articleimg-1
Apr 13, 2018

National Review includes a rather compelling account of the ruling Fidesz party’s win in Sunday’s general election

John O’Sullivan said he was wrong in predicting that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s victory would fall short of a landslide. “For it was a landslide by the most exacting standards — which more or less destroys the arguments of his opponents and critics that his governing Fidesz party could win only through authoritarianism, gerrymandering, and the dominance of the media by Fidesz and its business allies,” he said

The National Review has included a rather compelling account of the ruling Fidesz party’s win in Sunday’s general election.

John O’Sullivan said he was wrong in predicting that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s victory would fall short of a landslide. “For it was a landslide by the most exacting standards — which more or less destroys the arguments of his opponents and critics that his governing Fidesz party could win only through authoritarianism, gerrymandering, and the dominance of the media by Fidesz and its business allies,” he said.

He writes that what made this landslide still more unexpected, even shocking, was that throughout Sunday the opposition parties had been growing more optimistic about their prospects of scoring an upset victory. The visiting media — to be on the safe side — were hesitating between the headlines “Opposition Wins” and “Democracy Dies.”

The two-thirds majority win, one of the greatest in history, is significant, he writes. “It can no longer be plausibly argued that Orbán is pushing through his “revolution” either by stealth or undemocratically. Voters knew exactly what both Orbán and his opponents stood for, and they plumped strongly for him,” he said.

He added that certain conclusions flow from that. The first is that democracy is vital and active in Hungary.

“Turnout was the largest since 1998 (coincidentally the election that first brought Orbán to power). There were long queues outside the polling booths, which in some cases stayed open to ensure that no one who joined the line by the official closing time was denied the chance to vote. And the result — one party winning half of the vote — was conclusive. It simply cannot be explained away as the result of gerrymandering, since a 49 percent share of the total vote would mean a landslide in seats under almost any multi-party electoral system,” he writes.

“Nor can it be attributed to the Right’s dominance of the media, which was anyway exaggerated — there were newspapers, magazines, television stations, websites, and hoardings putting across the slogans and arguments of both Left and Right opposition parties, and they were every bit as brutal as the Fidesz propaganda machine. They were not as numerous as those making Orbán’s case, but enough to get the message through to the voters. It was simply that the voters preferred Orbán’s message to that of his opponents,” he adds.

What’s more, a significant number of voters agree with Orbán’s criticism of the European Union as an undemocratic and overly bureaucratic body and support his broad strategy of trying to return powers from Brussels to national capitals. A defense of democracy and the demand for more of it came from the Hungarian Right as well as from its opponents. So one significance of the landslide is that it marks a positive democratic shift among voters to the kind of “national conservatism” that Orbán advocates, he adds.

O’Sullivan adds that Hungary seems to be groping its way towards a new political spectrum — one in which a broad-based national conservative party, Fidesz, dominates the center ground of politics with a middle-class progressive party to its left and a working-class populist party to its right. It’s possible to see similar (though not exactly the same) patterns emerging in other recent European elections — notably, the Italian, Polish, Czech, Spanish, and German elections, where populisms emerged at very different points along the conventional left-right spectrum.

“In almost all cases, however, the new patterns have not “set.” They are still fluid. They take different forms in different countries. And it is simplistic to describe them under the one umbrella term of “populism.” Populism itself is protean. It can be a phenomenon of either the right or the left depending on circumstances. It seems comfortable in alliance with nationalism, but also with the fiscal solidarity of welfare and workfare. In Greece populism has been captured by the Left; in Italy by both a nationalist Right and a fun-anarchist Left; in Hungary by a conservative Right — and in France it was even conscripted by the center (at least for the moment),” he writes.

PM Orbán’s victory demonstrates that the populist upsurge is a permanent part of Europe’s politics. O’Sullivan adds that the prime minister is determined not to leave Europe like Nigel Farage, but to change Europe like De Gaulle and Thatcher.

He concludes that with this election landslide under his belt, PM Orbán can now claim to have the moral and democratic authority of the Hungarian people and others behind his quest. Germany’s Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, has just said that the EU should drop its “arrogance and condescension” in its dealings with Hungary. Europe is beginning to realize that — and that, accordingly, the EU’s status quo is no longer quite as static as it was, he concluded.

Read more here.