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What will the Euro elections tell us about Eastern Europe?

By Blog Admin, on 11 May 2014

Plakat do Parlamentu Europejskiego 2014 Platforma Obywatelska

Photo: Lukasz2 via Wikicommons

Seán Hanley looks ahead to the upcoming European elections and assesses what they may tell us about the enduring differences between voters and parties in Western and Eastern Europe.

The elections to the European Parliament which take place across the EU’s 28 member states between 22 and 25 May are widely seen a series of national contests, which voters use to vent their frustration and give incumbent and established parties a good kicking. Newspaper leader writers and think-tankers got this story and have been working overtime to tell us about a rising tide of populism driven by a range of non-standard protest parties.

The conventional wisdom is that the ‘populist threat’ is all eurosceptic (and usually of a right-wing persuasion) although in some cases the ‘eurosceptic surge’ is clearly a matter of whipping together  familiar narrative than careful analysis.

But, as a simultaneous EU-wide poll using similar (PR-based) electoral systems, the EP elections also provide a rough and ready yardstick of Europe-wide political trends, ably tracked by the LSE-based Pollwatch 2014 and others.

And, for those interested in comparison and convergence of the two halves of a once divided continent, they a window into the political differences and similarities between the ‘old’ pre-2004 of Western and Southern Europe and the newer members from Central and Eastern Europe (now including Croatia which joined in 2013). (more…)

The force that is Fidesz

By Blog Admin, on 25 March 2013

Peace March for Hungary 2012.01.21 (9)

Photo: Derzsi Elekes Andor via WikiMedia Commons

Hungary’s governing party Fidesz has recently consolidated changes to the constitution, media laws and electoral constituencies. Yet despite international criticism and tough economic times, Hungarian opposition forces are divided while Fidesz and the radical right party Jobbik remain electorally buoyant. Erin Marie Saltman examines the enduring strength of the Hungarian right and the obstacles facing its opponents.

In Hungary 15th March is a day with a deeply resonating political legacy. The day is a national holiday, created in remembrance of the 1848 revolution when Hungary’s iconic poet revolutionary Sándor Petőfi stood on the steps of the National Museum and read his Twelve Points demanding freedom of speech and national political liberties from the Habsburg Empire. Today Petőfi has become a malleable political symbol of revolution and change for government and opposition alike, with both groups moving to celebrate his legacy.

The conservative Fidesz government sees itself as personified in the Hungarian revolutionary tradition, calling the huge electoral majority that put it into power in 2010 a ‘voting revolution’ –  an opportunity for Hungary finally to rid itself of its history of oppressive powers, first the Habsburgs and then the Communists. In Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s national speeches, there is now wariness towards the assimilating and constricting measures of the EU and IMF, asking whether these international institutions bear the same hallmark of oppression. Backing the government, which still holds a strong lead in polls among decided voters, are throngs of dedicated supporters holding ‘peace marches’ and rallies to show their continued support.

The main concern of domestic opposition and international onlookers remains the increasingly enlarged capacity the Fidesz government to restructure the Hungarian state. Most recently on 11 March  President János Áder signed into law the Fourth Amendment  to the Hungarian constitution, adding a fifteen-page amendment to the forty-five-page document. The constitutional court had ruled against many of the proposed additions, which worryingly mirror some of the larger issues flagged in radical right party Jobbik’s 2010 Manifesto. (more…)

‘Together 2014’ movement emerges in Hungary

By Blog Admin, on 27 November 2012

Together 2014 rally (Photo: Erin Marie Saltman)

A new opposition grouping has emergence in Hungary, calling for an electoral alliance of grassroots movements and political parties to challenge the dominance of right-wing party Fidesz. However, it may soon find its cohesion  testsed, writes Erin Marie Saltman.

‘Together 2014’ (Együtt 2014) was announced on 23  October  at the large opposition rally against the government, founded by three civil society organizations. With largely divided and conflicting opposition facets competing in Hungary the question remains: how together will Together 2014 be?

Together 2014 is the alliance of three civil organizations joining forces to win a two-thirds majority in the next national parliamentary elections. This is the majority needed to override many of Fidesz’s recent controversial laws. Leading the alliance is Gordon Bajnai, the interim Prime Minister in 2009 and 2010 for Socialist Party, MSZP. Bajnai remains one of the most popular politicians in Hungary as a non-partisan technocrat hoping to bring together disgruntled voters from the centre-left and centre-right. Bajnai brings with him the Patriotism and Progress Association (Haza és Haladás Közpolitikai Alapítvány), a public policy foundation he leads, formed after the 2010 elections developing biannual policy packages. (more…)

Hungary’s fractured opposition

By Blog Admin, on 30 October 2012

saubere Hände für unabhängige medien

Photo: Beate Firlinger. Creative Commons license via Flickr

Only time will tell if Hungary’s divided liberal and  left-wing opposition will be able to put aside differences and unite notes Erin Marie Saltman

Those less intimate with Hungarian political culture should be aware of the significance of March 15th and October 23rd, national memorial days for the 1848 and 1956 revolutions against Hapsburg and Soviet powers. These national holidays have been used increasingly to stage political speeches, demonstrations and protests in recent years, paralleling the rising discourse around Hungary’s ‘illiberal’ turn, as reported on by international news and human rights watchdogs.

As political forces in Hungary have polarised, so have the streets of Budapest, divided into an array of camps for and against the government. Since the parliamentary majority victory of the right wing party, Fidesz, and the significant electoral gains of the radical right party Jobbik, there has been increasing talk of Hungary’s movement away from liberal democratic values and the country’s increasing Euroscepticism. The lack of cohesion of liberal-left political forces for the past six years has turned political polarisation into political hegemony of the right.

But the events that took place on October 23rd may indicate a fundamental shift toward the development of a united liberal opposition movement. The national holiday was a litmus test for the failing of old opposition powers, the continued strength of right-wing forces, and potential new alliances’ strengthening unity among grassroots and political opposition. (more…)

Who can save the left in Hungary?

By Blog Admin, on 6 January 2012

Two new, very different parties hope to rebuild Hungary’s badly damaged opposition writes Erin Marie Saltman 

DK 2012-09-11 14.31

Photo: Norden 1990 via Wikicommons

Hungary’s opposition made a rare show of unity on 2 January, when it organized tens of thousands of people (some claim as many as 100,000) to protest a new constitution pushed through parliament by the ruling, conservative-populist Fidesz party.

 Like the protests in Russia, they were a departure from Hungarians’ usual apathy. But also like those protests, they could still fail to translate into real political change. The left in Hungary is badly fractured and parts of it remain widely discredited.

 That means that however draconian Fidesz’s legislative maneuvers – which have been pushed through thanks to a supermajority and include clamping down on press freedom; reining in the judiciary and central bank; nationalizing private pensions; and changing the labor, tax, religious, electoral, and education laws – opposition parties still face long odds in the 2014 parliamentary elections. The governing coalition continues to poll far ahead of other parties.

 Undeterred, two new parties, the Democratic Coalition and the Fourth Republic, have stepped into the fray, with very different approaches to reconstructing Hungary’s liberal-left. (more…)