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UK Voters: Look to Turkey and Hungary!

Just not as smart as the Italians, the Turks or the Hungarians: Reflections on the relative immaturity of Britain’s political system.

December 10, 2019

Just not as smart as the Italians, the Turks or the Hungarians: Reflections on the relative immaturity of Britain’s political system.

Most Britons would rank their country’s political system as way more mature than that of Turkey and Hungary. That is actually a bedrock belief not just in the UK, but throughout the West.

And yet, there is an important reason for questioning this thinking. This is notably not due to all the Brexit-related contortion acts in recent years. Rather, it follows from an honest reading of the likely result of the December 12, 2019 general election in the UK.

While the opposition forces still hope for another hung parliament, the odds are that Johnson may gain a 30-plus seat majority in the House of Commons. That outcome would actually put him into his much-advertised position to “deliver Brexit.”

A key factor in that outcome, of course, is Jeremy Corbyn’s vanity to stand as a candidate for Prime Minister. There are several Labour politicians that could have pulled it off, but not Corbyn. He performed the unique trick of being even less popular than Boris Johnson.

The feeble political maturity of the UK

A significant majority of UK voters is opposed to Boris Johnson. Even so, they will find themselves confronted with a solid Tory majority.

This outcome is not due to any magic trick performed by Boris Johnson. It is the direct result of the failure among the opposition parties to come together to engage in the sufficient amount of tactical voting. Because of the UK’s first-past-the-post system, engaging in that practice is the only effective way to prevent a Tory majority.

The net effect of the failure to do this is stark: It points to a level of political maturity of UK opposition parties as well as voters that must be deemed below that of Turkey and Hungary these days.

The “Istanbul solution”

Let’s first look at Turkey. Earlier this year, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s authoritarian president, was hell-bent on installing another AKP representative as mayor of Istanbul. The city is Turkey’s by far most important and often considered the key stepping stone to hold political power throughout the country.

But in view of Erdogan’s scheming, a practical miracle happened. The Turkish opposition parties have long been notoriously disunited and have accordingly been picked off time and again by Mr. Erdogan.

However, recently they achieved not just the unexpected, but also what had long been deemed impossible. In order to limit Erdogan’s hold on political power over the nation, virtually all the parties (except for the nationalist rightwing MHP party) made a very sensible decision. They abandoned any plans to run their own candidate in the Istanbul mayoral election. Instead, to avoid splitting the anti-AKP vote, they rallied behind the CHP’s candidate.

On that basis, an improbable coalition – spanning from conservative Islamic parties all the way to the Kurds – emerged. And the CHP’s man, Ekrem Imamoglu, now serves as the city’s mayor. Such an act of enlightened political action as in Turkey should, in principle, also be possible in the UK.

The Budapest coalition

As is the case in Turkey, Hungary’s opposition parties are usually way more disunited than the UK’s. And like Erdogan, Viktor Orban rules his country – yes, he sees it very much as “his” country – with an iron fist.

Corruption has followed, with many of Orban’s old buddies enriching themselves under his rule, often by funneling EU funds their way. Worse yet, Orban is ardently pursuing a neutering of the judiciary, the media and the sciences. In short, he is determined to weed out the remnants of the opposition to him that still exists.

Under those circumstances, the outcome of the recent mayoral election in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest came as a real surprise. Orban’s favored candidate, Istvan Tarlos, did not win. Instead, Gergely Karacsony, the opposition candidate, won the closely fought race.

That’s a real shot of hope into the arms of many Hungarians who had just about given up hope on a future not dominated by Viktor Orban.


Given those particular circumstances, it would indeed be a grand testament to the vitality of democratic forces in Europe, from the Thames to Budapest all the way to the Bosporus, if Britain’s opposition forces managed to act as wisely and maturely as the Istanbul coalition and the new Budapest coalition did.

Perhaps British voters and opposition parties simply felt that the level of pain (from Brexit) was not large enough to focus their minds.


As some will remember, Boris’s great-grandfather, Ali Kemal, served as the Ottoman Empire’s last interior minister. As it happens, Boris’s ancestor ultimately met an ignominious personal fate — kidnapping and lynching — that one should wish on no one.

In a less deadly context, Boris Johnson’s Ottoman heritage makes clear that Byzantine political scheming and an unbending Ottoman taste for clinging to power is very much in his DNA.

To deal with that relentless hunger for power would have definitely required great determination and maturity among all UK parties and voters opposed to the “blond Turk.”

If Boris Johnson’s grand power schemes were indeed stopped by an Istanbul-style pact among the parties opposing him and the Tories, that would be a case of historical justice of sorts.

Let us dream about that for another day or so.


Britons – despite the Brexit maneuvers – would still rank their own country more mature and refined than Turkey, Hungary and Italy.

UK voters should look at the similarity among Boris Johnson, Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orban and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Johnson, Salvini, Orban and Erdogan are “mucho macho” politicians. They will go to any length to get to lead their country.

For all their legendary testosterone, Italy’s Salvini, Hungary’s Orban and Turkey’s Erdogan have recently met their matches.

It would be testament to the vitality of democratic forces in Europe if Britain’s opposition forces managed to act wisely and maturely.