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To stand down or not to stand down?

11 March 2010 Szerző: Címkék:, , Nincs komment

The first round of Hungary’s elections on April 11 will fundamentally change the country’s political landscape. The political dividing line may shift radically: Instead of a left-right split, politicians of all ideological stripes may find themselves making a common stand against right-wing radicals. Hitherto unthinkable cooperation between the governing Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and the right-wing opposition Fidesz party may start taking shape as soon as the first round is over.

The election of MPs from Hungary’s 176 single-member constituencies takes place in two rounds. If no candidate wins more than 50% of votes on April 11 then the top three candidates in the constituency move on to a run-off on April 25. The period after the first round is typically a time for political horse trading in the districts. For example, if the second- and third-place finishers come from like-minded parties, one candidate or the other may withdraw so as to increase the chance of defeating the common enemy in the second round. Once a candidate stands down, no one can take his or her place.

Democratic dilemma

The rapidly tilting balance of political forces in Hungary means the Socialists may be forced to trade horses with their arch-enemies in Fidesz, the all-but-certain winners. In certain constituencies – especially in eastern Hungary – the ultra-right Jobbik party may push MSZP candidates into third place and pile the pressure on Fidesz contenders. A similar situation occurred in France’s 2002 elections, when far-right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen beat the Socialists into second place. The shell-shocked Socialists were forced to plug their noses and ask their supporters to vote for incumbent President Jacques Chirac in the second-round.

This unfamiliar situation will challenge MSZP’s decision-makers. They will face two unpalatable choices:

1. Keep their candidates in the race, and run the risk of handing Jobbik a victory. Since Fidesz candidates are expected to score a huge number of outright victories in single-member districts in the first round, Fidesz supporters may think that they have already won and not bother to cast ballots in the second round. By the same token, radical voters will be tantalized by the chance of winning an individual mandate and will turn out in even greater force in the second round.

Such a scenario would allow Fidesz to play the extremist card, saying the Socialists are all talk and no action when it comes to combating right-wing extremism because they are reluctant to withdraw their underdogs and support democratic Fidesz against the “anti-democratic” Jobbik.

2. Withdraw their candidates in favour of Fidesz, and run the risk of helping Viktor Orbán’s party gain a two-thirds majority in parliament (see “Fidesz super-majority possible, but comes with major liability”, Budapest Times, 25 January 2010).

In the districts where a Socialist candidate has a chance of winning, Jobbik will face a similar dilemma: Whether to withdraw their candidate to defeat their top enemy, the MSZP, or stay in the race and possibly help the Socialists. The possibility of wider negotiations between Fidesz and the MSZP – meaning a Fidesz candidate stands down in constituencies where a Socialist candidate might win – is unlikely, but cannot be ruled out.

Although European Parliamentary election results are frequently poor indicators of what will happen in a national election, the fact is that there were 12 districts last June in which Jobbik beat the MSZP, and Fidesz was barely able to gain an absolute majority.

Since Jobbik has become even stronger over the past few months, similar situations may emerge in a greater number of constituencies.

Political dividing lines that were once thought to be etched in stone will shift. Jobbik’s entry into parliament may rewrite the strategy between Fidesz and MSZP. Their answers to this dilemma will show the direction of that shift.

A cikk a Budapest Times 2010- március 11-i számában jelent meg.

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