MSZP campaign at home and abroad. Part I
I’m really looking forward to the political polls that can be expected sometime in the middle of February. It seems that the pollsters don’t publish their findings in January, most likely because of the extended holidays at the end of the year.
I’m curious about the results because I have been noticing a quickening pace of activities on the part of the Hungarian Socialist party (MSZP). As I see it, the campaign has begun and on many fronts, both at home and abroad. Because let’s not forget about the 300,000 new citizens living abroad who are now eligible to vote in the Hungarian elections.
It’s no wonder that the government party immediately began a smear campaign against the chief MSZP adviser, Ron Werber from Israel, who was hired by the socialists to assist them in their 2014 election campaign. Werber’s influence was immediately noticeable. As of yesterday, over-sized posters appeared throughout the country with pictures of György Matolcsy and Rózsa Hoffmann. The choice of these two was wise because their activities are widely criticized even within Fidesz circles, but I have the feeling that a poster featuring Viktor Orbán is not long in coming. One could also read about the training of hundreds of MSZP activists who will be in charge of individual electoral districts. It will be their job to mobilize local supporters of the party to get in touch with every voter and convince them that MSZP’s program is worth voting for.
Well, it is time that MSZP woke up to the fact that their old-fashioned campaign strategies no longer work. As Ron Werber pointed out, it is not enough for a few MSZP leaders to make an appearance on ATV or chat on Klubrádió. It is also useless to stand on street corners hoping to pass out a few leaflets. MSZP should have learned something from Fidesz and the strategy it adopted years ago.
Fidesz immediately attacked Ron Werber whose advice in 2002 resulted in a narrow victory for MSZP and SZDSZ while everybody, including Viktor Orbán, expected a sure Fidesz victory. Fidesz’s criticism of Werber has always had a slight anti-Semitic edge. But Fidesz also works with Israeli and Jewish-American advisers, George E. Birnbaum and Arthur Finkelstein, who have conservative parties in the United States and worldwide as clients. Their latest job was to advise Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in connection with the current Israeli election. It seems that Israeli and/or Jewish advisers are cheap Fidesz targets only if they work for MSZP.
Werber describes himself as a “widely recognized expert on political and communication strategies, … grassroots work and community mobilization.” This is exactly where MSZP is weak. Werber, who now spends two days a week in Hungary, gave the socialists a pep talk (or, perhaps better described, a talking to, four-letter words included) a couple of days ago. Werber told the MSZP leaders not to whine but to get to work. Népszabadság translated one of Werber’s descriptions of the socialists at the moment as “egy nagy rakás szerencsétlenség” which more or less means “futzing around” without producing any results. Well, it is a little bit stronger.
There is a change in MSZP strategy with regard to its relations with Hungarian political parties in the neighboring countries. The largest Hungarian minority exists in Romania, but the number of Hungarians in Slovakia, especially along the Slovak-Hungarian border, is also considerable. Relatively few Hungarians live in Ukraine and Serbia.
In Romania there is no question that Fidesz is the most popular party among Romanian Hungarians. According to a poll conducted by the Hungarian Political Capital and Kvantum Research of Romania (Cluj-Kolozsvár) a year ago, 55% of Transylvanian Hungarians support Fidesz while 35% are undecided. Jobbik, although a lot of people claimed that the party’s support was growing among Romanian Hungarians, is really minuscule, and support for MSZP and LMP is no better. Hungarian Slovaks don’t figure here because according to Slovak law holding two citizenships is illegal. Anyone who takes out Hungarian citizenship automatically loses his original Slovak one.
In a referendum on December 5, 2004 Hungarian voters rejected granting expedited citizenship to Hungarians living in the neighboring countries. Citizenship would have enabled them to carry a “Hungarian ID” (magyar igazolvány) that would have entitled them to certain financial privileges within Hungary. In the end, the referendum was not valid because neither the supporters nor those who objected to the expedited procedure managed to reach the requisite 25% mark (that is, 25% of the entire electorate). Otherwise, those who cast their votes were split on the issue (51.57% for and 48.43% against).
In 2004, with Ferenc Gyurcsány in the lead, the government conducted a campaign against the Fidesz-supported Hungarian ID and expedited citizenship privileges for ethnic Hungarians. The reason was their fear of what has actually happened since: Fidesz would eventually grant voting rights to the new citizens who know very little about the politics in Hungary and who are by and large fully committed to the right-wing Fidesz. Viktor Orbán swore that they had no such long-range plans yet, as we know, after the 2010 elections one of the first pieces of legislation granted fast-track citizenship and with it voting rights to ethnic Hungarians.
It has been known for a long time that Fidesz counts on these new votes at the coming elections. István Mikola, minister of health in the first Orbán administration, made the mistake of divulging the party’s belief that once the Hungarians living in the neighboring countries get the vote “Fidesz will be in power for the next twenty years.” This slip embarrassed the party and in 2010 Mikola was shipped off to Paris to become Hungary’s ambassador to France.
In the last two and a half years, Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister in charge of the Hungarian government’s relations with the churches and with the Hungarian minorities living outside the borders of the country, has been busily recruiting new voters. By some estimates, by the time of the 2014 election there will be half a million new citizens eligible to vote if they so desire. But lately, it seems, the enthusiasm for collecting votes from abroad has waned somewhat. There are several possible explanations for the decreased zeal. One is that dual citizenship, especially with voting rights, has never been popular in Hungary, and that includes even Fidesz supporters. The argument is that outsiders don’t have to suffer the consequences of their decisions unlike the domestic voters who do. Another is that political analysts came to the conclusion that the foreign vote might be able to influence the outcome of at most one or two seats in parliament and therefore all that effort will bring meager results. Miklós Hargitai of Népszabadság added that Fidesz doesn’t want to encourage the growing number of young expatriates living in western European countries to cast ballots. These people “voted with their feet” already and most likely would vote again. And the party of their choice would not be Fidesz.
In any case, MSZP decided to change course and court the Hungarians of Transylvania. Attila Mesterházy and a high-level MSZP delegation traveled to Cluj/Kolozsvár to meet the leadership of RMDSZ (Román Magyar Demokrata Szövetség), the largest Hungarian party in Romania. Mesterházy formally apologized for MSZP’s opposition to fast-track citizenship procedures in December 2004. But more about the negotiations in Cluj and their reception in Hungary and in Romania later.