Ferenc Gyurcsány the campaigner in his element
Ipsos was the first company to release its monthly poll on the electorate’s preferences for parties and politicians. As far as the two large parties, Fidesz and MSZP, are concerned, the changes are minimal and most likely insignificant, Fidesz’s 27% is one percentage point higher than it was a month ago; MSZP lost one percentage point and now stands at 14% in the electorate as a whole. In the case of the three smaller parties, the changes may be more significant. Jobbik lost 2% of its followers, which means that only 6% of the electorate would vote for this far-right party. Együtt 2014-PM lost a point and by now is the second smallest party in Hungary, with 3%. DK is still the smallest political formation with 2%, but this number is nonetheless something of a breakout for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party which this year never had more than a 1% share of the electorate. In a month–at least according to Ipsos–the Demokratikus Koalíció doubled its support. Mind you, Ferenc Gyurcsány, the party’s chairman, declared only yesterday that support for the party is much greater than the polls indicate although he would hate to guess how much greater. It could be 4% or even 12%.
One reason for the upsurge might be the incredible energy of Ferenc Gyurcsány who, realizing that elections are closer than most people think, moved into high gear. Here are a few numbers. In August Gyurcsány’s name appeared in the news 72 times, fewer than Viktor Orbán, Gordon Bajnai, or Attila Mesterházy, but it was Gyurcsány who had the most air time. He spoke on TV and radio for 2,218 minutes as opposed to Mesterházy’s 1,367, Viktor Orbán’s 683, and Gordon Bajnai’s 353 minutes.
Another reason might be that his message is the simplest and the most uncompromising as far as his attitude toward the Orbán government is concerned. Many voters who want change find Együtt 2014-PM’s messages confusing and the latest declarations of Gordon Bajnai, Viktor Szigetvári, and Péter Kónya worrisome. Bajnai’s mysterious reference to an offer that Fidesz will not be able to refuse led some people to think that Bajnai may be thinking in terms of a grand coalition, an idea that sent shivers down the spines of members of the anti-Fidesz forces. I also suspect that Gyurcsány’s shabby treatment at the hands of MSZP politicians will only help’s DK’s fortunes. Next month’s polls will reveal whether or not my hunch is correct. I might also add to the list of reasons for increased DK support Gyurcsány’s superior oratorical skills.
I assume that the above figures regarding Gyurcsány’s media exposure did not include the speech he gave on Saturday when he, Ágnes Vadai, and László Varju attracted about 5,000 people. Or his recent long interview with HVG. Or another interview that MTV’s Híradó published only a few hours ago.
Here I would like to say a few words about the HVG interview. It is about twice as long as my average-length post. Although it is upbeat, it also includes a level of self-criticism that one couldn’t hear from Gyurcsány before. He came to the realization, he said, that in 2004 he “became prime minister without the necessary experience or wisdom.” Today he knows that to be beaten once or twice, or to be in opposition, are perhaps prerequisites for success as prime minister.
He then returned to the subject of Őszöd because he wants to “rehabilitate” that speech, portraying it as the first attempt on the left to depart from the kinds of economic policies for political gain that led to the economic decline of the country. A lot of people said at the time, including President László Sólyom, that Gyurcsány should have resigned right then and there. Gyurcsány disagrees. In that fateful speech he told his audience that if the reforms he was planning to introduce fail, he will resign. He should have resigned, however, he admits, in 2008 after the reforms were roundly rejected by the disastrous referendum on the 300 forint co-pay and the introduction of a small tuition fee. He “missed the tempo.” Instead of resigning, he attempted to scale back the reforms, which he now calls “reforms light.”
As for DK’s chances, Gyurcsány thinks that the party will be able to get 7-8% of the votes, plenty to become a parliamentary party. If DK doesn’t manage to qualify for parliamentary representation, then the party is finished and with it Ferenc Gyurcsány as a politician.
If the democratic side loses the election and DK is in opposition, he will be the head of the DK delegation “to show how one ought to speak and act in opposing Viktor Orbán.” If the current democratic opposition wins, he will not occupy the post because he doesn’t want “the new prime minister to feel his presence in his back.” He is optimistic. “According to public opinion polls, 53% of the electorate want to see Viktor Orbán’s government go and only 31% stick by it. One can go back as far as 1990: no government could remain in office with such a level of rejection.”
And finally, the conversation turned to his person as an obstacle for the unity of the left. MSZP maintains that Gyurcsány will take more votes away from the opposition than he will bring to the opposition. (Vera Lánczos in today’s Galamus argues that the poll the Republikon Institute took in the spring doesn’t support that claim.) Gyurcsány in this interview gives new polling figures that I was not familiar with. He claims that 60-70% of left-liberal voters like Bajnai, Mesterházy, and him equally well, although he admits that he is less popular among the undecided.
The Demokratikus Koalíció has embarked on a membership drive and is also in the middle of amassing a database. The party called 550,000 households, using Gyurcsány’s voice, asking for support. Apparently in 14% of the cases people showed a willingness to allow DK to collect their personal data.
Gyurcsány might yet surprise us all, especially if the extreme right-wingers spit in his face a few more times as happened yesterday inside and outside of the courthouse where he went to show his solidarity with the two police chiefs who are facing charges in connection with their alleged negligence in the September-October 2006 disturbances. By the way, the court procedure, for which 100 days were set aside, was scheduled to begin on September 18, the exact day when the one or two sentences from the long Őszöd speech were read on the Hungarian public radio and prompted, with lots of help from Fidesz, the siege of the Hungarian Public Television station. The choice of the date cannot be an accident. The Orbán government has a sense of the dramatic.