This morning an editorial appeared in politics.hu by a former senior editor of the internet paper who is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Liverpool. The title of his opinion piece is “Forget rigged elections, Fidesz will win because there is no viable alternative.” The core of his argument is that with the exception of Tímea Szabó “the top four politicians are all from the Socialists’ eight year corruption run.” He is not the only one who is convinced that Hungarian politics needs an entirely new cast of characters. András Schiffer of LMP, for example, just yesterday announced that “voting for Gyurcsány is voting for Orbán.” I guess he is offering himself as the only pristine Hungarian politician of the future.
I think it would be high time for these people to learn that one cannot just produce brand new, ready-made politicians out of thin air. One of the handicaps of the first Hungarian democratic government of József Antall was that it was made up entirely of people with no political experience. The other strongly held notion is that just because the leading politicians of the Unity Alliance held office prior to 2010 they are forever unelectable. They should simply disappear, never to be seen or heard of again. I wonder where the Unity Alliance would be standing if they had obliged. I would guess somewhere close to where LMP is today.
I also doubt that the problem of the opposition is that they can offer no viable alternative. If that were the case, why was it necessary for the government and Fidesz to do everything in their power to prevent the opposition from delivering that nonexistent message to the electorate? Why do they need the votes of Hungarians from Romania where, according to the latest poll taken in the Partium, areas closest to the Hungarian-Romanian border, 66% of the voters are Fidesz sympathizers, 13% would vote for Jobbik, and only 2% for the Unity Alliance? And why does Fidesz need an electoral law that dramatically reduces the democratic opposition’s chances?
Practically all the English- and German-language articles I read are certain of an overwhelming Fidesz victory. Their predictions are based on the numerous public opinion polls that have appeared in the last few months. By now there are mighty few people who believe in the possibility of victory for the democratic opposition. But some suggest that the results will be closer than current polls indicate. They are convinced that in the last four years the political fear that Hungarians were accustomed to during pre-democratic times returned. People who were always somewhat suspicious of poll takers by now are genuinely fearful that the information they share with the pollsters will end up at Fidesz headquarters and that soon enough they or their relatives will lose their jobs as teachers, doctors, or civil servants. Or, if they are small businessmen, that they will no longer receive government orders. Unity Alliance activists claim that they frequently meet people who actually lied to the pollsters because of their fears of the present ruling party. If the final election results are substantially different from the generally predicted ones, perhaps there is something to this explanation.
We may never know how many people misled the pollsters, but we do know that it is very difficult to convince people to answer their questions. Reluctance to participate in a survey is not a new phenomenon, but lately the polling companies are in real trouble. In order to find 1,000 willing participants they have to canvass about three times that number, sometimes even more. Surely, this fact says something about the Hungarian population’s present psyche.
Unity Alliance activists report full houses at their gatherings. They claim that their tables, set up alongside Fidesz posts, have long lines of interested people while Fidesz activists are not at all busy. This description might be a reflection of their bias and wishful thinking but one thing is sure: this morning the square in front of Debrecen’s Great Church was not even half full during an event Fidesz organized as the last, triumphant stop in Viktor Orbán’s campaign. Is it possible that Fidesz voters have also become apathetic? Are they possibly disappointed? Or perhaps too sure of a Fidesz victory?
But let’s return briefly to the two latest polls. Medián shows unusually high percentage of committed voters (62%), larger than in 2002 or 2006. If these people actually go and vote, that fact itself might help the Unity Alliance, which benefits from high turnout. On the other hand, it was highly disturbing that 2% of these committed voters actually opted for the “Együtt 2014 Párt,” which was created to confuse voters. It is especially easy to mix up the two parties since Együtt 2014 Párt occupies the sixteenth place on the ballot while the Unity Alliance in which Együtt 2014-PM is listed is seventeenth. The Zöldek Pártja (Party of the Greens) received 1% of the sample’s votes, most likely from people who actually wanted to vote for LMP.
Ipsos, although it predicts a large Fidesz victory, also saw signs that confuse the issue. For example, it is very difficult to judge what the voters will actually do once they are in the voting booth. For example, there are 250,000 Fidesz supporters who think that they might vote for Jobbik while about 100,000 Jobbik voters think they might support Fidesz after all. There might also be some last-minute changes within the anti-Orbán forces. 150,000 Unity Alliance supporters are contemplating switching to LMP and a goodly number of current LMP supporters are thinking about voting for Unity after all. About 10% of the electorate is still undecided and another 10% refuses to divulge. Endre Hann of Medián also points out in his article that one must keep in mind that in the by-elections the opposition did considerably better than in 2010.
And finally, those who are keeping fingers crossed for the democratic opposition call attention to what happened to Slovak prime minister Robert Fico who a week ago was still leading in the polls by a margin of 10%. The next day he lost his bid to become president to a newcomer to politics, Andrej Kiska, a businessman, and not by a small margin. Kiska received almost 60% of the votes against 41% for Fico.
It would be a miracle if something like that were to happen in Hungary tomorrow, but there is a possibility that the Fidesz victory will not be so overwhelming as everybody thinks. As a Hungarian commentator said this morning, if Fidesz won with only a simple as opposed to a two-thirds majority, under the circumstances it would actually mean a victory for the opposition. Tomorrow, after all, might be a more interesting day than the current polls indicate. Let’s hope so.