02 October 2006

Elections inside and outside the EU

Difficult lot, these Hungarians. It always seemed to me that their membership of the European Union may well signal the beginning of the end of that organization. (Of course, the real fun will start when Romania comes in as well, bringing with it the Transylvanian question. Heh!)

The Poles may not be happy about inadequate financing and no East European country is pleased with l’escroc Chirac’s lofty dismissal of their foreign policy but the Hungarians have brought an entirely new problem into European politics: they seem to be demanding that their politicians tell the truth. Of course, they may be demanding that their politicians do not admit to telling lies.

Whatever the truth is of that, we have seen riots in Budapest and a couple of other cities and, now, a significant vote against the government in the local elections. With a 53 per cent turn-out (the highest for local elections since the collapse of communism and considerably higher than Britain has had for local elections for many a long decade) the right-wing FIDESZ is poised to take control of 18 out of 19 counties and at least 15 of the 23 cities.

The highly respected President of Hungary, László Solyom, has publicly called for the Prime Minister’s resignation but the latter has in what must be a singularly well-predicted statement has refused to do so but has called for a vote of confidence in parliament, one that he is likely to win. He is, Prime Minister Gyurcsány maintains, the only man who can carry through the necessary reforms to bring the Hungarian economy to some approximation of what he has always maintained it was in reality.

Feelings will be running high for the rest of this month. The 23rd will see the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Hungarian Revolution and there have already been dark mutterings about students and trade unionists coming out on the streets.

The problem is that the Social-Democrats are little more than the old Communist Party that has redesigned itself (though without using green oaks as a logo). Their junior partner the Free Democratic Alliance was formed by the people who had been dissidents, well known in the West, but seen as little more than privileged offsprings of Communists who did well out of the post-1956 period.

There is a feeling, though it is hard to tell how widespread it is at the moment that the people who benefited from the suppression of the revolution will be leading a somewhat hypocritical tribute to the victims and martyrs, shedding crocodile tears over the many memorials.

Meanwhile, over the border in Austria
The conservative People's Party, led by Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, won 34.2 percent of the vote, a loss of 8 percentage points from the election in 2002. The Social Democrats won 35.7 percent, raising the prospect that their leader, Alfred Gusenbauer, could replace Schüssel as chancellor, perhaps in a grand coalition with the People's Party.
How this will pan out is unclear though the likelihood of a grand coalition is small. After all, the Austrians can look across the other border to Germany and watch the terminal decline of the grand coalition there.

The right-wing parties have done reasonably well, reflecting the frustration many Austrians have felt for some time with the ruling political elite’s reluctance to deal with the problems they think the country is facing.
For Jörg Haider, the flamboyant rightist leader whose party has been a partner in Schüssel's coalition government, the election was a close call with political extinction.

His party, the Alliance for Austria's Future, appeared to have held on to seats in Parliament, winning 4.2 percent of the vote, just above the required 4 percent threshold. If it had fallen below 4 percent - as pollsters predicted - Haider would have lost his presence in national politics.

The Freedom Party, which Haider led for two decades before quitting last year after a power struggle to start his new party, won 11.2 percent of the vote - a result that positions it to play a strong opposition role. It campaigned on a virulent anti-foreigner platform, calling for Austria to expel illegal immigrants and close the doors to new arrivals.

Placards for the Freedom Party's leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, depicted an Austrian flag over the slogan "Daham Statt Islam," a colloquialism that translates as "Home Instead of Islam."
As ever, it remains unclear whether it is East European immigration (about which the media prefers to write) that is upsetting people or immigration from further afield, probably by Muslims who might have no desire to assimilate at all. To be fair, one must admit, that like Germans, Austrians have made it very difficult for those immigrants who wanted to become part of the country and its society, to do so.

Outside the EU, Bosnia has gone to the polls to elect the government and parliament or, rather, the collection of governments and parliaments and assemblies, that will take over from the office of the international administrator in mid-2007.

While most of the Muslim-Bosnian and Croat politicians favour a reunification of the country and a more centralized government, the Serbs of the Republika Srpska want to continue with the division and may even call for a referendum on independence. (Interestingly enough, they were not that keen on referendums back in 1992 when Bosnia held one under European auspices on whether it should follow Croatia and Slovenia to independence. What goes around comes around.)

Serbia itself will hold parliamentary elections at the beginning of December after the late November referendum on the new constitution that has been passed overwhelmingly by parliament. Among other items, the constitution defines Kosovo, now administered by the UN, as an integral part of Serbia.