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With six months to go until the elections, it's worth looking back to the run-up to the 1994, 1998 and 2002 elections. In each case, the government's impending defeat was clearer six months ahead of time than immediately before the election. The parliamentary see-saw has functioned impeccably so far.

One peculiarity of Hungarian politics is that, after losing an election, the losing party is always perplexed by its defeat. But this hand-over of power at four-year intervals reflects one of the few laws of modern political systems.

"The opposition, at least in constitutional terms, does not share power with the governing majority, but it can return to power at any moment, at the latest at the next elections. This prospect has a significant moderating effect on the government," said Pierre Manent in his book Political Philosophy for Adults. It would seem that Hungarian governments regularly forget this, and this "significant moderating effect" is in Hungary neither significant nor moderating. Here, the powers that be behave as if their power was god-given and their defeat would lead to a localised Armageddon.

Those in government can certainly dream about surviving beyond the parliamentary cycle, and there is much they can do to hold on to power. (They could govern well, for example). And there are indeed plenty of examples in strong democracies of voters re-electing a government. This has even happened in Eastern Europe (in Slovenia and Slovakia, for instance). But here (and in Poland), the pendulum has always swung back, crushing hopes of survival.

Of course, the see-saw can only be compared to a natural law with certain reservations. There is no question that a government will fall, but it is hard to predict when this will happen.

In Hungary, governments have survived only one parliamentary cycle thus far. In traditional democracies a 10-15% electoral swing leads to a "landslide defeat." The fifteen-year history of Hungarian parliamentary elections can be seen as the story of strengthening political bases. The proportion of "deserting voters" is falling continuously, making the competition ever closer and ever fiercer.

At the time of the regime change there was a consensus view that a regular hand-over of power was proof that democracy had been achieved. After all, before 1990 no government had ever been replaced by parliamentary elections in Hungary. In 1998, the Socialists and a weakened Free Democrat party faced the voters with a promise to "keep moving in the right direction." In 2002, Fidesz leaders argued that transition would come to a definitive end if the government were given another four years in which to carry out its plans (or "dreams" as they called them).

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