Monday, December 06, 2004

No Fire In Da' House

Disproving my fears of Hungary turning into the region's arsonist, yesterday's Hungarian plebiscite turned out to be a failure.

To recap, there were two questions: (1) should we stop hospital privatisation, (2) should we grant dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living abroad. It's (2) that's dangerous because of large Hungarian minorities living in neighbouring countries, where this step would recall separatist implications; and populist because benefits would be nulled by the other countries' countersteps, and it would lead to an exodus (this is the cynical part: new voters for the right-wing). Plebiscites are valid if at least 25% of the voting-age population voted for either "Yes" or "No". Since opinion polls showed a majority approving both proposals, it all depended on the participation of those approving.

Until the last week, the government was rather inept in its "No" campaign, while the right-wing opposition (which also swung itself behind the first, originally far-leftist proposal) was on populism hyperdrive (also 'helped' by some Romanian politicians' angry comments). Unfortunately, when the government found its voice, it was a demagogic one too (much talk about budget-ruinging benefit payouts to additional 3 million citizens - tough these benefits were mostly for residents not citizens, or talk about immigrants taking jobs). Myself, I was only convinced to vote ("Yes" - "No") on Sunday morning - by an almost apolitical relative, who said a lot of friends want to vote "No" on the second question just in spite.

Now, the results are: a participation of just 37.5% (even less than predicted); 65.0% "Yes" on stopping hospital privatisation [24.4% of voting-age population], and 51.5% "Yes" on granting dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians. Both results are in line with opinion polls, but also contrary to expectations of a higher participation of those approving - apparently, many of the latter were convinced that participation will be too low anyway (also supported by what I read on right-wing webboards), while opponents were spurned on.

Looking at these results, I have mixed feelings. On the second issue (and to a lesser degree the first) it is a good thing that irresponsible right-wing populism was trounced - but it is not that apparently, the quasi-centre-left[*] did this by employing reckless pseudo-right-wing populism itself... As for hospitals, even before the vote, the Constitutional Court nixed the government's hospital privatisation law, so falling just short of a valid and binding "Yes" is not that big a loss (the question itself was unfortunately worded as a rejection of this law) - on the other hand, a stronger warning to our government to not even think of taking up the issue again would have been good. (Especially as Bliar is a role model for our PM and some lesser Socialist leaders, and one of NuLab's central tenets is defiance of public opinion when they believe they are doing a strategic sacrifice, which is usually when they do something benefitting corporate interests).

[*] The 'Centre-left' in Hungary, which consists of the (to outsiders unlikely) coalition of ex-reformed-communist Socialists and the ex-liberal-dissident Free Democrats, is more like a West European centre-right mass party (both in its ideology and social vision) than a centre-left one. Yes, unfortunately, that means they are to the right of Tony Bliar. Note that this statement is about the elites who dictate policy, not the population - many if not most Socialist supporters still believe in socialism, while for many if not most of the remaining liberal voters freedom is still not (just) economic freedom. (As for the Hungarian right-wing, they are made up of a small party preserving a pre-WWII reactionary culture, and a non-ideological, reckless populist mass party led by a group of yuppies who started out as radical liberals.)


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