Hungarian parliamentary election
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Hungarian parliamentary election
Some comfort for everyone

The election has ended in a clear victory for the governing party, Fidesz. But some underlying details provide interesting and important insights. The political analysts at Policy Solutions offer some general observations and then evaluate the outcome from the perspective of individual parties, also reflecting on their reactions.

Though Fidesz was plainly the winner, all parties had some success on Sunday. The left-wing alliance has the chance to regain the majority in Budapest. Jobbik showed that its impressive tally in 2010 did not mark the full extent of potential support for “national radicalism”, while LMP survived despite considerable odds of being relegated to an extra-parliamentary existence without much hope for the future.
Turnout was low and as most analysts predicted, this favoured Fidesz. At an average of 60%, turnout in the two elections that Fidesz won in 1998 and 2010 was 9% lower than in the three elections that the left won (1994, 2002 and 2006).
One of the winners of this election are pollsters, though their predictions were by no means perfect. Like last time, they overestimated Fidesz, though not quite as grossly, since the polls published in the previous days projected 45-48% for the governing party. Projections for the left-wing alliance varied wildly, and here Ipsos proved most accurate with its range of 26-31%, though it did overestimate the left’s strength, even as the other pollsters underestimated it.
Pollsters fared best with Jobbik and LMP, with all major institutes indicating accurate figures or ranges for the far-right and all but Medián successfully nailing LMP’s marginal entry into Parliament.
Despite the general trend of slightly overestimating Fidesz and slightly underestimating the left, on the whole pollsters proved wrong the sceptics who had crowed about a massive skew in the polls and predicted a vast hidden movement in the electorate that would tilt the results more to the left or far-right, depending on the source.
For us political analysts the ability of polls to capture the overall trends is a key piece of information in our ongoing effort to understand political processes in Hungary. At the same time, this is now the fourth election in a row which makes clear that polls are not accurate enough to allow for predicting the winner in a close scenario.
And this is crucial because as compared to many Western countries, our understanding of “close” must be considerably broader. If the final polls had measured a 5-6% lead for Fidesz over the left (which would be marked as a very likely victory in most countries where polls work properly), for example, rather than a 15-30% lead, then we would have had to project the outcome as a toss-up.

Fidesz

Fidesz is only the second governing party since regime transition that has managed to get itself re-elected. In light of the opposition’s fragmentation, it has successfully exploited the electoral system to attain a parliamentary majority that far exceeds the level of its social support. It has also manipulated other aspects of democratic decision-making, such as the opposition’s access to media and its own access to vast campaign funds whose origins are suspect.
But the fact is that the governing party is the most popular political force in Hungary, and though the outcome would probably have been closer if the entire process had been clean, Fidesz still would have won. The government’s abuses of the democratic framework did have an impact on the scope of its parliamentary majority, however, which remained virtually unchanged despite Fidesz’s substantial decline in the popular vote.
Fidesz referred to its haul of 44.5% as an unprecedented level of support at the European level, and a visibly pleased Prime Minister Viktor Orbán interpreted the voters’ verdict as an affirmation of the government’s policies. His combative tone suggested more conflict ahead, and to some extent this is inevitable: Fidesz needs to keep the impression alive that it is forever fighting Hungary’s enemies; this rhetoric keeps the base energised.
There is also a European Parliament election pending, whose relevance is mostly symbolic, but it does matter in terms of sustaining Fidesz’s aura of invincibility. And then there are the municipal elections, which matter a great deal, especially as huge distributors of public funds. Municipal governments are a key source of illicit funding for political parties, and if Fidesz wants to leave the left-wing cash-starved, it needs to retain control over most major municipalities.
Sunday’s results at the local level suggest that there will likely be some crucial Fidesz losses to the left in Budapest, and some to Jobbik in eastern Hungary, but if it can retain its popularity elsewhere, the governing party should succeed in much of the rest.

Left Alliance

For the left, even the typical trajectory of election nights proved unfortunate. Generally, results from the left-leaning areas come in later, so the alliance looked particularly weak early in the evening, a situation that was exacerbated by rumours of last-minute polls that had it finishing barely ahead of Jobbik in the low 20s.

By the time the dust had settled and the alliance had proved to have expanded its lead over Jobbik with 26% of the popular vote, election night was mostly over and the mood was set. There was little remaining to do but front the cameras very late at night and blame most of the result on Fidesz’s anti-democratic manoeuvres.
E14/PM’s Gordon Bajnai and Tímea Szabó were the exception. Especially the former engaged in intense criticism of the alliance’s efforts, emphasising both the left’s failure to persuade voters and Fidesz’s manipulations. It is important to point out though that there is no way to quantify the effect of Fidesz’s machinations; it is not likely to account for a huge portion of the 18.5% that separated the left from Fidesz. Most of that difference did indeed stem from Fidesz’s genuine popularity and the left’s failure to present a promising alternative. And many of the restrictions and manipulations – in particular campaign restrictions – affected Jobbik and LMP too.

Jobbik

Jobbik HQ was an odd sight to behold on Sunday. Even as the party bettered 2010 by some 100,000 new voters and remained the second party in significant regions, its leaders seemed sombre, even downcast. Mostly, politicians are determined to squeeze even weak election returns for some glimmer of good news. Even as the commentators – including us – assessed the party’s performance as a success, Jobbik appeared determined to see it as a disappointment.
They had clearly expected more; perhaps based either on their seemingly unstoppable surge or because they believed their own hype about challenging Fidesz. Regardless, its result firmly establishes Jobbik on the Hungarian party landscape and at the very least for the time being makes it a major player, too. Jobbik’s candidates finished second ahead of MSZP in 41 of the 106 single-member districts. Most crucially, Jobbik performed very successfully in those areas in Hungary’s east which are indispensable for the left if it ever wants to challenge Fidesz.
In a number of districts that used to give MSZP its greatest victories, the alliance was stuck in third place at under 30%, while Jobbik’s candidates vied with Fidesz for first place. Jobbik’s Achilles heel remains Budapest, where its candidates failed to break 10% in almost half the districts, and only took over 15% in one of 18.
The party has made some inroads in conservative northwestern Hungary, where it had also been weak four years ago, but it still remains far stronger in the east. An inability to break through in Budapest could be a huge obstacle for Jobbik’s national aspirations. There are namely at least six or seven counties where Fidesz is likely to remain dominant and win most if not all single-member constituencies even if it loses significant national support.
If you add Budapest to the regions where Jobbik won’t win any districts, there simply aren’t enough seats left for Jobbik to win an election outright, though it could conceivably win a plurality. The municipal elections in October will be a key test of Jobbik’s greater strength. Will it be able to translate its numbers into winning the mayoralties and municipal councils of several of the major eastern municipalities where it ran strongly on Sunday?

LMP

For the Green party the election yielded a victory, though the fact that its decline from 7.5% in 2010 to 5.3% is considered a major success is in itself a testament of the party’s rough ride over the last few years. It was squeezed by the party split last year, which led to the defection of a majority of its MPs, along with a key portion of its left-leaning base.
At the time, it was assumed that a majority of the party base had left along with the defectors who ultimately joined Gordon Bajnai’s team, and that may well be the case, since many of the folks who opted for LMP on Sunday may indeed be newly minted Greens. The party was also under pressure from an increasingly majoritarian electoral scheme and a concomitant political culture that does not tend to appreciate small players.
Interestingly, LMP co-chair András Schiffer had some kind words for his MSZP counterpart Attila Mesterházy, which the latter duly reciprocated in his own concession speech. For analysts, who pounce on every detail that might signify a softening of Schiffer’s anti-MSZP position, this was an interesting tidbit (but Schiffer’s attitude to Mesterházy has always been friendlier than towards Bajnai and especially Gyurcsány).
For now, Schiffer’s course to refuse the bipolarity of mainstream politics has been successful. In the long-run, five seats in Parliament won’t count for much, however (unless in a rare set-up these five tip the balance either way), and some of LMP’s voters may ditch the Greens in favour of a formation that has more chance to impact national policy. LMP has won another four years in its quest to find a permanent place in politics but it still lacks a stable bloc of voters who can sustain this position indefinitely.

Other parties

The mass of new parties that appeared on the ballot, including two whose names mirror that of the left-wing alliance (“Összefogás”) or parts of it (“Együtt 2014”), failed to make a discernible impact. But in a supreme twist of fate, Fidesz’s two-thirds majority might well depend on a “business party”, Együtt 2014, whose candidate in Budapest’s District XVIII drew 187 votes.
The left’s candidate, Ágnes Kunhalmi, was trailing Fidesz’s László Kucsák by a mere 22 votes out of 53,500 cast. If Kucsák prevails once the few outstanding ballots have been counted and all votes have been recounted, Fidesz retains its two-thirds majority. Though we can’t know for certain, there is a chance that if Együtt 2014 had not made it onto the ballot these votes might have ended up with Kunhalmi, putting her well over the top.
Such a situation would eminently seem to quality as a manifestation of the butterfly effect, with some minor party candidate qualifying for the ballot, then failing to win even as many votes as she collected in citizens’ signatures. And now the nigh 200 votes she hogs may well be votes originally intended to reduce Fidesz’s two-thirds majority. Even if this particular butterfly was steered in some remote sense, in that Fidesz was pushing for Együtt 2014 to qualify and organised its signature collection, no one could have reasonably anticipated that it could play this rule here. But there might be several dozen situations where electorally irrelevant Együtt 2014 or Összefogás hoard a few hundred votes that could have come in handy.

Source

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2014 Apr 11 14:45
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