06/04/2010 - D-7 - 1st round
Around 8 million Hungarian voters will appoint their 386 MPs on 11th and 25th April. 3,400 Hungarians living abroad registered to vote in the countries where they live on 4th April which was exceptionally a holiday - Easter Sunday. In the second round on 25th April they will vote on the same day as their fellow countrymen living at home. During the last elections on 9th and 23rd April 2006 the polling stations in Brussels, New York and Dublin were well attended.
834 are standing as individual candidates in this election. There were 998 of them four years ago. All of the polls are forecasting an overwhelming victory for the rightwing opposition forces led by Viktor Orban, the leader of the Young Democrats Alliance/Hungarian Civic Union (FIDESZ) which is due easily to beat the Socialist Party (MSZP) which has been in office since 2002 and led by Attila Mesterhazy. The Hungarians as seen in all of the polls are suffering a serious confidence crisis. Over the past few years they have suffered greatly; from rises in taxes and cuts undertaken to social spending amongst other things.
Hungary was one of the most affected EU Member States by the international economic crisis and the first of the 27 to have benefited from aid on the part of the IMF which with other financial institutions has paid it 20 billion € in aid. A contraction of 6.7% in the economy in 2009 (-0.2% is forecast this year), high inflation (it is due to reach 4.1% in 2010), unemployment above 10% of the working population which is due to remain at this level until 2012, a budgetary deficit representing 7% of the GDP in 2009 and public debt rising to 65%, i.e. the highest level in Central and Eastern Europe - these are some of the figures illustrating the Hungarian economic situation.
Apart from the present crisis the base of the Hungarian economy is particularly vulnerable. The public sector is atrophied and the funding of the healthcare and retirement systems cannot be guaranteed mid-term. The financial institution JP Morgan has however indicated that Hungary will introduce the euro before its Polish and Czech neighbours. For its part the American bank Merrill Lynch says that the country will emerge from the crisis in a better position in terms of taxation than all of the OECD countries together. Aart de Geus, its Secretary General has however declared that Hungary was in great need of structural reform to recover sustainable growth and emerge from the recession. "The number of people employed in the civil service is unbelievably high, the 12th highest in the OECD
," he indicated. He said he was pleased in the raising of the retirement age and the reduction of social charges on the lowest salaries - two measures that were implemented in 2009.
"We have a very difficult task ahead and we shall only succeed if we have the support of the whole country
," declared the Fidesz leader, Viktor Orban. The main opposition party is supported by the Christian Democratic People's Party, Fidelitas, the Rom organization Lungo Drom, the Civic Association of Small Shareholders, the Entrepreneurs and Employees Party and the National Forum.
The FIDESZ has said that it did not want to form a government coalition after the election even if it did not win the absolute majority in the Orszaggyules, the only Chamber in Parliament. It has totally ruled out governing with the far right party, the Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik). "We shall not work with Jobbik because it is an extremist, violent, dangerous party for Hungary
," declared the FIDESZ's spokesperson, Peter Szijarto.
The challenge for the FIDESZ will be to succeed in finding popular support which it enjoys to take the necessary economic measures to boost the economy whilst the world is just emerging from the most serious crisis since the Second World War; Hungary is also constrained by the financial and good governance agreements it has signed with the IMF and the EU. "Priority must be given to productive capitalism which will be strictly regulated
," repeats Viktor Orban who intends "to undertake an economic policy which will give priority to productive investments that will give value and jobs and restore Hungary's respect and prestige
The opposition leader is promising to focus on SMEs and on family run businesses; he is suggesting tax breaks on transfers of property between members of the same family. "The State has no role to play when one person inherits from another within the same family
Another proposal that wins the hearts of many Hungarians is that of the three strikes established for the first time in 1994 in California and which condemns someone to life imprisonment when they commit their third crime. The upkeep of law and order and public security are key elements to FIDESZ's campaign. If they win on 25th April the party is planning to employ 3000 additional police officers.
Socialist candidate Attila Mesterhazy, the present Vice-President of the MSZP and leader of the parliamentary group accuses Viktor Oran of wanting to force a single party system on Hungary. He has qualified the FIDESZ's programme as "an illusion
". "There is no easy way out of the crisis
," he said. He points to the results achieved by Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai who said he was pleased with his management of the economic crisis.
Just days from the first round the MSZP is credited with a low percentage of voting intentions in the polls and is running neck and neck with the far right party, Jobbik (one point only separates the two parties in the most recent poll).
The Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik) wants to tax multinational companies and renegotiate the financial rescue terms imposed on Hungary. With regard to foreign policy the party is eastward oriented and wants to be free of what it calls "Euro-Atlantic domination
"; it also wants to revise the Lisbon Treaty the ratification of which it considers to be "anti-democratic
In the event of victory the party maintains that it will appoint a minister devoted to Hungarians living beyond the national borders. The candidate running for Prime Minister Gabor Vona indicated that Janos Volner, the spokesperson of the paramilitary militia (dissolved by the appeal court in Budapest on 2nd July 2009) of the Hungarian Guard for the Defence of Traditions and Culture will be appointed Minister of Law Enforcement.
"Even more than FIDESZ Jobbik benefits from the rebellion on the part of the Hungarians with regard to the political class, from corruption and the difficult economic situation
," says political analyst Laszlo Keri who believes that Jobbik alone - and in no way the MSZP or the left wing parties - can prevent the FIDESZ from winning a 2/3 majority in Parliament. "Jobbik is a catch all party which mixes up Anti-Semitism and opposition to the present government and the elites
," analyses another political analyst, Zoltan Kiszelly.
The mayor of Budapest Gabor Demszky (Alliance of Free Democrats SZDSZ) has accused Jobbik of "hate against the rule of law, the Jewish and Rom communities, against foreigners living in Hungary and all of those who do not share its opinion about the EU and its western values
." "The more seats Jobbik wins the more vulnerable democracy will be in Hungary
," he added.
Just a few days from the first round of the general election, the FIDESZ is still running ahead in the polls. According to Szazadveg it is due to win 59% of the vote whilst Jobbik is ahead of the MSZP with 17% - the latter has 16% of the voting intentions. Nezopont indicates that the FIDESZ is due to win 57% of the vote, the MSZP 10% and Jobbik 9%. The majority of the polling institutions think that only three parties Fidesz, MZSP, Jobbik will reach the 5% minimum threshold of votes cast that will enable them to be represented in parliament on 25th April next.
When interviewed about the person they would like to see take the seat of Prime Minister the Hungarians approve of Viktor Orban who wins 47% of the vote in a poll by Szazadveg published on 31st March last. Lajos Bokros, a candidate of another right wing party the Democratic Forum (MDF) who is standing as the only real challenger to Viktor Orban would win 26% of the vote and Socialist Attila Mesterhazy, 15%.
Jobbik is rising in the polls just a few days before the election. In a country in which voters are tired and defiant with regard to the political classes, the novelty which Jobbik represents may effectively win over the electorate. Can the far right party pull ahead of the Socialist Party? Can it prevent Fidesz from winning the 2/3 majority in Parliament? The result will be seen on 25th April.