CEE democracy ‘in mortal danger’ or illiberalism facing a backlash?


National Endowment for Democracy

Democracy is in mortal danger in Poland, in part because of the failure of the opposition, says a leading analyst. Here is a government that spreads unsupported conspiracy theories, is doubling down on a vicious culture war against sexual minorities, and has been fiercely criticized by international institutions that continue to be highly popular in the country, notes YASCHA MOUNK, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, and a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

Why has a relatively united and professional opposition proved so powerless to orchestrate a broader majority against it? asks Mounk, the author of The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It, and contributor to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy. After traveling to Poland a few weeks ago, I came away with three overlapping explanations, he writes for the Atlantic:

Hungary’s opposition parties are banding together for the first time in local elections in a bid to push back against the power of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose party has won seven back-to-back nationwide contests, notes Bloomberg analyst Zoltan Simon. A strong showing on Oct. 13, particularly in the capital Budapest, could give the opposition momentum for the 2022 parliamentary election. Failure to reclaim some big cities would point to a likely fifth term for the standard-bearer of European right-wing populists, he writes for the Washington Post:

  • Why do these elections matter? Orban returned to power in 2010 after an earlier four-year stint and proceeded to build a regime that concentrated power to a degree unprecedented in the European Union. That prompted the bloc to launch a probe over Hungary’s erosion of the rule of law. Orban’s avowedly “illiberal” politics meld nationalism, cultural conservatism and a powerful central government. …
  • Why are people comparing Budapest to Istanbul? Hungary’s opposition has drawn inspiration from the shock outcome in Istanbul’s mayoral race earlier this year, when the candidate backed by autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lost the vote. Orban and Erdogan are friends and allies who both reject liberal European values and believe in a strong executive. During his campaign, Karacsony visited the new mayor in Erdogan’s former stronghold to compare notes on how to win an election against an outsized opponent. …

  • Would big opposition gains spell the end of Orban? Hardly. Fidesz is still the most popular party in Hungary and has especially strong grass-root support in rural areas. The EU’s fastest economic growth, coupled with surging wages, have also helped create an aura of political invincibility around Orban. Success in local elections would give opposition parties a shot at chipping away at that. But even if they manage an upset, the real battles lie ahead….RTWT

Similarly, in Poland…..

Law and Justice seems certain to emerge as the biggest party from Sunday’s poll. However, Poland’s electoral system means that, depending on how many parties make it into parliament, it could still end up short of a majority, the FT’s and Agata Majos report from Wlodawa:

This leaves a faint possibility that a broad — though probably unstable — coalition of opposition parties could club together to try and form a government. Mobilisation will be key for all parties, and Mr Kaczynski has taken to finishing rallies by imploring his supporters not just to vote, but to persuade their friends to do so too….The most likely outcome, however, remains that the 70-year-old Mr Kaczynski will be given the chance to continue his crusade to reshape Poland.

“It’s not a done deal,” says Aleks Szczerbiak, professor of politics at the University of Sussex. “It really does matter whether Law and Justice gets an overall majority. Because if it doesn’t there is a serious chance that there could be an alternative government formed.”

“If PiS wins the election, they will … finish the capture of the courts and, most importantly, they will probably find some legal way to take over private media through ownership requirements. That will be pretty much the end of constitutional democracy,” according to Professor Wojciech Sadurski, author of Poland’s Constitutional Breakdown.*

“Maybe it’s a bit exaggerated but when we look at Orban’s Hungary we are going more or less in the same direction,” says Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at the University of Warsaw.  “A central state providing care from birth . . . to retirement . . . But also a state that controls how you are supposed to live, with whom you are supposed to live, and what should be the model of your family.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email