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October 2011

Political prognosis

Even though the existence of a political 'vacuum' on the left has been evident since at least early 2010, until now, no significant political initiative has been launched to try to fill it. Thus, the decision of former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány to found a new party is the first such attempt by any political actor, with the potential to alter the dynamics of the Hungarian party system.

The creation of a Gyurcsány-party - the Democratic Coalition, or DK in Hungarian - is significant for two reasons. On the one hand, the party has the potential to become a credible force on its own right; unlike previous 'new parties', the DK actually has a chance to reach the 5 percent threshold. Even more important, the formation of a new political force on the left will have an important impact on all the opposition parties.

Despite the advantages the DK enjoys in comparison to previous attempts - most importantly, the high visibility of Ferenc Gyurcsány -, there are a number of hindrances the new party needs to tackle. The most important such difficulty concerns the visibility of the party: even with the high profile of Ferenc Gyurcsány, a new party will find it difficult to communicate its message - and indeed, its existence - to the voters in an unfriendly media environment.

The issue of visibility is strongly connected with the problem of name recognition. Even if many voters are aware that Ferenc Gyurcsány founded a new party, they might not recognise it as the Democratic Coalition. The role of Gyurcsány within the new organisation raises many similar problems. While to analysts and insiders, the paramount role of Gyurcsány within the party is evident, DK is frequently represented by other, less charismatic leaders, like Csaba Molnár, who is also in line to become the parliamentary group leader of the new formation. While it is understandable that the new party wishes to avoid the image of being a 'one man show', the price is the necessity to feature less well-known politicians.

The new party will also face a formidable challenge in finding media outlets receptive to its message. The 'mainstream' media will pose at least three thresholds for the new party: such media tend not to focus on politics in general; if they do, they tend to feature the governing parties more - and if they wish to portray critical voices, they most likely feature opposition parties from within the parliament. In addition to problems of communication, the new party will have infrastructural, organisational and financial difficulties as well.

We thus believe that capturing the support of 4-5 percent of the population would be a considerable achievement for the new party; higher support is very unlikely in the short term. However, this 4-5 percent could make the Democratic Coalition a relevant actor on the political left and in the negotiations about any future inter-party cooperation.

The most important consequence of the formation of the Democratic Coalition concerns its impact on the other opposition parties, most notably the Socialist Party. With its least popular politician gone, MSZP became more 'electable'. The Socialists also have a bigger room to manoeuvre vis á vis LMP - Politics Can Be Different - and any other nascent left-wing forces. However, the internal situation of the Socialists remains precarious and their leadership does not seem imaginative when it comes to formulating new ideas or initiatives. It is therefore possible that the party will not be able to take advantage of its improved position.