Below, Hungarian commentators respond to last week’s news that Hungary’s State Audit Office (ÁSZ) had fined six of the country’s opposition parties, including the largest one, Jobbik, over a number of violations and irregularities. The fines, which come as the country gears up for April’s parliamentary elections, have been condemned by opposition groups and some international observers as a partisan attack that undermines democracy and the rule of law.
While Minister of National Economy Mihály Varga later clarified that the fined parties would not have to pay anything until July 1st (after the elections had ended), the move by the Audit Office, which did not investigate either the ruling Fidesz party or its coalition partner KDNP (and which is run by a former Fidesz MP) have raised serious concerns regarding the upcoming elections.
Hungarian press roundup by budapost.eu
On Index, Tamás Fábián interprets Minister Varga’s announcement as a precautionary measure. The liberal commentator thinks that the tax authorities’ procedure against the opposition parties could have hijacked the 2018 April election campaign. The opposition parties could use such a procedure to accuse the government of using public authorities for political purposes, Fábián explains. He goes on to point out that by claiming to be the common targets of dictatorial misuse of state power, the ideologically very diverse opposition could even unite against the governing Fidesz party. Fábián thus agrees with the opposition parties that the extension of the time allowed to pay the fines is just another trick of the government to secure victory at the April Parliamentary election.
Magyar Idők’s Zsolt Bayer (a man who, in the past, has compared Hungary’s Roma minority to “animals” and has described all refugees over the age of 14 as “potential killers”) finds it absurd that the opposition parties are accusing the State Audit Office and the government of the selective application of the law. The pro-government columnist notes that according to all polls, Fidesz has a clear lead, and thus Bayer finds it absurd to suggest that the governing party needs to misuse power in order to win again in the April election. Bayer believes that the opposition parties clearly violated the party financing regulations and rather than complying with the law, they are using the opportunity to accuse the government of dictatorial tinkering. But after Mr. Varga’s announcement, they will not be able to blame their defeat on the putatively oppressive government and the uneven political field, Bayer concludes.
To Boycott or Not to Boycott?
In light of the audit office’s controversial fines levelled against opposition parties, and amid growing international concern over the Orbán government’s control over Hungarian media, as well as other issues related to rule of law in the country, several left-wing commentators have begun to discuss whether or not opposition parties should simply boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections.
In Népszava, Miklós Hargitai contends that the political playing field is so uneven that the opposition has no chance to challenge Fidesz. He wonders if it makes any sense for them to run in the April election at all. The left-wing columnist suggests that voters have access to information and public debates only through the government media. In a remark on the party financing fines, Hargitai adds that the opposition parties also have no access to non-governmental financial funding to reach voters. In light of all this, Hargitai concludes that by participating in the election the opposition would implicitly legitimize an “election that has already been rigged.”
Writing in the same daily, Róbert Friss disagrees. He argues that boycotting the elections would play into the hands of Fidesz and secure it unfettered power. The left-liberal pundit agrees that Fidesz has introduced regulations that clearly favour the governing party and make the political playing field unfair and uneven, but he also thinks that the opposition should have stayed away from the election in 2014 if it considered such reforms illegitimate. Friss adds that according to different polls, the majority of voters would prefer to replace Fidesz, and so the opposition can win enough seats to at least stop Fidesz from having a two-thirds majority.
In a front-page editorial, Magyar Narancs speculates that boycotting the elections could have shocking repercussions and ignite large scale systemic changes in the political landscape. In a comment on the party financing fines levied on the opposition parties, the left-wing liberal weekly also accuses the government of using state authorities to silence its opponents. As the opposition parties have no real chance to defeat Fidesz in April, Magyar Narancs thinks that the only way they can have an impact is by boycotting the election.
In their regular joint interview with Heti Válasz, political scientists Gábor Török and Ágoston Sámuel Mráz (head of the Nezőpont Institute, a pro-Orbán thinktank) comment on Mária Vásárhelyi’s call to the opposition to boycott the election (see BudaPost December 27). Török points out that so far, the idea of the boycott proposed by some left-wing pundits and intellectuals has not been embraced by any opposition politicians, and thus it should not be taken too seriously at this point. Mráz thinks that the whole idea is ridiculous, as the opposition’s decision to stay away from the election would guarantee a Fidesz victory.