The Hungarian socialist-liberal party leaders on a unified party
It’s time to look into what’s going on in opposition circles. Here I’m thinking more in terms of personalities and not so much of parties.
The man most often mentioned as someone who might be able to unite the disparate opposition parties is Gordon Bajnai, who during his short tenure as prime minister proved to be a capable manager with a solid economic background. He became prime minister at a very difficult time in April 2009, and a year later when he turned over the reins of government to Viktor Orbán Hungary was in relatively good shape. In much better shape than the country is now.
Bajnai was never a KISZ member, and after 1990 he didn’t join a political party. So, it would be difficult to label him a communist. But if he could not be accused of being a communist who ruined his country, Fidesz found plenty wrong with him in other respects. Namely, his business activities. Between 2000 and 2005, he was CEO of Wallis Rt., an investment company. His duty was to restructure the company, make it more efficient, and manage its investments. Among the more than 100 companies Wallis owned there was a poultry processing firm, Hajdu-Bet, which went bankrupt in 2003 despite the best efforts of its management and owners. Many partners of Hajdu-Bet suffered serious losses when the poultry market collapsed in 2003. The Wallis group itself lost 10 billion forints (over 40 million Euros). News circulated about possible suicides linked to the bankruptcy among farmers, which of course people on the right blamed on Gordon Bajnai. Years later, when he started his political career, Bajnai was criticized for the Hajdu-Bet collapse, although he won lawsuits against media outlets for false accusations.
Fidesz to this day is afraid of Bajnai, who is currently more popular than Viktor Orbán. The few articles I collected in the right-wing press on Bajnai show that journalists supporting the government are trying their best to discredit him. Heti Válasz accused him of being in the pay of the Center for American Progress. Magyar Nemzet revealed that he was too friendly with former friends of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. One could ask: And so what? The same paper also mentioned that he offered himself as the next prime minister of Hungary to the IMF because, reasoned the journalist who wrote the article, Bajnai’s idea are very close to the alleged demands of the IMF for a loan to Hungary.
Although there is nothing specific yet, my feeling is that Bajnai as a candidate for prime minister of a united opposition in 2014 is a real possibility. The last time his name was mentioned in a specific way was about a month ago, when Péter Oszkó in an interview with Népszabadság said that in his opinion “Bajnai cannot postpone the decision much longer” whether he will re-enter politics or not.
Gábor Kuncze, former chairman of SZDSZ and minister of interior in the Horn government who two years ago declared that he had no intention of returning to politics, a few months ago indicated that he might have changed his mind. It was during an interview with Olga Kálmán. As I was watching the conversation I had the strong sense that Kuncze considers the situation so grave that he can no longer refuse participation. He is needed. A week ago he was even more specific. He told Olga Kálmán that “one feels when there is a public demand for his return.” Kuncze rather mysteriously announced that come September “we will certainly see movement” in the direction of inter-party conversations over a future “unified party ticket.”
Gábor Fodor (SZDSZ) has also become a great deal more active lately. He urged the leading politicians of the opposition to begin working on a program because, even if the parties eventually could come together, without a party program the new government cannot be successful. As an example the short-lived Slovak coalition government of Iveta Radicova is usually brought up. The parties in the coalition hadn’t worked out a program in advance. Once in power they began to squabble. The government collapsed within a year.
Ferenc Gyurcsány and his party, the Democratic Coalition, have always advocated a common platform. The latest manifestation of that resolve is an article by Tamás Bauer, deputy chairman of DK, in which he praises the coalition government of Gyula Horn who was wise enough to know that the country’s difficulties in 1994 were so great that the government needed a very large majority of the population behind it. MSZP had a majority in parliament with 33% of the popular vote, yet Horn turned to SZDSZ to form a coalition government. Thus Horn’s government had an absolute majority of voters behind it. Bauer’s message is clear: the new government will need very large and very strong support from the population. The tasks on hand are just too great.
For the time being it looks as if the majority of the MSZP politicians are thinking in terms of going it alone. There is one important exception, however: Ildikó Lendvai, former leader of MSZP. She freely admits that she is for a close association of parties and civic groups which together would form a model on which the return of Hungarian democracy would be based. Although political scientists and politicians talk about first strengthening individual parties and only later getting together, Lendvai thinks that such a course of action would be mistaken. “In the last minute one can pick up only the suitcases. If we start looking around and packing just before the trip we will miss the train.”
András Schiffer of LMP over the weekend talked about MSZP as a hopeless party unable to renew itself. Zsolt Molnár (MSZP) said a few ugly things about Ferenc Gyurcsány and the Democratic Coalition. Meanwhile Heti Válasz triumphantly announced that MSZP, LMP, the civic Solidarity, and a still non-existent party organized by Gábor Fodor refuse to accept Gordon Bajnai as long as the Democratic Coalition is in the pack. This last story is most likely only wishful thinking on the part of the right-wing weekly. But, there’s no question that there is a lot of ill will on the left, especially coming from LMP, that seems to be playing into the hands of Fidesz.
In any case, people are starting to think about a future Hungarian government that would be very different from the present one. ATV started a game of sorts: “The Great Hungarian Government.” Every day for four hours people can vote for members of the cabinet, prime minister, and president from a fairly long list of candidates. Up to date the fans of ATV voted for Péter Oszkó for finance minister, Gábor Kuncze for minister of the interior, and Kinga Göncz for minister of human resources. Tomorrow one can vote for the minister of agriculture. Of course, this is just a wish list of supporters of the socialist-liberal opposition. But it is fun. I assume that Gordon Bajnai will be the choice for prime minister and the runner-up will be Ferenc Gyurcsány.