undecided voters

Odds and ends from Hungary: A court case, a new poll, and a successful country

Again, there are too many interesting topics and I don’t know which one to pick. So I decided to cover as many as I have space for without making the post too long.

First, I received a short note from András Arató, CEO of Klubrádió, announcing the Kúria’s landmark decision with regard to one of the controversial writings of Zsolt Bayer. The decision was rendered in a case that involved Klubrádió.

I wrote about the article,”The Same Stench,” which was the subject of the case, at the time of its publication. In it Bayer called Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a member of the European Parliament, and András Schiff, the internationally acclaimed Hungarian pianist, “stinking excrement” and lamented the incompleteness of the massacre in the forest of Orgovány where many Hungarian Jews were murdered in 1920.

In “Let’s Talk It Over,” the most popular program on Klubrádió, its host György Bolgár talked to Péter Feldmájer,  the chairman of MAZSIHISZ. In the course of their conversation they labeled the Bayer article anti-Semitic. Bayer sued for infringement of his personality rights and also for damages, claiming that because of the interview he ceased to receive commissions for articles from the French daily, Le Monde. The case eventually ended up in the Kúria, which is the highest court of the land. No further appeal is possible.

In its  June 26 ruling, the Kúria found that a reading of Bayer’s article could logically and lawfully lead to the finding that the contents of the article were anti-Semitic. Bayer’s attempts to frame the reference to Orgovány as a mere metaphor failed. According to the ruling, he must endure the criticism that his article deserves and must allow others to form an honest opinion of the article without using the legal institution of personality rights to shield himself from public criticism.

This ruling of the Kúria is of landmark importance, as it finally shows that neo-Nazi, racist, and hate speech cannot be published with impunity in Hungary. Freedom of expression and its manifestation in the form of criticism stand as potential means for anyone seeking to take action against extremist statements.

All in all, Klubrádió is proud that it had a role to play in this very important decision.

I might add that it would be nice if the Media Authority actually allowed Klubrádió to broadcast on a frequency which can be used free of charge and which the station is entitled to use. Although at least a month has gone by since the court decision in Klubrádió’s favor, nothing has happened yet although the Media Authority has no right to appeal.

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You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I spent a whole post on an interview with the CEO of Medián about the intricacies of poll taking in Hungary.  Medián just came out with a poll that probed public reaction to the tobacconist shop affair. Their first attempt at gauging public reaction was three weeks ago when 56% were against making tobacco products a monopoly and disapproved of the way it was done. By now that number is 73%. Moreover, the percentage of those who heard about the affair is exceptionally high: 94%.

What is especially interesting is the breakdown by voting groups.  There were basically three main questions asked. The first was whether it is appropriate for a government to decide who can and who cannot sell tobacco products. The second concerned the appropriateness of a government party favoring its own adherents in allotting the concessions. And finally the respondents were asked what would they do now if they were in the position to do something about the situation that was created by the government.

To the question about the appropriateness of the government deciding who can and who cannot sell tobacco products, the overwhelming majority (73%) were against it and only 19% were for it. Not even Fidesz voters are crazy about the idea. As for the idea of a tobacco monopoly, 43% disapprove while 10% have no opinion; 47% support the government on this issue. Supporters of MSZP, E14 and other smaller parties on the left overwhelmingly, and predictably, oppose the nationalization of tobacconist shops (85-90%). What is much more interesting is the reaction of those people who are undecided. Among them 76% are against the government scheme. Medián differentiated another category whom they call “active undecided” voters. Those are the ones who say that they definitely will vote but that they still don’t know for whom. Among them 74% opposed the monopolization of tobacco products.

To the question of whether it is appropriate for a party in power to favor its own, half of the Fidesz voters answered in the negative. All others, including the undecided and the actively undecided, were overwhelmingly (80-93%) opposed. Let’s not forget that Viktor Orbán announced that he saw nothing wrong with favoring Fidesz supporters over others.

Finally there was the question of what to do with the state of affairs that was created as a result of the tobacco monopoly and the way the concessions were granted. 51% of those asked would undo everything and would allow anyone who wants to sell cigarettes to be able to do so. 26% would start anew by scrapping the results and announcing a new competition for the available stores. Only 14% wouldn’t change anything.

What do these figures tell us, especially in light of other polls on party preferences? All three of the most recent polls show Fidesz leading by a large margin over MSZP and by 6-8% over a united democratic opposition. But the percentage of undecided voters is still very large. According to Tárki, it is 49%. If the population’s dislike of the monopolization of tobacco products and their disgust with the concessions is any indication, the undecided and especially the actively undecided voters may offer up some surprises.

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And, finally, here is a priceless Orbán quotation. He was in Brussels today at a meeting of the prime ministers of the member states. He told reporters afterwards that he looked around the table and there was not one prime minister whose country was successful. It was a strange feeling to represent the only economically successful country in this company. And here are these unsuccessful losers who give advice to him, the only successful one. But he took no offense!

Success by Kevin Houle / flkckr

Success by Kevin Houle / flkckr

In line with his allegedly conciliatory attitude to the West European losers, Orbán decided to give in on the issue of political advertisement. As things stand now, no party can advertise on any  commercial television or radio station during the campaign season. He announced that this restrictive law will be changed to allow parties to advertise on commercial stations. But the stations must provide the service free of charge. I’ll bet they will be thrilled. On the other hand, given the financial state of the opposition parties, getting some free advertising might help restore the balance between Fidesz with its practically unlimited resources and opportunities and the poverty-stricken opposition parties. Of course, in the “devil in the details” department, we don’t know how much time the commercial stations will set aside for “upaid” political advertisements and whether these ads will be permitted during prime time or only when the vast majority of people are either at work or asleep.