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No two countries in East Central Europe share the same experience of Communism. Parallels can be drawn between countries, groupings can be made and put into tiers, and data can be compared. But each country has a unique past which continues to make itself felt in the present day, despite the common direction the countries are taking towards a free market economy and multi-party democracy. Hungary, for example, has a more westward-leaning tradition than Yugoslavia does. Though their alliance with the Hapsburg Monarchy may have hindered the development of institutions of self-governance and a modern economy, that same tradition with Austria probably also helped it usher in the changes of 1989 more swiftly than many of its neighbors. The debate is still going on as to whether the Austrians did more harm than good for the country, but one thing is clear: Hungary has enjoyed a far less painful transition than many of its neighbors, including Yugoslavia. A comparison of the overall transition since 1989 in the two countries lies well beyond the scope of this paper; I intend, however, to look at the election systems, the most recent election outcomes and the major political powers in place in Hungary and Yugoslavia and draw some similarities between the opposition coalitions were formed.
In Hungary, all citizens above the age of 18 are eligible to vote. Though there are no controversial language requirements, voters must be in the country on the day of the election in order to participate. Hungarians traveling abroad for business or on vacation are excluded, as are those temporarily living in another country; there is no system in place similar to the American absentee ballot system that allows them to cast their vote if they find themselves beyond Hungary's borders on election day. Prisoners and those permanently residing in medical institutions are also excluded. Only those citizens making a positive and active contribution to society, then, have the privilege of casting a vote. The implication inherent in this law that Hungarians living or working overseas at the time of the election are not making any such contribution.
The outcome of national elections for Hungary's legislature is determined by a complex combination of simple majority and proportional representation systems. Of the 386 seats in the unicameral legislature, 176 are chosen from single-member constituencies and 152 are chosen from 20 distinct territorial multi-member constituencies, which follow the administrative county lines (in Hungarian megye, county).
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What this means for the voter is that he or she votes twice, once for an individual candidate to represent his/her district and once for a party that s/he feels most accurately represents his or her interests (the two votes need not be cast for the same party). The Hungarian system makes one thing clear: party affiliation is extremely important, and in practice more important than the stance the candidate may choose to take on particular issues, or other determining factors such as voter impressions of the moral character or leadership abilities of the candidate. This importance placed on party affiliation is born out within parliament as well, as one result of this system is extremely strict party discipline. The Hungarian election system is extremely complex and creates a sense of disenfranchisement in some voters. According to political scientist Barnabas Racz, "The rules deciding the results of the elections virtually make it impossible for the voters to visualise the outcome correctly" (Racz 1991). Furthermore, the complexity of the system has a significant impact on voter turnout: "The relatively high number of non-voters stayed away [in the 1990 Parliamentary elections] partly because they did not understand the system" (Racz 1991). However, the system does have positive aspects, primarily in the effective way it represents a wide variety of parties and thus political interests in parliament; in the transition from a single-party system, the Hungarian electoral system has succeeded in giving voice to a substantial variety of political ideologies. In contrast to the system in place in Yugoslavia, as we will see later, the Hungarian system allows for different political parties to gain power in successive elections, and more accurately represents the interests of voters while at the same time brings it closer to West European models of parliamentary power distribution.
Five major parties emerged after the May 1998 parliamentary elections. The Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz), which ran on a joint ticket with the Hungarian Civic Party (MPP); the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), which, along with the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKgP), forms the current government in a coalition with Fidesz-MPP; and the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP), which leads the opposition. MSzP was the ruling party from 1994-1998 under the leadership of Gyula Horn. Despite its failure to capture enough seats to form a government in the 1998 elections, MSzP currently has the largest popular following of any single political party in Hungary (Racz 2000). The other party of note, not for its political clout but for its presence in parliament for the first time, is the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP), the extreme right-wing party led by István Csurka.
Fidesz gained a name for itself quickly after its inception in 1988 with its age limit of 35 (presumably in order to keep out any established member of the communist party and to quickly establish its image as modern, young, and with an eye to the future). Some of its members, notably party president Viktor Orbán, was known for attending parliamentary sessions wearing blue jeans. In 1993 they dropped the age restriction and began a steady march towards the center of the political spectrum. Orbán has succeeded in restructuring the party in order to give it wider appeal, taking a page from the political playbooks of US President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In terms of his relative youth and charisma, he certainly falls into a similar category of energetic, charismatic, center-moving government leaders of the 1990's.
For the 1998 elections Fidesz joined forces with the Hungarian Civic Party (MPP) and ran on a joint ticket. After winning the elections Fidesz-MPP (hereafter referred to as Fidesz) formed a decidedly right-of-center coalition government with the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) and the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKgP). Orbán's transformation of Fidesz is now complete, and as if to solidify support of the right, he made public statements tinged with populist flavor and which normally come from the far-right of the political spectrum. He "champions the ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary in ways that unnerve Romania and Slovakia, where most of them live….And all good Hungarians should, like him, have three children" ("Is Central Europe…." 1998). This last statement plays on the fears of some Hungarians that, with the declining birth rate in that country, the major forces in society will increasingly be in the hands either of foreigners or Roma and Jewish populations in Hungary.
MDF, a right of center nationalist group, won decidedly in the 1990 elections and held the government for four years, winning 165 seats in parliament in the first open multi-party elections. After harsh transitional economic policies were introduced, the party was swept aside by MSzP, which promised a kinder, more gentle transition to a free market economy. Like other countries in East Central Europe in the early 1990's, Hungary was facing price increases, inflation and growing unemployment, and no doubt the difficult conditions of those years made the political arena ripe for takeover by a group promising to ameliorate the dire living conditions. The left, in the form of reconstructed communist party, MSzP, was the group to capitalize on that near universal discontent in 1994.
Together with MDF, FKgP forms the coalition government currently in place in Budapest. FKgP is decidedly conservative and has its roots in 1989 with the primary aim of returning collectivized land to its rightful owners, the farmers who work the land. They also favor subsidies and other state protection such as price guarantees for agricultural goods, and their primary base of support is found in rural areas of the country. Under the leadership of József Torgyán, the party also calls for the slowdown of foreign investment in the country, fearing foreign economic domination. "Hungary is not for sale!" and "We defend Hungarian soil from foreign ownership!" are two of their frequent campaign slogans (Racz 2000). For a country with a history ripe with foreign occupation and domination, from the Ottomans to the Austrians to the Nazis to the Soviets, this message resonates with many Hungarians today. Why should they make sacrifices to join the EU and attract foreign investment, when it will simply end up to be another, albeit indirect, form of foreign domination?
The Communist party of Hungary, called the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party (MSzMP), disappeared in 1989, but many of the major figures of the party joined together to form the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP). Similar to the trend in other former Communist countries, in the first round of elections the socialists lost handily in favor of a more right-leaning, vocally non-Communist party formation (MDF). Though they suffered in the first round of elections from an association with the past, after the harsh economic consequences of initial reforms that took place between 1990 and 1994, MSzP was in a good position to stage a comeback for the 1994 elections. And come back they did, winning 209 of the available 386 seats in parliament and 33% of the popular vote.
The other party worth mentioning for its surprising success in 1998 rather than its overall political strength, is the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP). For the first time they have a voice in Hungarian parliament, having captured 14 seats during the recent elections. They easily passed the 5% threshold of popular votes in order to enter parliament. Called a neo-nazi group by some, they are the most alarming of the extreme political groups in Hungary. "Conspicuously anti-Semitic, the party believes the country's national revival is being thwarted by a 'Jewish-Bolshevik-liberal conspiracy' and advocates a recovery of Hungary's pre-1914 borders" (Banks et. al. 1999). The only group that voted against Hungary's decision to join NATO, the growing presence of MIÉP in the political forum is a cause of concern for many observers, particularly those in the West.
Following a similar pattern to that in Poland in the 1997 elections, which saw the return of a restructured Solidarity party, the outcome of parliamentary elections in Hungary marked a reversal of power in parliament from the previous four years, in which MSzP was the ruling party. Fidesz won 148 seats in parliament in the May 1998 elections; the runner-up, MSzP, gained only 134 (see Appendix). As László Andor points out, however, the results of the elections had more to do with a unified right than any major difference in popular votes received. Though MSzP won an almost identical portion of the popular vote in 1994 and 1998 (roughly 33%), it was good enough for only 134 seats in parliament in 1998, compared with the 209 garnered in 1994 (Andor 1998). Indeed, MSzP won a higher percentage of the popular vote than any other single party, yet they are not in control of the government. To Americans, this is a familiar story.
Nevertheless, Orbán's plan of joining with MPP paid off. The returns were surprising to some. Given Hungary's economic progress relative to most of its neighbors in the region, and foreign relations success in the 1994-1998 period (with an invitation to NATO formally extended and that to the EU all but offered), it is difficult to claim that the response of the electorate was similar to that in 1994, which saw a backlash against the party in power due to the harsh stabilization measures taken and a call for a slow-down in the transformation process. Horn's government was by most accounts quite effective in taking measures to ensure economic development in the 1994-1998 period. The country's account-deficit shrank from 9.5% of GDP in 1994 to just 2.2% in 1998. Foreign investment continued to created jobs, and inflation was largely kept in check. "In the European Bank's latest economic report-card, Hungary comes top in all nine tests of progress, from privitisation to legal reform. Among the five East European countries set to join the EU in the first intake, Hungary is now almost certainly the best qualified" ("Will They…" 1998).
However, this success was not enough to ensure a return of MSzP to parliament. Two major reasons for this can be identified. One, despite the relative economic success of Hungary in the past few years, there is still a growing gap between the haves and have-nots, and the differences are highly visible. By one count, nearly one-fifth of the country's population lives in poverty (Woodard 1998). So while the macroeconomic indicators for the country appear healthy and are particularly pleasing for western investors and those in the West advocating European integration, the benefits have yet to reach a majority of Hungarians in a meaningful way, and the 1998 election results may have reflected this fact. Second, an increase in the opposition's ability to organize rather than any dramatic swing in voter preference that caused the switch in government. As we have seen, MSzP won nearly the same portion of the popular vote in 1998 as they did in 1994. But due to Fidesz's adept march towards the center of the political spectrum, creating a wider appeal in the electorate, and its ability to form a coalition with political parties with decidedly different ideologies than their own, the new conservative coalition was able to capture a majority of the seats in parliament and form a government.
Fidesz has shown a political acumen not yet seen in Hungary. Its steady march to the right, along with the ability to join forces with groups unlike themselves, shows a degree of agility and effectiveness rare in young democracies like Hungary. Fidesz sees itself as the new right, a catch-all group willing to absorb other right-leaning parties regardless of their political values on issues. Opportunism is the game that Fidesz has apparently mastered. In the process the party has become harder to define and difficult to place on the political spectrum. It is worth pointing out that seats are less evenly divided among individual parties today compared with the 1994-1998 period, and this may point to a trend of consolidation in Hungarian politics. The Christian Democrats, for example, went from 22 seats in Parliament in 1994 to zero today (see Appendix). If MSzP follows suit by absorbing other liberal parties such as SzDSz for the next round of elections, it might lead to a stand-off between a fewer but larger and broader parties that by their nature dominate the halls of Parliament. This would inevitably lead to a decrease in the different political interests represented in the legislature, and would be regrettable.
Did the results in 1998 reflect a popular dissatisfaction with the status quo, or simply a higher degree of political craftiness among the parties of the opposition? Surely some combination of the two factors is the case, but one thing is clear: the common impulse Fidesz shared with MDF and FKgP at the time of the election was their opposition status rather than any ideological similarity. Orbán succeeded in transforming Fidesz's image so that they could incorporate a wider portion of the electorate. They joined forces with other right-wing groups in order to replace MSzP in parliament, and their strategy worked. This common effort of the opposition to throw out the current government, and forming coalitions in order to make sure it happens, may not be a mark of a mature multi-party democracy, one with a wide range of ideological views represented in the legislature. But, it is a trend that we also see to Hungary's south, in the recent elections that took place in Yugoslavia. There, an even broader opposition coalition was needed to topple the socialist government in power.
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY)is the continuation of Communist Yugoslavia (called the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, or SFRY), which was comprised of six independent countries in a federation. Today, after a decade of bloodshed in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, and most recently in Kosovo, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia consists of two republics, Serbia and Montenegro. Kosovo and Vojvodina are provinces of Serbia, which is the dominant republic in the federation. Since Serbia dominates the political climate of Yugoslavia (and arguably has done so ever since Tito grasped power after World War II) often the Serbian government and that of Yugoslavia are used interchangeably, which is technically incorrect, though usually appropriate in practice. All the leading political parties discussed below are Serbian parties rather than federal political parties, which have not yet successfully formed a presence in Yugoslav politics (Banks et. al. 1999). The election I will focus on here is the federal presidential election that took place on September 24, 2000, which is the first direct election of the Yugoslav president. Previous to July 6, 2000 the Yugoslav president was elected by parliament (Yugoslavia: General Information… 2001).
The Yugoslav election law requires voters to be Yugoslav citizens, 18 years of age and be living in Yugoslavia on the day of elections. The bicameral legislature is comprised of the upper Chamber of Republics (Vece Republika) and the lower Chamber of Citizens (Vece Gradjana), and legislators are chosen by proportional representation. The Chamber of Republics is composed of 40 members equally divided by representatives from Montenegro and Serbia. The lower house is composed of 138 members, 108 from Serbia and 30 from Montenegro. The Yugoslav President was elected by parliament until the new election law of July 6, 2000 stipulated they be direct elections by the people. The law was changed by Miloševic in a bid to call early elections and thus hold onto power. As we later see, his plan backfired.
The influential political forces that make up the Yugoslav political spectrum are few, and are generally dominated by the personalities that lead those parties. The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), led by Slobodan Miloševic, is the reconstruction of the League of Communists of Serbia (SKJ), which was the only legal party of Yugoslavia from 1952-1989. It was Tito's party until his death in 1980, and after the fall of Communism in 1989, its successor party (SPS) has been led by Slobodan Miloševic . During the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s the party made steady steps toward nationalist policies. One of Miloševic's main tools for keeping power was making Serbia and Serbians living throughout the former Yugoslav nations appear to be the victims of violent aggression by other ethnicities in the Federation. He repeatedly drew attention to the suffering and death of Serbians at the hands of Croatians and Muslims, claiming they were bent on repeating their fascistic ways or waging religious warfare, respectively, all at the expense of Serbs. There was historical precedent for Croatian aggression towards Serbians from the Ustashe forces during World War II, and in speeches and through his control of the media, he provoked nationalist sentiment and hatred of non-Serbs in order to retain his grip on power. At the same time, he helped more radical Bosnian Serbs wage war through his control of the Yugoslav army.
As part of his political move towards nationalism, he moved his party closer to the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), which explicitly advocates the platform of a "Greater Serbia" and is led by the militant Vojislav Šešelj. Though the SPS-SRS tie didn't last long, it was enough for Miloševic to confirm his nationalist credentials. As head of the SPS, Miloševic won the 1990 and 1992 Serbian Presidential elections and in 1997 was elected President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by the Yugoslav Parliament.
Until the September 2000 elections parties opposing SPS have been unable to organize a united force. The Democratic Party (DS), led by Zoran Djindjic , has its roots in the post-World War I governing party and holds a commitment to a multiparty political system, human rights, and freedom of the press (Banks et. al. 1999). Though it was part of the "Together" (Zajedno) Alliance in 1996 with other opposition parties, that soon fell apart and it wasn't until the most recent elections that Djindjic was able to gain a base broad enough to gain significant political power. The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), led by Vojislav Koštunica, was also part of the "Together" Alliance along with the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) led by Vuk Draškovic. Draškovic and the alliance gained publicity by organizing popular demonstrations during the winter of 1996-1997, which were in protest to the refusal by Miloševic to acknowledge opposition gains in municipal elections in Serbia. That demonstration saw more than 100 consecutive days of peaceful protest in the streets of Belgrade and gathered hope that the voice of the people would be acknowledged by Miloševic. But Miloševic responded in a typically opportunistic move by co-opting Draškovic into his government, eventually making him deputy prime minister in 1999.
It wasn't until last year that the opposition forces could organize a real threat to Slobodan Miloševic. It came in the form of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), a very broadly based alliance of eighteen opposition parties. It was created for the sole purpose of winning the 2000 elections forcing Miloševic from power. There is little else that unites them. The alliance raised Vojislav Koštunica as its candidate for President and is formed from the above-mentioned DSS, DS, SPO and other divergent groups such as the Christian Democratic Party and four parties from the ethnic Hungarian-heavy Vojvodina region. Notably absent in the alliance are parties from Montenegro and Kosovo, but this is easily explained in that the September elections were boycotted in those regions (Yugoslavia: General Information… 2001). According to DOS's website, it pledges a "return to Europe" with membership in international organizations such as the IMF and World Bank as being important to the future prosperity of Yugoslavia. Within the first 100 days in office they promise to pass anti-corruption legislation and serious economic reform, importantly including a transparent privatization process (Program of the… 2001). But the September election was clearly more about removing Slobodan Miloševic from office than it was about party platforms and political ideology. It is clear that DOS is striving for European integration with a keen eye on an end to sanctions and further western aid. But the immediate goal of removing Miloševic from power was certainly foremost on their minds.
Politics in Yugoslavia are dominated by strong personalities. Djindjic and Koštunica may not be natural allies, but last year marks the second time they joined forces (the first was for the "Together" Alliance in 1996). During the campaign they emphasized truth and fairness, and they represented for many people the adherence to the rule of law. Koštunica himself is a law professor, and Djindjic pledged their campaign would spread the truth about the country's present situation. "We shall go from town to town and explain to people why things are not better, we shall tell them the truth" (Kratovac 2000). Both resist sending Miloševic to the Hague to face war crimes charges. When asked about sending Miloševic to the Hague, Djindjic shows an understanding of Miloševic's tendency to play the victim: "[Miloševic ] shouldn't be made a victim because he is not a victim. He is a criminal," he says ("Serbia's Next…" 2000). But they agree he must be held responsible for the pain he has inflicted on his country and the crimes he has committed including election fraud, corruption and ordering the murder of Yugoslav citizens. As I write, it seems that action has been taken toward that very thing; the latest reports claim Miloševic has been arrested and is in federal custody (Erlanger 2001). The timing is interesting, as the action was carried out on the deadline the US had issued for decisive action to be taken towards arresting Miloševic. Half of the $100 million American aide package was being held until that condition was met. Now, it seems that the Yugoslav government is willing to respond to Western calls for action.
The outcome of the September Presidential election was rife with controversy. There were allegations of election-rigging by Miloševic supporters, and Miloševic tried to force a run-off election, claiming Koštunica hadn't won a majority of the votes. But after popular protest, which included storming the Parliament building in Belgrade and taking over the state television building, and a refusal by the army to stamp out the uprising, Miloševic accepted defeat on October 5. DOS claimed 58 seats in the Council of Citizens with just over 50% of the vote (Federal Republic… 2001), and Koštunica was proclaimed the President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
A coalition of 18 parties is high, even by East European standards, and seems fairly unstable due to the wide array of political interests it represents. However, DOS has stayed united long enough to participate in and win the December 23, 2000 Serbian Parliamentary elections. These elections were crucial because they sealed the political fate of Miloševic, who never left his position as head of the SPS and could have potentially staged a comeback in the future. DOS captured 176 of the Serbian Assembly's 250 total. Miloševics's SPS gained just 14% of the popular vote and 37 seats ("Yugoslavia-What's Left of it…." 2001).
That such a broadly-based and diverse coalition was necessary to finally oust Miloševic from power points to the strong grip of control that he had on the politics of the country for so long. But the diversity of the coalition, and the ultimate success it saw points also to a recognition on the part of the people that Miloševic, far from being the savior of the Serbian people and victim of foreign powers of oppression, was the primary cause of Yugoslavia's problems during the past decade. As such, the toppling of Miloševic by a broad based coalition of opposition forces carries with it more legitimacy than if, for example, he and his party had been ousted by a singularly strong party led by one key opposition figure.
Both in Hungary and in Yugoslavia we saw a decisive reversal of power in the most recent elections. The previous government was cast aside in favor of new and younger faces. In both cases (MSzP in Hungary and SPS in Yugoslavia) the parties losing power were left-of-center socialist parties, and are in fact the reconstruction of the Communist political parties under Socialism. Are the recent elections a sign that those two countries are finally ready to move beyond their Communist pasts? It's probably not that simple. In Hungary, MSzP has already been through the win-lose cycle, and now is part of the opposition and sits firmly left-of-center on the political spectrum. They are well-organized and enjoy a wide base of popular support. SPS, on the other hand, is just now seeing its first parliamentary defeat. In Yugoslavia, SPS will have to undergo a serious retrenchment and try to distance itself from its former leader if they hope to compete in the political arena anytime soon. Depending on the outcome of Miloševic's recent arrest, the party may not survive at all, its members choosing instead to join other parties or form a spin-off of the party.
The recent elections in Hungary and Yugoslavia do share one important element, however: they both saw an extremely wide-based opposition coalition defeat the incumbent party. In both countries parties with no natural ideological bonds came together for the sole reason to remove the existing power from office. In Yugoslavia it was out of desperation, in an effort to get rid of the man who had been the cause of the country's suffering for more than a decade. In Hungary, on the other hand, the opposition coalition was the result of Fidesz's political savvy, alliance-building and carefully measured deal-making. The rise of Fidesz, far from DOS's "throw out the bum!" momentum, is a sign of a political system quickly approaching full maturity. However, repeated switches from right to left in successive elections surely points to a system that has not yet fully developed. Hungary is no doubt further on its way than is Yugoslavia, which only in recent months has had its first chance at a stable, multi-party parliamentary system. One can only hope that successive elections in Yugoslavia go as smoothly as any Hungarian election of the 1990s. Perhaps the major political forces in Belgrade can learn about peaceful, sustainable election systems from their neighbors to the north.
1. I have used the Hungarian acronyms and party names instead of their English
equivalents; please see appendix for a list of the English-language equivalents.
2. As László Andor points out, the Constitutional Court's ruling that MIÉP would be
allowed to enter parliament as a faction was significant; normally, 15 seats are
required. Faction status gives a party the right to sit on important parliamentary
committees such as the media oversight committee. Thus, for the first time in
Hungary, the makeup of parliament was determined not only by the electorate but by
the country's high court (Andor 1998).
3. The US has never formally recognized the existence of FRY (see Serbia and Montenegro
2001) since it declared itself the legal continuation of the former SFRY on February
4. It is important to note that the elections were boycotted by both Montenegro and the
people in Kosovo. Though boycotts generally throw some doubt on the legitimacy of
election results, given the strong anti-Miloševic sentiment in Kosovo and the
prevalence of independence-minded Montenegrins, their nonparticipation seems only to
reiterate the strength of the election results and solidifies their legitimacy. Had
they participated, the outcome probably would have been even more decisive in favor
of the opposition.
English party acronyms and their Hungarian equivalents:
AYD/Fidesz == Alliance of Young Democrats
HCP/MPP == Hungarian Civic Party
MSP/MSzP== Hungarian Socialist Party
ISP/FKgP== Independent Smallholders' Party
HTLP/MIÉP== Hungarian Truth and Life Party
HDF/MDF == Hungarian Democratic Forum
AFD/SzDSz== Alliance of Free Democrats
CDP/KDNP== Christian Democratic People's Party
Election results in Hungary in 1994 and 1998:
Party: 1994/ 1998
Fidesz-MPP= 20/ 148
MSzP = 209/ 134
FKgP = 26/ 48
MIÉP = 0 / 14
MDF = 37/ 17
KDNP = 22/ 0
SzDSz = 70/ 24
Other = 2 / 1
Source: The Economist 1998: 25
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