Council elections in Hungary

As could be expected, the Socialist Party (MSZP) and their coalition partners the Free Democrats (FDSZ) lost heavily in the recent council elections in Hungary. The problem is the people know what they are voting against but have no real alternative to vote for. Both main political blocs offer the same austerity programme. A genuine Left alternative is required.

After a turbulent couple of weeks last Sunday's Hungarian Council Elections produced an expected set of results. The Socialist Party (MSZP) and their coalition partners the Free Democrats (FDSZ) have taken a drubbing. All but one of the County Councils are now right wing controlled and their overall control of Budapest Council is now dependent on the casting vote of the Mayor.

If this was a general election, there would be a new right wing FIDESZ government, as Viktor Orbán, their party leader hasn't stopped repeating since the elections. On the surface there would appear to be a massive shift to the right, but as often happens, what appears on the surface, is a long way from the truth.

These elections, more than ever before, had most people turning out to vote against, rather than for something or someone. The Hungarian electorate has no real left alternative to voting for one or other of two sets of robber barons, both of which serve the IMF and the World Bank, both of which stand for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which are planning to introduce a vicious austerity programme to push the country towards the Euro and take seven hides off ordinary Hungarians to keep their own ill-gotten gains intact along with the profits of the multinationals who own and really rule Hungary today.

Without a genuine choice a low turnout produced a protest vote against the lying Prime Minister, against an austerity programme, but not for anything that is likely to be any better.

The countryside shifted to the right and the big cities stayed with the status quo, albeit with reduced majorities. Or in the case of Budapest produced a hung council. The village, where I live, is a typical case in point. The long time Mayor, standing in the colours of the Free Democrats, had started his victory celebrations at 4pm when the polls only closed at 7pm. Much to his shock, he then found that he had lost his post, held for the last 16 years by 29 votes, 100 to 129. This is a significant shift in a tiny village of about 450 people and a clear indication of the general mood in the country.

Budapest retained its Free Democrat Mayor, but only just. Depending on the cobbling together of alliances, it seems that the Council Chamber is hung with 30 FIDESZ councillors to the Socialists' 24, but with the 9 Free Democrats, the ruling coalition has 33, while with 3 MDF (Hungarian Democratic Forum) councillors the right has also 33.

Minority parties like the extreme right Hungarian Truth and Justice Party (MIÉP) and the CP (Magyar Kommunista Munkáspárt) polled derisory votes in both the council and mayoral elections. This is not surprising: the mainstream right-wing parties presented once more an extremely right-wing position, stealing the thunder of the MIÉP, while the CP has no policies and/or personalities that can offer any alternative with their woolly, liberal, pacifist, community politics with no class content. They are extremely good at denouncing the capitalists and imperialists for their crimes, but not so good at offering a solution to the problems of the Hungarian masses. This is a crying shame, as with all this disillusionment in all the existing parties, the field is wide open for a radical, Marxist alternative to be put before the people. In their Statement after the election results were known, all they could say was that the extreme right has lost ground, because "Voters seem not to support radicalism." They offered no explanation for their own poor showing, or brushing it off by stating that their vote went up since 4 years ago. A half percent vote for their Budapest mayoral candidate is nothing to celebrate, even if it was a higher vote than last time.

So what now? Is this clear rejection of Gyurcsány's austerity programme going to make him change course? I don't believe it will. He has proposed a vote of confidence in his policies on this coming Friday, which he is likely to win and then carry on pushing through his tax rises, price rises, redundancies and expenditure cuts. He knows he can rely on the coalition to support him in parliament, but that is not the whole story. He also has the support of US and Western European capitalism behind him. J P Morgan, Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions are anxious and hopeful that he will win the confidence vote and then "stabilise" the economy. They all want him to survive and Gyurcsány's package is doing their bidding in reducing the share of wealth going to the producers of that same wealth in order to bolster a bigger share going to them and their ilk. From their point of view the intricacies of Hungarian internal politics are that much piffle, it is the party and Prime Minister that is most likely to put their suggested harsh measures through that gets their vote. Currently that man is Gyurcsány and this, more than any other political power base, which gives Gyurcsány his confidence to survive all the current scandal.

And what about the prospects for stability, growth, affordable prices and good council services for Hungarian working people? Who is likely to give them that today? The Socialists, the right wing parties or the CP and other minority forces? Judging by their policies, it is none of them. None of these are prepared to break with capitalism and challenge the system itself. And without that none of it is realistic. There is no more room for manoeuvre. The country is in debt, its infrastructure is still very outdated and needs billions of investment, the foreign multinationals that own the vast majority of the economy care only for their profits which they are repatriating the moment they realise them. Nothing, but nothing is being offered by any of the current parties but heartache, belt tightening and more of the same. The voters of today will learn that very quickly and very soon. The task facing any worker or youth in Hungary who wants genuine change is re-establish Marxism as a credible force within the Hungarian working class, a force that will offer a left alternative that is viable, achievable and which they can rise and fight for. Without that there are only even harder times coming.

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