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Campaign Watch Hungary: Counting Crowds

by DoDo Sun Apr 2nd, 2006 at 05:58:52 PM EST

One week before the elections, pollsters released their final polls, and both big parties held mass events - let the numbers game begin:


Sunday: the final big rally of the dominant opposition party, right-populist Fidesz. Organisers' own claim: more than 1.5 million attendants, physically possible: 150,000, estimate from photos: 97,700 [photo & estimate from Index]


Saturday: the final big rally of the major governing party MSzP (Socialists). Organisers' own claim: 350,000 attendants, physically possible: 120-150,000, estimate from photos: 37,600 [photo & estimate from Index]


It is a common experience everywhere (latest example: French anti-CPE protests) that organiser and police estimates differ significantly, but you see that this is something more extreme. What's the motivation? Repeating something from four years ago.

The precedent

Favorable polls made then governing Fidesz complacent (they forgot that in the then reigning climate of fear some centre-left voters would refuse to answer pollsters), and the first round results came as a cold shower: the Right clearly behind on party list votes, and trailing in most individual election districts (mixed election system!).

In Hungary, in election districts where no candidate got 50%, the first two or three candidates remain standing for a second round. In such systems second-round participation is obviously lower - but in 2002, Fidesz achieved an unprecedented 3% increase, with an all-out voter mobilisation effort (though they still, narrowly, lost).

One element of the (successful) mobilisation was an inpromptu election rally before Parliament, possibly the largest since 1989, with convenient live coverage by the state television then under control, and with a convenient estimate of 1.5-2 million attendants by a police also under control.

A fantastic number because (a) only about a tenth of that would have room on the area even if tightly filled up, (b) because a lot of flags waved, it wasn't even tightly filled up, (c) it would have taken half a day for such a mass to arrive and again to leave through available streets, (d) the number presupposes half of all Fidesz voters and all their children attending, most of them from the countryside. And (e) there was a comparison.

The pre-precedent

On 19 September 1992, there was a mass protest against the then right-wing government's nationalism and attempts to limit media freedom (with a younger DoDo among the attendants).

The closing event was held on the same spot (place before the Parliament building) as the Fidesz event a decade later, and occupied the exact same area. There were no flags and there was only one single protest sign, so it may have been even more people.

But no police estimate was ever released of the final event numbers. Earlier stages of this rally were estimated at 35,000 and 70,000. Later calculations arrived at around 120,000 for the 'uncounted' final event.

The last polls

No polls are allowed to be released in the last eight days before voting, so on Friday five pollsters came out simultaneously. It seems now that MSzP will have more votes than Fidesz, but the latter will win in more individual election districts. MSzP's lead on list votes would be large enough to out-balance that in three polls.

Only one more party seems to have a chance at passing the 5% hurdle: the (neo)liberal governing coalition partner SzDSz. If they get in, the incumbents' victory (would be a first since 1990!) would be certain, but two polls see them just failing and the rest just above.

Older diaries on Hungary:

  1. After a bizarre press vs. politicians court case, an introduction of parties & history since 1989.
  2. The workings of non-issue-based politics: the tragicomic double referendum on barring hospital privatisations and giving neighbouring countries' ethnic Hungarians double citizenship.
  3. Bush and Hungary: why the nominal centre-left (now governing) is pro-Bush and the nominal centre-right opposition anti-Bush.
  4. Campaign season opens - half a year early.
  5. Further in the campaign, October polls and nonsensical rhetoric (how can you give preferential treatment to both the elites and the poor?)
  6. The juiciest of the many storm-in-the-bathtub scandals: Mata Hari in Budapest
  7. A foray into history (not much to do with recent Hungarian politics, but some further perspective for the debate on Turkey's accession to the EU).
  8. European Dream: where would Hungarians like to live?
  9. Hungarian Orange (no relation to the Ukrainian version): on a clever opposition poster campaign and its contrast with reality.
  10. On another poster campaign by the same party - how to outsource negative campaign, and how it can be made to backfire.
  11. Of Socialists and Presidents.
  12. On the Oscar-winning film director who was The Mephisto Behind Mephisto.
  13. The Inverted Example of Spinning Jobless Statistics: doing the exact opposite of what the Bushites did.
  14. Mephisto And Informants Update.
  15. Non-partisan corruption, meta-corruption.
  16. Another foray into history: March 15, 1848 revolution.
  17. Six Weeks of Insanity: how a national celebration turns political freak show.
  18. Article Deconstruction: how a Western paper (here: DER SPIEGEL) twists facts to fit Western stereotypes.
  19. A Salvo In The Foot, or how to mobilise voters for the other side.

Display:
BTW, could someone please tell me who I should vote for?...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Apr 2nd, 2006 at 06:04:49 PM EST
Do your last two paragraphs imply that there will be only three parties represented in the Parliament, possibly even only two?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Apr 2nd, 2006 at 06:12:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, unfortunately... I gave hints the last few months, thanks to the FPTP-part-dominated mixed election system, Hungary is heading for an ugly US-style two-party system.

Already four years ago, only four parties made it, of which one only by going into an election alliance with Fidesz, and the other (SzDSZ) was only at 5.5%.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Apr 2nd, 2006 at 06:17:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Zöld Demokraták Szövetsége (Alliance of Green Democrats Hungary) had about 3,5% in the last elections.
I know they joined a coalition with the Centrum national list. Are they visible in the ongoing canpaigns?

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 05:33:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Centrum had 3.5%, Zöld Demokraták was one of its smaller members. ZD later fell apart, ZDSz is one of its spinoffs, they only managed to collect enough recommendations for the nomination of a single candidate.

I wrote about the sad story of Hungarian Greens in January, what happened since is not happier either. I will only tell as much that there were three true and one fake Green parties competing, and even the most successful only managed to establish party lists in three regions out of 20.

Here in Budapest, I will only be able choose from the lists and candidates of ten parties:

  • The four currently in parliament: MSzP, Fidesz, SzDSz, and a centre-right party which looks a sure loser at 3-4% in polls,
  • An anti-semitic far-right and an unreformed 'communist' far-left party, both safely under 5%,
  • Centrum, which was abadoned by two groups of Greens since, leaving behind bourgeois centrists, and predicted only 1-2% in polls,
  • two further centre-right dwarfs (one Christian and one pro-countryside),
  • a Gypsy minority party also without chance at even 1% of votes (Gypsies are too divided internally for a strong minority interests party, most Gypsies will vote for MSzP, Fidesz, SzDSz if at all)

So, what would you vote for in my place?...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 11:27:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of all those centre-right parties, is there one that is strongly civil libertarian? [Use the Compass, DoDo, use the Compass]

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 11:30:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No. MDF (the one poised to fall out) is making great strains to be civil, but they are no less socially conservative. They are all far away in the upper right quadrant.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 11:39:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Start your own party ? :)

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 05:52:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What, to have a fifth Green party? :-)

If I would have a following and speaking talent, I might do just that.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 06:14:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, have any of the Killer Bs (Blair, Berlusconi, Bush) expressed a preference? Seems like that would be a logical thing to oppose... ;-)

More seriously, it's looking like a two party situation which suggests that unless you have serious tactical options in your district it's going to be a case of vote for the "least worst."

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 05:58:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, have any of the Killer Bs (Blair, Berlusconi, Bush) expressed a preference? Seems like that would be a logical thing to oppose... ;-)

Well, as my second Hungary diary already implied, Hungarian politics is so fucked up that that won't work... Bliar did appear at an MSzP campaign congress and was presented as a star, so yeah I hate MSzP, but that won't make me vote for Fidesz, which after all copies BBB methods - for example they translated the slogan Forza Italia...

unless you have serious tactical options in your district it's going to be a case of vote for the "least worst."

Yeah, and I'm having a hard time figuring out which is it...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 11:10:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Vote for a third party, then. The one that is the closest to the 5% threshold. In 2004 I actually cast one of my 3 senate votes for a party with the following logo:


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 11:14:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That would be neoliberal SzDSz. One of their campaign posters summareized the party program in the bullet points:

  • flat tax
  • smaller state
  • healthcare reform [read: privatisation]
  • education reform [read: private schools, job-market-oriented curriculum]

You see my dilemma...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 11:37:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
See my question above regarding civil liberties.

By the way, you are clearly aware that your opinions are rather far from the mainstream political spectrum, so concerning yourself with whether or not your vote will be wasted because of the 5% threshold is almost academic.

The only question is, do you think any of the two major parties is positively dangerous? If so, vote for the other one. In 1996 I was so pissed off that I abstained. After the first 4 years of Aznar I wanted to prevent him to winning with an absolute majority, but my tactical vote was not good enough. Oh well.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 11:42:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
you are clearly aware that your opinions are rather far from the mainstream political spectrum

Er... that again can't clearly be said. Ideologically, the two big parties are a mess, often saying everything and the opposite. There are elements in both parties at least saying everything I say!

The only question is, do you think any of the two major parties is positively dangerous?

Well, my answer would be, emphatically, both, but currently I view Fidesz as the more dangerous, that would mean a vote for MSzP or SzDSz. But I am still undecided. (But I won't abstain.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 12:01:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would agree, even if your party does not reach the 5%, it might not reach the 5% because to many people think like you, they will not get to 5% - so vote for them. I'd say.

On the other hand, does that then mean that the governing party will get a higher percentage of the seats in Parliament?

by PeWi on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 02:09:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If I'd been eligible to vote in the Polish elections I would have voted for such a party (PO) as the lesser evil.  Then again, you are to the left of me so you probably find neoliberalism even more offensive than I do.
by MarekNYC on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 12:54:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, plus the fact that SzDSz and me developed in opposite directions. I used to vote for them in all previous first-rounds. But most of what they kept of civil-rights liberalism is also present in MSzP, so...

...but I probably end up voting for them again. (If for no better reason than the anti-semitic graffiti on one of their placards I saw today.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 04:49:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
DoDo, apparently you are facing a very tough choice there--only three (maybe even two) parties with a chance to pass the threshold. I am afraid I can't help you with advice on whom you should vote for but I have a suggestion for you--apply for a Bulgarian citizenship. We currently have seven parties in the Parliament and it is very likely for them to become even more as they have the tendency to split. Plus, there is a new party (known as "the Mayors' party") forming at the moment, which is expected to become popular because of the strong figure of the mayor of the capital. You would have plenty of choices here and you would not have to worry that your vote would be wasted as almost everyone makes it through the 4% barrier. The Bulgarian voter is willing to elect anyone who promises miracles (the more unrealistic, the better). So, hurry up because the current government may not last long and we may have an early election--something you would not want to miss. I guarantee it would be a lot of fun, too, especially if you enjoy absurdities in politics. The last election exceeded my expectations with the ridiculous nationalists from "Attack" becoming the fourth biggest party in the National Assembly. I think this even beat the 2001 election when the king got more than 48%. Well, "Attack" are now claiming to be ready to rule but, who knows, someone even more absurd may come out of nowhere and become the latest hit in Bulgarian politics. So, as you can tell, it is worth becoming a Bulgarian citizen. Don't hesitate.
by ccarc on Wed Apr 5th, 2006 at 10:38:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...tomorrow morning - a working-class man and woman talk:

Man: "X says MSzP wins."
Woman: "No, I have a feeling Fidesz wins this time."
Man: "Whatever."
Woman: "Not that I care." She points at a placard with the face of Fidesz PM-hopeful Viktor Orbán: "Ugly faces, both of them."

Man: "Yeah!"
Woman, getting into it: "What will change anyway? Nothing will change for us, whoever gets in. The prices will rise all the same, they won't keep any promises."
Man: "Yeah. They will just blame the previous government or whatever and make cuts, and we'll suffer."

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Apr 3rd, 2006 at 05:19:09 PM EST


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