Monday, April 17, 2006

Elections in Hungary

INTERNET CAFÉ, BUDAPEST A number of recent European general elections have been close-run things. Phil over at Marxsite considers the cases of Germany and Italy, and argues that much of this apparent apathy flows from the continuing convergence between mainstream left and mainstream right.

If politicians don't set out different stalls, the electorate can be forgiven for feeling it has no meaningful choice.

Phil could have added Hungary to his list. The first round ended up just over a week ago with incumbent former communists MSZP narrowly in the lead over Fidesz, a right-populist formation.

Fidesz leader Viktor Orban has shocked many by offering to withdraw his nomination for the prime minister's job in favour of Ibolya David of the MDF, providing that her smaller and more Thatcherite outfit agrees to form a coalition. He told a press conference last week:

'It's clear that we need the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) to win this election. If the candidate for prime minister is an obstacle, we need to remove that obstacle.'

But there is a history of bad blood between Orban and David, and in addition, the MDF believes that the populist aspect of Fidesz's politics will stand in the way of the serious business of pushing through radical neoliberal measures.

So it's no deal, and the smart money is on MSZP holding on to office in alliance with its liberal coalition partner in the second round of voting next Sunday.

Fidesz has the support of most of the country's business community, and clearly has the better-funded campaign. Its posters outnumber MSZP's about three to one in the capital.

But to concur with Phil, this does not have the vibe of a country in the grip of election fever. I haven't seen any street campaigning, or a single person wearing party insignia. Life largely goes on as normal.

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