January in Central Europe: hope for a change?2 min read
January editorial. Saying that 2020 was challenging would be an understatement. In Central Europe, it was no different. Looking at the past year, apart from the Covid-19 outbreak, we have seen presidential elections conducted in the middle of the pandemic and widespread protests in Poland, as well asfurther restrictions on LGBT+ rights or media independence in Hungary, and further ignorance of the prime minister’s conflict of interest in the Czech Republic or the murder trial with Marian Kočner in Slovakia.
Most of these events have in common the distrust in the democratic institutions of the respective countries. Furthermore, they all show some of the division within their societies. However, we have also witnessed events that bring us hope for a change in the year(s) that lay ahead. One of them is the intent of the Hungarian opposition parties made public just before the Christmas holidays.
On December 21, the leaders of the six largest opposition parties announced that they will be joining forces in the 2022 parliamentary election. They will unite behind a joint prime ministerial candidate, coordinate in all electoral districts, and put together a common programme. According to opinion polls, the support for Fidesz has been declining, and the united opposition has the potential to defeat the incumbent party.
The opposition parties agreed to a set of principles based on which the joint candidates will be selected. For example, they all committed not to nominate candidates with a history of corruption practices or have cooperated with Fidesz. This coalition is partly a reaction to electoral law changes announced by the government in December, making it increasingly difficult for smaller parties to compete in parliamentary elections.
We can see a similar tendency in the Czech Republic, where the parliamentary elections are even closer. President Miloš Zeman has already announced (surprisingly far in advance) that elections will take place at the beginning of October 2021. The current leading party, ANO 2011, has been losing support over the handling of the second wave of Covid-19; however, it is still leading the polls. Apart from this, the leader of the populist party and Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has been criticised over his conflict of interest due to his ties to conglomerate Agrofert. While the European Commission confirmed that he breaches the domestic and EU legislature, his popularity seems unaffected. The opposition parties decided to form alliances and have recently announced two major coalitions. According to the latest polls, they should be able to challenge the current government and compete for the post of prime minister.
The respective coalitions in both countries will need to work hard in the following months. Even if they come out as winners, it will be difficult for them to rule effectively given the different obstacles made by the current governments. Still, the hope for a positive change remains, be it a different approach to corruption or human rights, or just simply seeing Victor Orbán and Andrej Babiš stepping down.