European parliamentary elections: Hungary

Let me start at the end, with the results. There were plenty of surprises. The biggest is that Jobbik got 424,000 votes, 14.77% of the total. So Jobbik will send not one, not two, but three delegates to the EU parliament. No one, but no one expected that. Pollsters talked about one, perhaps two seats. The second major surprise is that MDF after all will be able to send Lajos Bokros to Brussels. The party received 5.3% of the votes. This is a great victory for Ibolya Dávid who would surely have been removed from the chairmanship of the party if her strategy of putting Lajos Bokros on the ticket didn't pan out. Although it was a risky decision, it was obviously not a bad one. Even a couple of days ago reporters were joking about the choice of Bokros. Here is a man who keeps telling the electorate that further cuts should be made in the social welfare system and that the property tax should be universally applied. What kind of campaign is that? When pollsters asked about the popularity of the top candidates on the lists, Bokros was the least popular. Well, obviously 5.3% of the voters thought he was credible.

When rumors hit the TV stations about two or three minutes before the official announcement that Jobbik won three seats and MDF one, I said to myself: if this is true, Viktor Orbán is not a happy man because that means that Fidesz will have two or three fewer seats than he was expecting. Earlier opinion polls had talked about 16 or 17 seats, and at the end Fidesz had to be satisfied with 14. Of course, he put on a happy face because, as he proudly announced after the election results were made public, Fidesz's 56.7% victory is a record in the history of European parliamentary elections. But how much sweeter victory would have been if Századvég's prediction had become reality. Századvég, a think tank and public opinion firm close to Fidesz, was almost certain that Fidesz would have seventeen seats and Jobbik only one. Wishful thinking, in retrospect.

Jobbik's success was stunning. Everybody anticipated enough far-right votes for Jobbik to send Krisztina Morvai to Brussels. There was some tentative speculation that Jobbik might be strong enough to have two delegates in the European Parliament. But three? Readers of this blog may have noticed that Fidesz realized the ever increasing growth of Jobbik in the last few weeks and began campaigning against it. Viktor Orbán repeatedly mentioned the necessity of right-wing unity. He told people who used to be in Fidesz camp that voting for another right-wing party is a lost vote. He emphasized the necessity of achieving a two-thirds majority in order to change the constitution. People didn't listen to him. Fidesz lost about half a million votes to Jobbik.

As for the MSZP, it did miserably. It received four seats and 17.37% of the votes. Only about 3.5% more than Jobbik. That sounds as if MSZP were finished. As if the Hungarian socialists ended up where the Polish socialists did. Of course, this is still a possibility, but there are a couple of (admittedly weak) mitigating factors. First and foremost, the percentage of MSZP core voters hasn't changed since Gordon Bajnai's government enacted legislation that seriously curtailed entitlements. It was low then, low now, but not lower. Second, the far left wing of the party didn't switch to the far right, a sadly common occurrence in politics. Most of the Jobbik vote came from former Fidesz supporters. I know, little consolation, but I find solace in small things.

SZDSZ is gone. It received only 2.2% of the votes. Surely, there will be consequences of this defeat within the party. Gábor Fodor already announced that he would offer his resignation as party chairman. Note that he offered his resignation; he didn't resign. Some commentators think that as a result of the EU elections SZDSZ might change its mind and refuse to support Gordon Bajnai's government, forcing early elections. Well, if they are stupid enough, they might, and I must say there are an awful lot of stupid people in the SZDSZ leadership. But in the parliamentary caucus at least half of the people, about ten of them, would not go along with it, so the government would still have the necessary support. By the way, SZDSZ might have gotten in if there hadn't been a new party called "Politics Might Be Different" (LMP). Most likely LMP got the lion's share of its votes from disappointed SZDSZ voters, and they must have been numerous because LMP got more votes than SZDSZ, 2.6% or 75,00 votes as opposed to 2.2% or 62,000 votes.

In the next few days there will be a frenzy of political analysis, but in my closest circle of friends most are horrified at the strong showing of Jobbik. They already envisage a scenario that would lead to Fidesz's further courting Jobbik voters by moving farther and farther to the right. Or they are certain that Fidesz would get together with Jobbik and form a coalition. They are sure that MSZP will shrink to the point of becoming a small or nonexistent party. Some commentators blindly extrapolate the results of this election to the national elections. One thing about politics–it doesn't fall into the two areas of certainty in this life, death and taxes. Which makes it fluid, open to potential upsets (who would have thought that Obama with if I recall correctly a 28% support rate among Democrats would have overtaken Hillary Clinton?), and always worthy of dialogue and debate. And so tomorrow is another day.

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18 comments

  1. I am sorry if you find arguments that refute your own tiresome Dr Balogh, and as for your wish that I stay away allow me to tell you that I can never refuse a request from a lady. I’d just welcome the opportunity of saying something to all those who thought me wrong including yourself, and you needn’t worry about the length of my comment it will be brief:
    Sakk-matt

  2. I do not think it is necessary too over interpret the election results. The record low voter turnout suggests that this was a protest vote, and it is very likely the same results will not hold next year. Having said that, MSZP is obviously in trouble as they no longer represent for the public either the social welfarist left or the competent left of center business party (as they did in 2002 and maybe evenin in 2006). SzDSz is on life support but a large part of their traditional supporters did not vote, others made a protest vote by voting for the LMP and I suspect some (like certain of my relatives) crossed over and voted for the only true liberal running– Bokros. I imagine SzDSz can get close to or over the 5% threshold next year if they act responsibly up until the next election and are able to articulate a philosophy that makes sense to the few remaining liberals left in the country. Given how stupid the SzDSz leadership is, however, there is not a lot of reason to believe they will be able to do either of these things.
    FIDESZ is in an interesting position. Obviously Jobbik’s popularity came at the expense of FIDESZ, so Orban has to make a fundamental decision whether to become more populist (as he usually does) to protect his flank against Jobbik or move into the center to try and appeal to a big part of the 60% or so of the eligible voters that did not vote in the last election. His decision on this, will be the key to how the next election plays out. For Jobbik, the trouble starts now. Because now they are no longer a sideshow.
    Finally, many seem to believe that yesterday’s results make early elections more likely. I do not see that. FIDESZ is not likely to go to the streets and foment real protests and what is in it for SzDSz and MSZP to bring down the exisitng Government? The issue, I suppose, will come into focus towards the end of the year when the 2010 budget needs to be passed.

  3. “There were plenty of surprises.”
    In an election with a turnout of only 36.3 percent that there were surprises shouldn’t have been a surprise. Opinion pollsters everywhere have enough problems predicting how many people will vote; working out who will vote is even trickier. Nevertheless, there are some new and old problems revealed with opinion polls which may be evident in the run up to next year – namely opinion polls just as in 2002 are overestimating the level of FIDESZ support. They are highly unreliable in predicting the performance of small parties (the MDF). And, the new problem is measuring the real level of support for the far right.
    “When pollsters asked about the popularity of the top candidates on the lists, Bokros was the least popular. Well, obviously 5.3% of the voters thought he was credible.”
    This is the point. In Dávid’s position, because she is not aiming to come first, she doesn’t need someone who is universally popular, but who is liked among the distinct group of voters she is trying to attract. By focussing her message on a niche group of liberal-conservative voters she has now managed to defy predictions of her party’s demise three times in a row (2004,2006, and 2009).
    “Fidesz lost about half a million votes to Jobbik.”
    I don’t think it is by any means this simple. I hope there is a team of political scientists looking in detail at the local results in detail. To my historians eye there is something that reminds me of the results gained by the Arrow Cross in 1939 – this is a party that has picked up votes from across the political spectrum, and among which poorer rural voters are overrepresented (it does confirm my worst fears about what is happening to the political system).
    They are several things that strike me. This vote is very different to MIÉP’s, or to the Smallholders’ under Torgyán – it is, at least for the post-1990 period – an entirely new phenomenon, and I have a feeling just looking through the local results, that they will repeat this result next year.
    The second is the regional breakdown of the vote. Against the argument that Jobbik’s vote is made up of ex-FIDESZ voters purely and simply, must be made the point that Jobbik is relatively weak where FIDESZ is strongest. Look at Jobbik’s poor results (when compared to their national score) in the Buda districts in the capital. More striking to my mind is its relative weakness across western Transdanubia (Vas was the only county to record a Jobbik score of under 10%). The most striking point is the east-west divide – Jobbik is markedly weak in all of Transdanubia, Budapest, and two of southern Great Plain counties. Its highest scores are in northern Hungary where it outpolled the MSZP. There seems to me to be as much evidence that it took votes from the left, as well as the right in this region. Look at an ex-industrial MSZP stronghold like Ózd (FIDESZ-KDNP 35.11%, Jobbik 33.24%, MSZP 23.47%!)Though it has to be said, even in Borsod though Jobbik poll well in all such places, this peaks in support are quite localized. This then takes us on to anti-Roma tension, and certainly in areas with high Roma populations Jobbik votes are very high. I had a look at Tiszavasvári – the heart of a constituency won on the first round by the MSZP in 2006 (Jobbik 41.6%, FIDESZ-KDNP 26.14%, MSZP 14.52%).
    Rather than seeing Jobbik as just an outgrowth of FIDESZ, we ought to face the fact that its base of supports signals a worrying re-casting of the political field in Hungary. We probably ought to seriously consider whether the right-left polarization of the past decade, will be replaced with a left-right-extreme right split in the next. Given the seriousness of this development, I think it is really important that time is given to a serious and detailed analysis of these results.
    “As for the MSZP, it did miserably.”
    This surely is not a surprise – 17% was slightly lower than the score I had pencilled in, but it isn’t out of line with the opinion polls, or the results of the Pécs mayoral elections. It also fits with my impression of the “anyone but the MSZP” mood in Hungary, that was well captured by the FIDESZ campaign.
    “SZDSZ is gone. It received only 2.2% of the votes. Surely, there will be consequences of this defeat within the party.”
    At the end of the day, the SZDSZ periods of coalition with the MSZP have placed strains on its electoral coalition. The 1994-1998 destroyed it as a major party, and it looks as if it will not survive its association with the MSZP since 2002. What is most interesting about the result is that its “coalition” is splitting in two. The economic liberals are clearly being attracted by the MDF, while the social, left-liberals have in the LMP a party which can unequivocally advocate that position (the LMP, I’m sure is disappointed with its result, but given the obstacles to a new party breaking through I actually think it has done rather well). Given this pincer movement around it, and its association with an unpopular government, I think it faces real difficulties articulating a distinctive identity for itself.

  4. NWO: “Finally, many seem to believe that yesterday’s results make early elections more likely. I do not see that.”
    I absolutely agree. The key point here is the small gap between the MSZP and Jobbik. Neither the MSZP or FIDESZ are going to want to risk a general election, when they have an alternative, where there is a risk – even a small one, that Jobbik would take second place, and become the official opposition.

  5. NWO: “For Jobbik, the trouble starts now. Because now they are no longer a sideshow.”
    I agree. Also, and I’m not sure if the seating arrangement is as it appears on the BBC site , but if it is, Jobbik will be surrounded by 69 other members of the “no group” in Brussels. And the problem is that there is so much hatred and distrust among the 72 ‘no groupers’ that they will never be able to work on anything together.
    I wish for nothing more than to see the three Jobbik members sit in silence and isolation until their term is up.

  6. I’m really am very truly sorry for rudely opposing a lady’s request: but the lunacy is going on far too much, and I find myself incapcable of sitting on the sidelines watching this slow car crash without piping up.
    The reason why you are all wrong and will continue to be so, is the constant obsession that Jobbik has something to do with what happened in Hungary in the 20 years from 1925 – 1945: and it doesn’t.
    What it has EVERYTHING to do with, is what has happened in Hungary in the 20 years from 1989 – 2009.
    Until you can grow up and accept this, your opinions, all of them, will just be flawed.
    Accept, as the MSZP’s Ildiko Lendvai has, that the reason for Jobbik’s success is that “they probably ask real questions,” and that an examination of these questions “have not been adequately addressed,” and must be undertaken by other parties. (As if the 400,000 were all Fidesz supporters – what a joke!)
    http://www.budapesttimes.hu/content/view/12214/219/
    It is now not only I, the fearful outsider who is advocating that you do so, but your own ideological kind; and despite any previous animosity between us, as a Political Scientist, I wish you every luck in attempting to grapple with this endeavour.

  7. Thrasymachus: “What it has EVERYTHING to do with, is what has happened in Hungary in the 20 years from 1989 – 2009.”
    I call BS on that!
    Not liking the current government is not a legitimate grievance.
    Talking about “Gypsy” crime is not a legitimate grievance.
    Blaming the EU for all the problems in Hungary is not a legitimate grievance.
    Blaming the situation of Magyars in neighbouring countries is not a legitimate grievance.
    Attacking the BP Pride parade with Molotov cocktails is not a legitimate grievance.
    Creating havoc on the streets of BP during any public event is not a legitimate grievance.
    Attacking and killing Roma is not a legitimate grievance.
    Wearing uniforms to intimidate other citizens is not a legitimate grievance.
    If you are a Political Scientist, Thrasymachus, I’m shocked that you look at events through such narrow lens.

  8. Your answer delights me, really, and for all the right reasons. Though I will draw the analogy of saying that I could line up eight chairs and take each one individually and tell you resolutely that they’re not tables… all you need do is turn to me and retort, “I never said those things were.” But at least we’re finally talking about the furniture!
    Please understand two things, [1] I’d be delighted to continue a discussion in this vein, but as you’ve no doubt noticed it’s been made clear by – you know who – that I’m not really welcome here; and [2], with respect to all the things you listed, as a Political Scientist, it is not my job to either condemn them or approve of them. (Frankly, anyone can do that, and there are ample voices here willing to fulfil that role. My only error was presuming that the voices on this blog constituted a discussion, rather than a choir: in which contributors were certainly welcome to sing their own note, provided it kept in harmony with the general tune.) Rather my primary responsibility and my profession, is to attempt to understand them.
    Please also accept my honest, sincere, unpatronising and unsarcastic congratulations: my efforts have not been totally wasted, and it’s a good feeling. At last! Someone is beginning to recognize that the way to deal with Hungarian politics is by addressing issues and events that are actual and contemporary.
    If you all keep it up, the Hungarian Left might just survive after all.

  9. Thrasymachus, if Jobbik has nothing to do with the Horthy-Szalasi nazis, then what are those arpad-striped flags doing everywhere? Why is there an almost exclusive preoccupation with racism? Gipsies and Jews are the stock in trade of your side, not actual policies.
    Political scientist, are you? Then where is your mandatory scientific objectivity requisite for a “debate” you recommend, while singing the praises of nazis under the disguise of “analysis?”
    The slogan: “taking the country back from the…” is and was, as you should know as a “scientist,” the corner stone of the Jew Laws. They meant to take away that which did not exist before, and now that it has been created and it is owned by the creators, we take it away! This is a nazi program pure and simple. The program of those who were not able to create, but not democratic enough to let others create. The greed and stupidity of the small. Analyze that!

  10. Mark: “Index have done a reasonably systematic analysis of the geographical breakdown of the vote”
    The Index’s interpretation might not be entirely correct. To compare this election to 2006 is misleading. According to Zoltán Lakner the Jobbik voters came from MSZP but a similarly good case can be made that although Jobbik may have gotten some votes from MSZP but most of its supporters came from Fidesz. But I will talk about this more later.

  11. Éva: “The Index’s interpretation might not be entirely correct.”
    The presentation of the information on the geography of the vote is useful, but I think that Lakner’s position is crude. I can’t decide from which party most voters came from (or indeed whether that is even the most interesting, or important question to ask). This is because I think we are talking about – at most a 60/40 split one way or the other. But I’ll wait to see what you have to say.

  12. Mark: “But I’ll wait to see what you have to say.”
    I don’t think that I will be very original. (The rough draft is ready.) What I really wanted to have but it doesn’t seem to be available is the breakdown by counties of the level of voter participation. That would have been a good starting point. If participation was low in those northeastern counties (and I suspect it was) then it is likely that MSZP voters simply stayed at home. Jobbik voters were most likely the most eager.

  13. Éva: “What I really wanted to have but it doesn’t seem to be available is the breakdown by counties of the level of voter participation.”
    They are not easy to find because they are not in a logical place on the site. Go to this link:
    http://www.valasztas.hu/hu/ep2009/6/6_0_index.html
    Scroll to the bottom of the page below the bar chart, and click on the link to go to the 1900 hrs turnout figures – on that page they are there nationally, by region, and by county.
    There is regional variation, but the figures from northern Hungary don’t suggest an especially low turnout. The strange thing is the degree to which Budapest leads the voter participation percentage is greater than normal (though, of course, turnout in the capital is normally higher than anywhere else).

  14. Mark: “There is regional variation, but the figures from northern Hungary don’t suggest an especially low turnout.”
    First, thank you for the link. They managed to hide it, all right! In the counties of northeastern Hungary turnout was lower than elsewhere and in three heavily Jobbik counties it was in the lowest, 30.94-32.94% range. Meanwhile Népszava came out with the breakdown by districts in Budapest and they came to the conclusion that low turnout produced high numbers for Jobbik. Sure, it is most likely not not that simple but it might be one of the factors.

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