When Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister and the leader of Fidesz (Hungarian Civic Alliance), lost the General Elections in 2002, his advisor of the time Jozsef Debreczeni said Orban had drawn one conclusion from this election result:
“This democracy thing, where power can slip so quickly from you, was no good.”
Despite gaining 13 of the 21 European Parliament seats in May 2019 and having secured another term of four years in Hungarian Parliament on April 2018, losing the control of Budapest and ten other major cities to the opposition parties in the last weekend’s Local Elections set alarm bells ringing for Orban. Furthermore, in light of the quote above, we can note that Orban might be treating open and free election as a threat to his grip on political power. Since Orban cannot ban elections or make them less conclusive, as this is the only functioning aspect of democracy, we see in Orban’s self-described illiberal democracy. He is expected to continue with his anti-migrant policies, increasing domination of the media and promote a centralised political structure.
Whereas in the Polish General Elections last week, the Law and Justice Party (PiS) kept its majority in the Sejm (235 out of 460), the lower house of the Polish Parliament. As Poland is heading for a Presidential Election in 2020, the Alliance of the opposition political parties is a serious concern for the PiS. Like Orban, Kaczynski enjoys his grip on political power; and has also already begun to strategise about how to win the next battle.
I think we can more or less guess what these two powerful men will do in the next months and years, but what is important is to highlight the opposition political parties. Based on my observations of the Mayoral elections in Istanbul of Turkey in 2019, I like to make a couple of points about forming alliances between political parties be that in Hungary or Poland or Turkey:
(i) So that the alliances are a long-lasting and effective force, the ultimate aim of the alliances should not be to get rid of Orban in Hungary and Kaczynski in Poland. It should be something more significant than that. It should be value-driven, based on solid grounds, on which a narrative can be produced to reach out to as many voters as possible.
(ii) Individual political parties must be honest with each other about what their expectations are from the Alliance. It is only expected of the political parties that each stands for different values, but in a coalition, they should be able to find common grounds on some essential political values and beliefs.
(iii) They should be able to stand on the same side on contentious policy areas: immigration, employment and social affairs, and the environment, depending on the sensitivities of the countries concerned.
Ultimately what is essential is that the Alliance should be able to offer new, uniting, and problem-solving and less contentious policies based on values/principles, other than being a force against the status quo.
To answer this, I need to go back to the Turkish case.
When the opposition political parties in Turkey including the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Good Party (IP) and others allied in May 2018, the ultimate aim was to give a good kick to the directly elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Particularly in the second-time run Mayoral Elections in Istanbul in June 2019, the Kurdish People’ Democratic Party (HDP) also supported this Alliance. It is thanks to the Kurdish votes; the current Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu won the elections. This outcome helped the Alliance feel that together they can win the Presidential Elections in 2023, with Imamoglu as their potential candidate.
As far as I can observe, things do not look that promising anymore for the Alliance in Turkey. I am not sure about how it will all unfold in Turkish politics in the next fours years, but after Turkey’s incursion of Northern Syria only a couple of weeks ago, where predominantly Kurds live, there seems to be appearing cracks in the opposition’s Alliance. On the day of the invasion, Istanbul Mayor tweeted how proud he was about the Turkish soldiers’ efforts in Syria, ultimately turning his back on the sensitivities of the Kurdish population in Turkey. I am not here to speculate about what would have been the right course of action for Imamoglu, ultimately the Alliance have lost the Kurdish votes.
They lost the Kurdish votes because:
(i) the coalition aimed to have one over Erdogan; shared political values were not the driving force;
(ii) partners of the Alliance were not honest with each other; neither the Kurds made it clear what their expectations were from this partnership nor the CHP, the biggest partner in this Alliance, treated the Kurdish votes with dignity; and
(iii) none of the partners of the Alliance was on the same side with the essential and contentious policy areas.
Ultimately the leaders who enjoy the feel-good factor of the political power will always look for areas where the partners of the opposition alliance do differ. Finally, when they find it, they will work towards deepening those differences, until there is not an Alliance to stand against it.