Portfolio blogger

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What happened in Hungary's elections?

Weel, the facts are simple: the governing FIDESZ-KDMP won another election. It is second time that a governing party wins an election. We do not know until Sunday whether they will have the two-third majority necessary to amend the Constitution and the so-called "cardinal laws" (electoral, police etc. - they extended the scope of questions to be regulated by two-third majority to make it diffcult for the next government to eliminate their legacy). But there is a fair chance. As one who trusted that in spite of the strongly biaised election system and limited publicity afforded to the opposition, the hungarian electorate is sufficiently unsatisfied and politically active to vote for the finally united opposition(I will call them opposition alliance) - of course except the extreme right and LMP, which is the fourth party in Parliament, a green antiglobalist, human rights grouping. So I cannot say that the result was inevitable. Others, who predicted the victory of FIDESZ, are now looking for scapegoats which is also not a coherent behaviour. There were reports from small irregularities which could influence the result (in one district the municipality closed into a room whose door had been then welded, all voting slips while waiting for the votes to arrive from abroad - here there is verys little difference between the two main candidates). The votes of Hungarians without a fixed residence in Hungary (who could voty by letter and the authenticity of whose votes are very difficult to verify) could mean an additional parliamentary seat - all these count for the two thirds. But the fact is that 39% of the citizens did not care to vote. Out of those who voted, about 45% voted for FIDESZ, 26 for the united opposition alliance, 21% for the ultra-right Jobbik. There are some strange things: anly two (or three) constituencies could be won by the opposition alliance in the countryside while half of the Budapest constituencies were von by them. What is the big, decisive difference between the capital and the big cities? In one district, the reigning mayor lost. There were two strong candidates against him (which seemed to be the recipe for failure of the opposition alliance): an independent one who had a high profile as he was the ex-employee of the tax office who publicised a huge cheating scandal covered up ba the tax office and a candidate for the socialist party, who was involved in some embezzling scandal before. And, surprise: the socialist candidate won. So what can I offer as explanation? There are two differences between Budapest and the countryside: Accessibility of information and closeness of people. No wonder tha those who have no access to the Internet or do not use it for information and can access only the public broadcasters and the main commercial tv stations (and eventually the two tv stations controlled by FIDESZ) have no real picture of what is going on in the country. Their deterioration of livng standard and comfort is not attributed to the bad policies of the government as it began under the previous government(s) and they are convinced that a new government will also demand sacrifices. But they beleive the overall positive picture suggerated by these stations. They cannot by independent newspapers or don't care. The voting can be surveyed more closely and, sorry to say, manipulation is easier. There were constituancies where the number of invalid votes was equal to the advantage of the government candidate. Placing posters was deliberately made difficult for the opposition by different means - and the rules changed continuously - while the governing party could make use of their NGO and of government propaganda which neither was subject to the limitations. No party advertisement was possible in the commercial media (as it should have been offered free and none undertook that - while ATV, which is close to the opposition alliance, was fined for transmitting political propaganda (by giving speeches from an election manifestation) without registering its intent to do so in advance. In some marginal constituencies the phantom parties could also tilt the balance, although they received few votes. Two of them bore names resemblling those used by the opposition alliance. The circumstances under which these small parties collected the signatures necessary to post candidates were more than doubtful - some of them received fewer votes than signatures. Some commentators revived the theories that the unification of the opoosition alliance resulted in loss of votes as the different constituents were alienating each-other's voters. There was no strong message - and no way to get the message home to the people, due to the communication difficulties outlined above. The result is now there - what to make of it, no one except the government knows.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Let's carry on - on the EU budget

Everybody likes to get money. But not too many like to give. The masters of the EU (who are, contrary to common belief, still the member states) gave the Union a moderate financial framework (this is how the long term budget is called in EUspeak) and 2014 budget. The negotiations were relatively successful for Hungary - it remains the second-third most supported country in terms of net balance per capita or by share of GDP. So now the Hungarians should be happy, shouldn't they? Well, the EU funds are well "earmarked", at least the area where they could be spent, is defined.You cannot spend European Social Fund money for economic development or infrastructure, only if there is a social benefit, and cohesion funds also have certain goals to be adhered to and also limitations. Rules of spending, documentation and accounting are not so simple. Partly this is due to the conditionality, adherence to which has to be checked. There is, however space for simplification. Increasing the flexibility in using the funds both concerning eligibility criteria and administrative requirements in beneficial but this should be done in a way that the possibility of fraud should be avoided. On the other hand, in spite of the short-term temptations, the real interest of the country is to prevent that EU funds should be used to distort competition as on the long term this means loss to Hungarian competitiveness to richer countries. Hungary is interested in simplification and also in decoupling the EU budget from conjunctural changes and spirit fluctuations between member states, thus also in giving the EU genuine own sources, for example from a future financial transaction tax or energy tax. This has nothing to do with the extraordinary taxes introduced in Hungary and probably would require their abolition which would actually help the Hungarian economy. Work is in progress and finally sme member state control and also mechanisms to equalise temporary fluctuations can be expected. The condition of agreement of the European Parliament to a decreased budget was more flexibility in reassigning funds and also a review to see if increases are necessary. Hungary should carefully follow this review and support an increase in the budget - improvement of economic conditions can be expected and thus more could be made available - benefiting the recipient countries, Hungary among them. Inevitably there will be a question, what the additional funds should be used for. Part of the funds was made available already to the youth employment programme - if more Hungarian regions could benefit from increasing its amount and lowering the threshold where it can be used, it would address a burning problem.