RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 81, 28 April 1998
UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN HUNGARY. In his first trip
abroad as Ukrainian foreign minister, Boris Tarasyuk said in
Budapest on 27 April that his country supports a pro-
European foreign policy, Hungarian media reported.
Tarasyuk's Hungarian counterpart, Laszlo Kovacs, said
Hungary has a vested interest in seeing a democratic,
independent, and stable Ukraine and seeks to expand
bilateral trade, border cooperation, and joint efforts
toward fighting organized crime. He told Tarasyuk that
Hungary will support Ukraine's integration into
international bodies such as the EU and NATO and asked him
to continue pursuing minority policies that are in line with
European norms. MSZ
VOTER PREFERENCES IN HUNGARY. The governing Socialists are
considered the most suitable party to head a government, but
the public is more sympathetic to the Federation of Young
Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ-MPP), according to
the results of a poll published in the 28 April "Nepszava."
FIDESZ-MPP is the favored party of intellectuals,
entrepreneurs, and young people, while older people and
pensioners tend to prefer the Socialists. "Magyar Nemzet"
reports that the Socialists' support outweighs that of
FIDESZ-MPP in Budapest and in villages, while FIDESZ-MPP
leads in medium-sized towns. The two parties are leading all
opinion polls ahead of the 10 May general elections. MSZ
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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 82, 29 April 1998
HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION FAILS TO AGREE ON SECOND ROUND DEAL.
Party leaders of the Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian
Civic Party, Independent Smallholders' Party, Hungarian
Democratic Forum, Hungarian Democratic People's Party, and
Christian Democratic People's Party on 28 April were unable
to reach an agreement on backing the best placed candidate
in the second round of the upcoming general elections. In
separate news, Socialist Party chairman and Prime Minister
Gyula Horn turned down a proposal to take part in a 6 May
public debate with Young Democrat leader Viktor Orban. The
premier's chief of staff said Horn has a "scheduling
conflict" on that day. MSZ
HUNGARY'S ELECTIONS: THE DILEMMA OF THE RIGHT
by George Schopflin
The most striking aspect of the 10 May elections in
Hungary is that the Hungarian Socialist Party (HSP), the
communist successor party and the dominant member of the
ruling coalition, looks well set to retain its strong
position. The HSP gained an absolute majority in 1994 and
has governed in a somewhat uneasy coalition with the liberal
Free Democrats since then. Its strong position is in
contrast to the losses suffered by other ex-communist
parties in Poland and Lithuania.
Opinion polls have shown the HSP doing well, but not
well enough to gain an absolute majority. Some earlier polls
estimated its strength at about 40 percent, but more recent
surveys suggest support for the party is dwindling somewhat.
The level of backing for the HSP has been declining since
the party launched its election campaign in February, and
the main opposition party--the Young Democrats--Hungarian
Civic Party (FIDESZ), has been pulling ahead. The Free
Democrats seem likely to pass the 5 percent hurdle that
Hungary's election law prescribes, and so does the populist
One the key difficulties in trying to assess the
relationship between popular support and likely
representation is the complexity of the Hungarian electoral
system, generally regarded as the most intricate in Europe.
In short, there are individual constituencies, regional
lists, and a national list.
In individual constituencies, two rounds of voting
take place and successful candidates must either receive an
absolute majority in the first round or a relative majority
in the second. Generally, few candidates manage to gain the
50 percent plus one that is required in the first round,
meaning that the second round is decisive.
For the regional lists, Hungary is divided into 20
electoral districts and parliamentary mandates are
distributed according to the proportion that each party list
receives in each electoral district. The votes cast for
party lists that failed to gain any mandates in that
electoral district are then counted to make up the national
The underlying principle is that elections should
produce consensual government with a solid majority, while
excluding small parties from the parliament. On this basis,
the system has worked well: it has ensured stable government
and kept out marginal groups.
The system, however, does not in itself explain the
success of the HSP. To understand why it has done so well
electorally, the nature of the opposition and the particular
dilemma of the Right under post-communism must be examined.
The problem of the Right is defining what being right-wing
should mean--what precisely a post-communist conservative is
actually trying to conserve?
The past in Hungary, as elsewhere in Central and
Eastern Europe, is a communist one. Those best fitted to
conserve the communist past are the former Communists, hence
post-communist conservatism is driven toward anti-communism.
But in Hungary, Kadarism gave much of the population its
access to economic gains. The communist past is not that
unpopular. The transition towards the market has been as
troublesome in Hungary as in other post-communist states and
a measure of nostalgia for the Kadarist "soft dictatorship"
lingers on, leaving the HSP as the beneficiary.
This has placed the Right in an awkward position,
because the only slot in the political spectrum that it can
fill is the nationalist one. In Hungary, nationalism
automatically means fostering links with the ethnic
Hungarians of the neighboring states and creates both
domestic and international friction. Hungarian opinion has
largely written off the ethnic Hungarians as a political
issue in domestic affairs and prefers to see Hungarian
integration into all-European structures rather than
disputes with Hungary's neighbors. Again, the HSP has been
The dominant party of the right in 1990 was the
Hungarian Democratic Forum (HDF), which lost the 1994
elections, at least partly because it misjudged the voters'
attitude to the national question. During the last four
years, the HDF has self-destructed, as have the Christian
That has left the populist Smallholders and FIDESZ.
The Smallholders, led by the able, demagogic Jozsef Torgyan,
will certainly return to the parliament, though not as well
represented as has once appeared. Probably, they will gain
some 10-15 percent of the vote.
FIDESZ, which has been improving its showing in recent
weeks, has sought to re-position itself as a modern party
that cares for the interests of the nation. It has aimed to
mop up the supporters of the HDF, to gain backing from those
dissatisfied with the last four years of HSP government, and
to capture some of the center ground that the former
Communists occupied so successfully in 1994. The fate of
FIDESZ will be a key indicator in resolving the dilemma of
the meaning of conservatism in Hungary.
The author is the director of the Centre for the Study of
Nationalism, School of Slavonic and East European Studies,
University of London.
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All rights reserved.