Elections shake up Hungary's political landscape

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Twenty years after the transition to post-communist rule, Hungarian voters yesterday (11 April) radically changed the country's political landscape, sending the ruling socialists into opposition and laying the ground for the centre-right to win an absolute majority in parliament in the second round of national elections. EurActiv Hungary reports.

In yesterday's first round, the conservative Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Union party won 52.76% of the vote, winning 206 of 386 seats in the Hungarian parliament.

The result marks the biggest victory for any political party at a general election since the fall of communism twenty years ago.

A second round scheduled for 25 April will decide whether Fidesz can win a two-thirds absolute majority in parliament.

"This victory does not belong to Fidesz. This is your victory, the victory of Hungary," Viktor Orbán, party chairman and future prime minister, told supporters after the election.

"No party has received such unambiguous and broad support since the change [from communism] This also entails great responsibility," said Hungarian President László Sólyom.

The second-largest parliamentary force after the first round is the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), which has ruled the country for the past eight years. Attila Mesterházy, the MSZP's leading candidate, congratulated Viktor Orbán and asked him "to use his legitimacy for the benefit of the nation".

"You should strive not to separate, but to unite us into one flourishing nation," Mesterházy told Orbán.

Political shake up

The election not only reorganised the leadership of the ruling political elite, but also converted the Hungarian parliament into a four-party structure.

Far-right party Jobbik won 16.7% of the vote and came very close to claiming the second place won by former ruling party MSZP, which received 19.3%.

A new green party called 'Politics Can Be Different' (LMP) recorded successes, winning 7.43% of the vote and five parliamentary seats in the first round.

LMP leader András Schiffer outlined a new political vision where "not only written rules, but also unwritten ethical norms will regulate public life". He described his party as a completely new political entity designed for the 21st century, which is conservative and liberal at the same time.

"We are waiting for Fidesz's offer," Schiffer added, raising the prospect of forming a coalition, which Fidesz would need if failed to win a two-thirds majority in the second round.

However, Fidesz spokesperson Péter Szíjjártó spoke of the need for unity within the party, suggesting that a coalition would raise problems.

The real loser in these elections is the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), which failed to reach the 5% threshold to be represented in parliament. The MDF, which was the first governing party after the fall of communism, seems to have been abandoned by most of its supporters.

Liberal party SZDSZ (Alliance of Free Liberals) also failed to secure representation in parliament. Analysts say the LMP may have taken the votes of both disappointed liberals and conservatives.

Legal pitfall delayed first-round results

Citizens were surprised not only by the result but also by the fact that the elections did not close on time. At 7pm, when the voting should have ended, there were still hundreds of people in line waiting to cast their ballot.

The bottleneck was created by an amendment put forward by Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai in 2007 when he was minister for local government. According to the amendment, those who want to vote outside their home town must do so in one particular place per voting district. The authorities were not prepared for the massive lines and in places, hundreds of people had to wait until late at night.

The National Election Committee (NEC) finally decided to close down the lines at 7pm and extended the so- called campaign silence until the last voter had cast their ballot.

Public resentment over the information blackout became so strong in the wake of this decision that the NEC was forced to rethink its decision. It finally lifted the information ban at 10:30pm. A spokesperson for new governing party Fidesz called on the heads of the NEC to resign.

An absolute majority for Fidesz?

Compared to the European elections (see 'Background') the biggest winner was the LMP. The green party could not get a seat in Strasbourg in 2009, but it won five in parliament yesterday. Jobbik and the MSZP should also improve their performance on last year during the second round.

The real question is whether Fidesz can secure the 52 seats it needs to win a two-thirds absolute majority in the second round on 25 April. The poll will decide on the remaining 111 seats in run-offs for 57 constituencies where no candidate was able to win a sufficient majority.

Attila Mesterhazy, leader of the MSZP list, challenged Orbán to a debate ahead of the second round, saying that "the weight of political control is at stake in the second round".

Fidesz is yet to comment on this invitation, but earlier the conservatives did not react against the idea.

Political analysts are looking forward to a more heated campaign ahead of the second round.

Positions: 

Gábor Vona, head of far-right party Jobbik, said: "We have erased the two freak creatures of the Hungarian public life," referring to the liberals [SZDSZ] and the MDF.

"Two-thirds of Hungarians are followers of Jobbik. It is just that they don't know it yet," Vona added.

"Based on the results of the first round, it seems strongly feasible that the two-thirds majority will be comfortably achieved," Robert Laszlo, an analyst at Hungary's Political Capital think-tank, told Reuters.

"I expect moderate strengthening of the forint and a drop in government bond yields tomorrow [...] Global developments like Greek news and US economic figures are also supportive," said analyst Gergely Suppan of Takarekbank.

If Fidesz were to secure a two-thirds majority it would raise concerns that the party "could possibly overturn basic democratic principles and liberties," ING Bank economist David Németh is quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying.

"We welcome the great success by Green party LMP (Politics can be different) and warmly congratulate our Hungarian friends on their entry into parliament," said Greens/EFA Co-Presidents Rebecca Harms and Dany Cohn-Bendit. LMP, a member of the European Green political family, achieved 7.43% in Hungarian elections, which is set to secure the party's first seats in the Hungarian parliament.

"This election result is a reassuring sign that Green politics are gaining ground in Central and Eastern Europe and that environmental parties are continuing to earn a permanent place in the political spectrum. This was the best result for a Green party in any of the former Communist Central and Eastern European countries," they added.

"The results clearly shows that, with the leadership of Viktor Orbán and a strong Fidesz government, Hungarian citizens are ready to start a new era, the era of order, success, growth, prosperity and solidarity," said Joseph Daul, Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament.

"The result is not only historical for democratic Hungary, but the overwhelming level of support is unprecedented in the European Union as well," he added.

Timeline: 
  • 25 April: Second round of elections. 111 seats will be decided in run-offs for 57 constituencies where no candidate was able to win more than half of the vote this time.
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