it.

-It’s important that those who have no winter coat receive one, but obviously from a left wing point of view it is not a solution for if whether or not someone receives a winter coat depends on another person’s good intentions or on chance.  In the interest of reducing poverty it is necessary to reconstruct the welfare state.  This is way the absence of a consequential left-wing is a serious problem for the opposition.   Orbán’s handling of the refugee crisis or the flat tax is met with greater and greater acceptance by the left.  Of course, this is not surprising, considering the anti-poverty development did not start in 2010 but in 2008.  Originally, the flat tax was not a Fidesz but a (Alliance of Free Democrats) SZDSZ recommendation, but even before (sic) that, Péter Oszkó, the Minister of Finance in the Bajnai government, advocated this.

László Majtényi says that six years after the creation of the NER it is finally necessary to see that whoever wants a free country must remain outside of NER.  The president believes that although the opposition talks about remaining outside in a radical manner, its deeds prove the opposite .

-From this reason, I very much so hope that in 2016 new political organizations emerge from the anti-government cracks and new faces appear.  We have to forget that commonly held view  that upstanding people do not become politicians, because so long as we think that, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And was the does the activist hope from this year?

-I think that by itself it is not important whether by the end of 2016 DK stands at 5 or 7 percent, MSZP 11 or 14 percent.    Equally important is whether the unions can strengthen, whether there will be strikes, whether some sort of small but persistent left wing movement forms, or, for example, whether the Public Work Scheme Employee movement for the Future group has three times as many activists.

Péter Krekó thinks that according to the most optimistic script by the end of 2016 the opposition parties can reach crowds outside of their own organizations and produce stronger movement activists.  By the end of the year it is necessary for Viktor Orbán’s challenger to appear.

For the time being the expectations of both seem too optimistic.   Although a public place, it is especially true that in politics the unexpected or the unforeseen events can quickly redrew the landscape.  But no matter how big a scandal breaks, without political pressure these remain without repercussions.   The Quaestor matter, for example, should have rocked the government, but even that did not happen.  Even though Orbán’s party–it is enough to look at the new presidium—became an counter-select body, which indicates an ever more radical direction and extreme communication style.  Fidesz only appears strong because the opposition is weak.