election roundtable talk and analysis

Here's my election roundtable talk and analysis, place: Collegium Budapest 20 April 2006.

It was a pretty successful event. Not too political, anyone with true political passions must have been in one of the political gatherings which were taking place simultaneously…

Introduction (extract)
…The aim of this talk is in no way to affect the results of the Hungarian general elections, where the second round is just days away on Sunday.
Rather than that we hope to provide academic and independent, non-party aligned analysis of the issue of Hungarian politics and elections. One of the interesting things about the Hungarian politics is that it’s analysis seems to be a simple extension of the political practice.
At the same time as we maintain that in humanities and social sciences value-free and neutral analysis is a myth and that every time we seek out to analyse something we also bring in our own perspectives – we aim to demonstrate that even critical analysis, whichever our sympathies would be, does not need to be party political.
Furthermore, even Hungarian politics can be interesting as an object of academic enquiry, not merely a source for the media to run stories on.

Elections analysis roundtable: Political polarisation in Hungary

Taking place from the late 1990s, polarisation has been particularly intensive around the election year 2002. By polarisation I mean the bipolar situation in politics, where the two big parties, or coalitions of parties, exist through their common opposition to each other.

This does not mean the distinction between Budapest and the Countryside necessarily – although polarisation in Hungary can be and has been partly articulated also in this way.

One of the symptoms of polarisation is negative campaigning: I could spend all my time on the empirical examples, we have seen around ourselves here in Hungary. The “We are worse off than four years ago campaign” is a theme that Viktor Orbán has been continuing in his campaign even between the two rounds. What is particular of Hungary, though, is the wide-spread anti-semitic campaigning, mainly targeted against the SZDSZ and the left. But just this morning I saw a TV commercial of the MSZP. It depicts Viktor Orbán saying in the TV-debate against Gyurcsányi prior to the first round that he voted for the 13th month pension scheme, but the facts show that he didn’t: Orbán lied – vote for the MSZP!

In contemporary political theory and analysis there’s a lot of talk about the role of the constitutive outside or the ‘other’, or the way in which identities are constructed through what they are not. In Hungarian politics, the other is not merely present in the process of identification, but the political identifications are constructed in opposition to something else.

The parties actively articulate their opponents more than they focus on defining their own political positions and values. This is causing the kinds of problems that have been outlined by colleagues, such as the difficulty of mapping the parties. In these elections, as well, people were voting more against something than for something.

In 2006 the situation is slightly smoother than in 2002, even though the differences in party-political preferences plague families in Hungary. There have been divorces and family fall-outs because of the political polarisation. Of course, a lot of people are against the polarisation itself.

This has also been used as a tool in political rhetoric, whereby many politicians are speaking against political polarisation and for ‘unity’. However, to exist on a political map, parties depend on political frontiers – the making of differences.Polarisation has been particularly useful for the Hungarian parties because it has offered a fixed point of identification or non-identification.

The unfortunate consequence of polarisation, from the late 1990s upto the current elections, has been that on both sides of the frontier there has been a consensual situation.

The problem with this is the lack of internal critique and democratic input. If any demand or concern that would be emerging as a political problem does not fit the situation polarisation, it is downplayed or ignored. Otherwise it could shake the situation which is providing the source of existence for the political elites.

Polarisation can be broken down through creating or emphasising new political frontiers. The 2006 elections, with the emergence of a rift between MDF and Fidesz, has been breaking down the polarisation.

This is also why Fidesz now is accusing the MDF of helping the left to gain power. At the same time, they construct the MDF as their enemy. When Orbán stepped down from the PM candidacy, the left has been sincerely worried, with good a reason. They have been relying on a strong adversary to exist.

It is possible that the new four-party parliament manages to create a range of political frontiers instead of emphasising a single one, for instance through political alliances that would be changing depending on the debate in question. This process of forming alliances contingent to the issue is something that I find crucial for a functioning democracy.

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