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Former OSCE election commissioner calls on Hungarian opposition to boycott 2018 election

Translation of Sándor Szénási’s interview with Miklós Haraszti appearing in the May 12th, 2016 edition of 168 Óra under the title Bokottra Fel?  Az ellenzék veszekedési kényszere (“Boycott? The opposition is forced to lose”).

The following discussion can also be perceived as a debate.  Miklós Haraszti, former OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) commissioner for elections who worked in the US, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria and Tadjikistan, says the Hungarian opposition has to cooperate in a completely different manner than before, and should not rule out boycotting the 2018 election in the absence of a proportional election law.  Is that possible?

You surprised us during a lecture when you said that the opposition parties have a serious possibility of obtaining position before the elections.  And yet apart from the old illnesses, one does not see anything else in the current democratic formations.

Let’s start with society, specifically the civil movements which are showing strength these days, which have expressed two new demands:  the one’s slogan is “nothing about us without us”, the other the need for solidarity.  The method of civil unrest is coming to a head.  The question is whether the opposition parties are up to the task.   Are they capable of dispensing with the rat race of the parliamentary agenda defined by Fidesz, when they struggle heroically but are continuously voted down?  Moreover, society does not at all sense that these debates are about them.  Rather they see that if opposition support remains this low, then in 2018 there will be another overwhelming Fidesz victory, and the idea of a presidential republic might return to Orbán, which would resettle the two-thirds legal issue to the Castle District, to the “boss’s” residence, and whose party could then govern in the minority, since parliament will no longer count.

The opposition has no strength and little credibility.  How could it obstruct this?   The election law today favors the majority:  the winner takes all.  And if the electoral difference is large enough between the first and second place, the two-thirds (parliamentary) majority is certain.  That’s how Fidesz won in 2014.

The principle of proportionate majority would be all right, but Fidesz’s excessive power is based on a disproportionate election law.  It is not forced to negotiate an electoral law, but would like to conceal its dictatorial quality.  For this reason Gergely Gulyás, the chairman of the legislative committee, proposed discussions with the opposition for which a few unsubstantial wishes would be fulfilled, and in the eyes of Europe the law would already take on a consensual quality, as the opposition’s hand print would be on it.  Well, the situation is that the opposition must show solidarity in a unique manner.  It musn’t be lured in the direction of arguing over details, even though there is much skullduggery.  It must demand a proportionate electoral system, which previously everyone stood by, but which was annihilated by Fidesz.  The proportionate system  means that while Fidesz might win, it only receives (as much representation) as it has.  There could be no question of receiving a two-thirds majority with 40 percent of the vote.

Yes, they opposed it but nevertheless participated in the election for fear that their remaining supporters would abandon them, believing them to be cowardly.  Why would it be any different this time?

Well, yes.  They should have listened to Constitutional Court justice Imre Vörös who long ago said:  change depends on the electoral system, the rest is “tehu wa-bohu” (chaos and desolation).  And this is especially so in a liberal system where everything can be changed while retaining an appearance of elections.  In a proportionate system the opposition parties could also fight against one another, and even each one could be itself, because there is no obligation to come together, which in reality is an obligation to lose.  Just look how attempts to come together to date have all failed because of the current law.   In order for them to have a chance to defeat the government, they can agree on a common leader, common lists, and agree on candidates at the level of electoral districts, even as they try to deceive each other from the outset.   We’ve seen all of this already, we know that it leads nowhere. One can only change this treadmill by demanding a proportionate electoral system to the point of disobedience, transcending the tactics of political survival which are hardly valued from the point of view of society.

In other words we’ve reached the point where the opposition would demand a proportionate electoral system which of course the power will not be willing.  Then what will happen?  The opposition won’t participate in the election?

Yes.  If Fidesz once again wants to abuse elections with a dictatorial law, then the boycott must come in a credible and premeditated manner.  This would not be a simple matter of “withdrawing”, but would result in a big European scandal.

Shouldn’t the poor European Council modify its opinion that Hungarian democracy does not have any substantive problems?  After many years of controversy we have reached this point all the same.  Aren’t you expecting too much of them when everyone is occupied with the migration matter?

It is possible to complain eternally about the examples of the external abandonment and betrayal of Hungarian democracy.  But a collective boycott of an election over an electoral dictate is another matter.  Europe will notice this.  Of course, this requires that the opposition not compete with one another over this plan to change the system.  Incidentally, this is the secret to the participants’ ability to govern as well.  The community (of votes) are looking at the ability of the opposition to collectively act in a concerted manner, not merely at promises.  They must learn from the teachers that what is necessary is not to discuss, but to agree.  This is a new step that society has achieved, and if the electoral system does not reflect the will of all the parties then civil unrest and boycott should come.

This only works if every one of the opposition parties participates, so Jobbik as well.  But it is conceivable of LMP that, in lieu of solidarity, it would go its own way.  It’s enough if one political power is left out, and the boycott is no longer genuine.

They need to give it a try.  It is in Jobbik’s interest and that of other parties as well for Fidesz not to receive a two-thirds majority, and the competition can come afterwards.  When they planned the central power field, Fidesz calculated with the opposition never being able to come together and that they would always get lost in the dead-end of ideology and loyalty.  They did not acknowledge that while (the opposition parties) differ from each other in everything, they uniformly wish an end to excessive power.  If they did not change the disproportionality of elections, they are going to the slaughterhouse and taking us as well.

A boycott is legal, but it is still not legitimate to bring about a one-party “election”.  Let’s say Fidesz is alarmed by this, and agrees to a proportionate eletoral system.  With that, would everything that is wrong with the Orbán system end?

No.  I’m very sorry, but I have to say that the Orbán party and its world will remain with us no matter what, just as the Horthy and the Kadár party is still with us today.  But with a proportionate system, fearing defeat Orbán’s party can be forced into forming a coalition or even into opposition.  Obviously, in addition to the likelihood of Orbán leaving, from that time on the democratic struggle would be open.  The defeat of excessive power would be worth the new road and exertions, even if they could not promise the immediate cessation of the disgusting conditions of today.  If the opposiion parties together can explain this plan to the voters, then they could gain dynamicism and trust, both separately and together—without anyone beating their breast and claiming that they were the initiator.  Remember, someone once said: great things can only happen if those undertaking them are brave.

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