The Democratic Coalition: A kind of victory

On June 19 MSZP held an extraordinary congress that was called together to discuss Ferenc Gyurcsány's challenge to the current leadership. The former prime minister became worried about MSZP's inability to recapture even a fraction of its former supporters. There is a hard core of MSZP voters who support the party no matter what, and that number is about 1 million. The problem is that in order to win a national election a party needs at least 2.5 million votes. Since the election Fidesz has lost at least 800,000 of those who voted for the party last April, but Fidesz's loss hasn't become MSZP's gain. Those who abandoned Fidesz mostly ended up in the ever-growing camp of undecided voters. By now the number of undecided voters is higher than the still Fidesz faithful.

The present MSZP leadership is trying to explain its inability to change the results of the opinion polls that show MSZP stagnating after its resounding defeat. They argue that it takes a long time to change public perception of a party that lost an election so badly. Ferenc Gyurcsány, on the other hand, thinks that the party as it is currently structured can't meet the challenges of the present political situation. The old leadership is on automatic pilot and although the leaders talk a lot about "renewal," they are doing nothing to change the structure and the personnel of the party. He suggested a country-wide vote by the party membership on some fundamental questions concerning current party practices. For example, the party leader is chosen indirectly. Gyurcsány would like to have a general referendum on the person of the party chairman.

Oh, yes, the party membership. That is a bone of contention. It turned out that the well-organized MSZP–"well organized" is meant in jest–has no idea how many members the party actually has. Officially, the number is a little shy of 32,000, but according to the State Auditing Office the number is closer to 19,000. Their estimate is based on dues received. Even leading party members admit that their rolls are not entirely up to date; for instance, some elderly members may no longer be among the living. Other members simply disappeared, but their names are still on the books.

Why is it important how many members MSZP has? Because for the vote that Gyurcsány was advocating to take place, these numbers were of vital importance. According to party rules an all-party vote is valid only if at least 25% of the members vote the same way.

Immediately after the close of the extraordinary congress it wasn't at all clear whether there would be such a referendum. The party leadership didn't try to block the proposal, but they suggested to Gyurcsány and his followers that they give up the idea of a referendum for the sake of unity. The steering committee of Ferenc Gyurcsány's Democratic Coalition, one of the platforms of MSZP, spent four solid hours deciding what to do. The next morning Gyurcsány announced on Facebook that they "will not back down." They decided to go ahead with the vote and see what happens. Gyurcsány was not at all hopeful. He thought that even if the majority of those who take part in the referendum vote for his proposals it was unlikely that there would be a minimum of 7,822–25% of the total–who would vote for his proposals.

The voting took place between June 22 and June 28 at 190 polling stations. Zsolt Molnár, organizational director of the party, estimated after the polling stations closed at 8 p.m. on the 28th that approximately 8,000 people had voted, which means only one-quarter of the total membership cast a vote, and all these people would have had to vote for Gyurcsány's platform for the results to be valid. And surely, was the implication, this was highly improbable.

Gyurcsány immediately responded. He was certain that the majority of those who took part in the referendum voted for his proposals. He made a distinction between active and passive party members and came to the conclusion that more than half of those who actively participate in party affairs voted for his proposals. "Those who don't understand this message are blind and/or deaf." The Democratic Coalition, on the other hand, "understands that so many people want change in MSZP that the party will have to act accordingly."

A couple of days later it turned out that 9,206 people had voted and about 80% of them voted for Gyurcsány's proposals. At this point Attila Mesterházy announced that "irrespective of the validity of the referendum in terms of party legality" they will take the results into consideration. The Democratic Coalition wanted more. They insisted that the official membership figures are inaccurate and asked for a postponement of the announcement of the results until there is a nationwide reassessment of the actual party membership. Gyurcsány made it clear that the leadership of the Democratic Coalition considers the results both valid and successful given their reckoning of the actual membership.

The current MSZP leadership didn't go so far as to withhold the final word on the validity of the referendum, but the results certainly made them pause. The "yes" votes were between 7,156 and 7,475 while the "no" votes were between 1,503 and 1,879, depending on the question. Since, if the official number is taken at face value, 7,822 votes would have sufficed for the results to be valid, the difference was only a few hundred votes. The MSZP leadership simply couldn't ignore such solid support for the reforms advocated by Gyurcsány. Even Tibor Szanyi, an arch-enemy of Gyurcsány, said that they mustn't "play with numbers" because those who expressed their opinion on the matter are "such a large mass" that they cannot be ignored.

Mesterházy announced yesterday that although formally the results of the referendum are not legally binding, they look upon them as if they were valid and successful. Therefore, they will change the by-laws which will be voted on at the next party congress on November 12-13. So, Gyurcsány won.

By the way, during the referendum it was discovered that the party membership has decreased by at least 1,000 people already. Oh, well! It is high time to reorganize a party whose the top brass has no idea how many members the party actually has.

 

34 comments

  1. I’m kind of rooting for Gyumurcsány in this case. In his fight against ‘his’ party, every punch finds a splendid target!
    I hope they play for time some more to make sure he completely destroys the ‘party’ before getting jailed.

  2. Johnny: I’m kind of rooting for Gyumurcsány in this case. In his fight against ‘his’ party, every punch finds a splendid target!
    This one of those odd moments when I completely agree with you!
    “I hope they play for time some more to make sure he completely destroys the ‘party’ before getting jailed.”
    Sorry the second sentence of your post is just the usual incomprehensible bullshit …
    For foreign readers about “Gyumurcsány”. Johnny is not completely stupid. This is a reference to a character from Geza Gardonyi’s book, the “Stars of Eger” (about the battle of Eger during the Ottoman invasion in the 15th century). One of the Turkish bad guy’s name was “Gyumurdzsak”.

  3. “”I hope they play for time some more to make sure he completely destroys the ‘party’ before getting jailed.”
    Sorry the second sentence of your post is just the usual incomprehensible bullshit …”
    Bullshit if you fail to think a little behind what is exactly written. Here ‘they’ is a reference to the committee that decides on the right of immunity. I think you know what I mean.

  4. Ha. If they want to arrest him they should do it now. If Gyurcsany breaks up the MSzP and comes up with his own party, arresting him will be a big shot in the foot for Orban. That’s what you meant?

  5. “Gyumurcsány”. … One of the Turkish bad guy’s name was “Gyumurdzsak”.
    And ‘Johnny’ was the nickname of Hunyadi Janos, I hope.

  6. I posted a question about an hour ago asking exactly what party bylaws would be changed – but it has disappeared!
    This is the second time in the last two days that posts of mine have apparently been accepted and then just vanished.
    Éva, I know it’s a pain, but you really do need to consider using different software. Typepad is just rubbish.

  7. Paul, I use a proxy. This is the only way I can post. One of the side effects is that my IP address will be masked, so OV’s goons won’t find me if Eva breaks down and gives us away :-). Try this:
    http://www.gotoyoutube.net/

  8. Amazing. You are still writing about Gyurcsány. He is nowhere in people’s minds. Orbán, on the other hand, got a significant praise. The Croatia’s Prime Minister: Hungary and Orbán will be on the most illustrious pages of Croatian history. Well, these are depressing times for Eva, who is still hung up on Gyurcsány.

  9. “If they want to arrest him they should do it now. If Gyurcsany breaks up the MSzP and comes up with his own party, arresting him will be a big shot in the foot for Orban.”
    Maybe. Maybe not. But if they arrest him now, they will solve MSZP’s huge internal problem.
    I personally would love to see Gyurcsány do as much damage to MSZP as he still can, then take him out. I hope this is the only reason behind the Committee’s apparent reluctance to decide on his right of immunity.

  10. Paul: “Éva, I know it’s a pain, but you really do need to consider using different software.”
    I’m considering. I began copying all the more than 1,300 articles that I have posted in the last three years.

  11. It does not seem that Orban’s constant lying, crossing the floor with his whole party left to right, back to extreme left, and betraying Hungarians do lots of damage in the minds of the Orbanistas. His obsessive attempt to try to arrest Gyrurcsany reminds me of the Pink Panther, and so laughable by now. Unfortunate that in the process he reaches back to his communist roots (show trials, etc) to get what he wants. I think the “it is not personal” is missing from Orban’s vocabulary. The money spent on stadiums, trials, travels could be better spent on Hungarians, and that does not seem to bother all the shortsighted Fityesz friends either who have one thing in mind, to see Gyurcsany go to jail for a crime that only exist in the pages of Rakosi bios. Fityesz fans are like football hooligans, they are not focused any more on the fair game, they focused on the blood. Fityesz openly breaks the law, lied in order to get elected, loosing their voting base with unprecedented speed, has more “anti” rallies against then MSZP ever had, but you get these Fityesz fans who are proudly tell you how fantastic it is that Orban was patted in the back by China, how great it is that Schmitt was able to write his own name without a spelling mistake, how admirable that they privatized pensions and clap their hands for the news that people who make less then $1,500 a month will take home less money while the rich will take home way more (maybe themselves fall in that category). If you have this kind of group of people who actually believe from the bottom of their heart that this is the progress that Hungary needs, then do not be surprised that any real progress will not be tolerated by anyone but the magicians of Fityesz. For that matter some people should read the book by Prus, Pharaoh. (It is also available on film, and a very good one.) THe main character “learns that those who would oppose the priesthood are vulnerable to cooptation, seduction, subornation, defamation, intimidation or assassination.” Obviously the priest with their power and their knowledge of science are using “illusions” and scare tactics (what would happen if) and are able to hold on to the masses. Great read for the Summer. Good movie for a cold Summer evening.

  12. It’s sad to see democracy being whittled away by the unending soap-opera of MSzP leadership fight. Hillary Clinton point was that democracy is not dead if you can express your opinion in a free election. The trouble is that the alternative to Fidesz is the aging MSzP, still unable to shed its roots in the Kadar regime.
    It is interesting to note that recent polls show that Fidesz lost 800,000 supporters but almost all of these people joined the ranks of the undecided and not the MSzP.
    If meaningful challenge to Fidesz is mounted, it would have to come from a new, centrist movement. I personally would like to the return of Gordon Bajnai with his low key, pragmatic approach, but I doubt that will happen as long as Gyurcsany is around to wreck havoc and keep people from seriously addressing the issues.

  13. “but I doubt that will happen as long as Gyurcsany is around to wreck havoc and keep people from seriously addressing the issues.”
    I read a similar opinion already earlier but I was thinking why this should be the case. Is it that he is so “interesting” that instead of addressing pressing issues people are dragged into repeating again and again that he is “the worst”? I also doubt that a party that somehow “inherits” MSzP could make a valuable contribution to the post-Orban Hungary but I have not yet understood what exactly Gyurcsany is preventing people from doing currently. Is “opposition” a discredited word because of him? Or are some ideas sort of “taboos” because they were also advanced by Ferenc Gyurcsany?

  14. Kristen: I am sure you are familiar with Gyurcsany’s infamous speech made in a closed meeting to MSzP’s leadership which was leaked to the public and never denied by Gyurcsany. In that speech Gyurcsany -probably in an effort to be brutally honest – admitted lying to the public and misrepresenting economic data to the EU and financial markets.
    In the ensuing storm a Western politician would offer his resignation and if not, his party would force him out. Neither happened and Gyurcsany became an embattled PM and his party lost support – leading to the 2010 election defeat (Gordon Bajnai did a credible job of taking charge of the economic crisis but refused to address the political crisis).
    By now in many people’s mind Gyurcsany has become a symbol for everything bad and the MSzP, rather than cutting their loss and moving on is still mired in the mess.
    As far as the MSzP’s roots are concerned, it is common history that it was formed at the regime change by the reform wing of the Communist Party (MSzMP). Two Prime Ministers (Horn and Medgyessy) were Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, respectively in the Kadar regime. While I accept their sincere desire to be patriotic Hungarians with the best intentions, but in politics “perception is reality”. I can’t imagine in the US a presidential candidate of either party who in an earlier life was a leading member of the KKK. Some people should simply assess their prior life and choose new careers where their political past in not important.
    I remain optimistic that sooner or later a new, centrist, pragmatic political movement will emerge and the political discourse will concentrate on alternative ways of improving Hungarian life.
    PS. I have similar hopes for the United States, too. Call me a wild eyed optimist 🙂 Happy Independence Day!

  15. “If meaningful challenge to Fidesz is mounted, it would have to come from a new, centrist movement”.
    This isn’t going to happen.
    Certainly it’s not going to happen before the next election. And anything that happens after that is going to be a waste of time – Orbán isn’t going to sit around and wait for the opposition to get organised, he is going to make damn sure it can’t and won’t.
    The only way to defeat OV democratically (which means at the next election, while enough democracy remains for it still to be possible) is for the democratic parties to form a pro-democracy coalition. Individual party differences should be ‘forgotten’ for the duration and the election should be fought entirely on the basis of restoring democracy, freedom of the press, civil rights, etc – and restoring the constitution (including setting up an independent, all-party commission to update it where necessary). Once democracy, freedom of the press, etc are restored, new elections should be called on the normal party basis.
    If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. This is the ‘standard’ solution for replacing failed dictatorships and one-party states. That’s where Hungary is headed, and that’s why this is the only solution.
    The task that should have been done 21 years ago unfortunately now needs to be done again. But this time it needs to be done properly.

  16. Paul: I think we are saying almost the same thing. Timing, of course, has to be in time for the 2014 elections. Where we differ slightly is whether the opposition coalesces into a movement or a coalition of pro-democracy parties. I agree in principal, but I think a new name, new logo and new faces in a new movement would have more popular support. If the coalition includes the tired old socialist party, it would be an anchor weight. Give the socialist faithful a chance to gather under a new banner and let the party of Marx and Engels fade into memory. They have done too much damage to the country.
    This is not just a matter of semantics. In the US if our left leaning Democratic Party was called the Socialist Party, it would draw less than 1% support, maybe. (Same thing probably for the English Labour Party.) It’s that perception thing, again…

  17. SC – without the MSzP supporters (and party machine) a democratic coalition would get nowhere.
    We mustn’t allow ourselves to be taken in by OV’s 8 years of black propaganda and accept that the MSzP is dead. It’s still the largest opposition party by far and it still represents the views and aspirations of a very large minority of Hungarians.
    As for your last para, neither the Democrats nor (sadly) the Labour Party are remotely socialist.
    I think you need to ask yourself just how successful the anti-socialist propaganda of the last few years has been when you: a) regard the very word as stigmatised and to be avoided (in contrast, I am proud to be a Socialist), and b) accept that ‘derogatory’ name being used to slander a party whenever it dares to promote even moderately progressive policies.
    If you accept the enemy’s redefinition of words, they have already won the battle.

  18. I am not a Gyurcsany fan and not an MSZP fan but I have to say that in current Hungary they are the best option. If we truly try to look at the big picture of the last twenty years and where Hungary is currently, if we draw a T-bar, there is no way that Fidesz would come up on top. Of course you need people who can simply look at the facts and records w/o all the baggage and propaganda. Gyurcsany get caught to tell the truth. Orban never told he truth but takes everyone for a fool. No, he never said that in order to get elected we will not use the word austerity, but regardless all intelligent person can see that it is happening. (“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet;”) He promised everything people wanted to hear, and got elected. People are waking up although. If Fityesz is better in something, that is PR and marketing, and now even spending taxpayers $ for foreign marketing and pr firms. THis is what MSZP should of done long ago. Work with professionals on marketing.

  19. Sackhoes Contributor : “I can’t imagine in the US a presidential candidate of either party who in an earlier life was a leading member of the KKK.”
    It is true that Robert Byrd was not a presidential candidate, but he was the longest serving US Senator and an important member of the Democratic Party. And (among other things) this is what you can read in the Wikipedia article about him:
    “In the early 1940s, Byrd recruited 150 of his friends and associates to create a new chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.[9]
    According to Byrd, a Klan official told him, “You have a talent for leadership, Bob … The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation.” Byrd later recalled, “suddenly lights flashed in my mind! Someone important had recognized my abilities! I was only 23 or 24 years old, and the thought of a political career had never really hit me. But strike me that night, it did.”[9] Byrd held the titles Kleagle (recruiter) and Exalted Cyclops.[9] When it came time to elect the “Exalted Cyclops”, the top officer in the local Klan unit, Byrd won unanimously.[9]
    In 1944, Byrd wrote to segregationist Mississippi Senator Theodore G. Bilbo:[17]
    “I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”
    — Robert C. Byrd, in a letter to Sen. Theodore Bilbo (D-MS), 1944, [9][18]
    In 1946 or 1947, Byrd wrote a letter to a Grand Wizard stating, “The Klan is needed today as never before, and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia and in every state in the nation.”[19] However, when running for the United States House of Representatives in 1952, he announced “After about a year, I became disinterested, quit paying my dues, and dropped my membership in the organization. During the nine years that have followed, I have never been interested in the Klan.” He said he had joined the Klan because he felt it offered excitement and was anti-communist.[9]
    In 1997, Byrd told an interviewer he would encourage young people to become involved in politics but also: “Be sure you avoid the Ku Klux Klan. Don’t get that albatross around your neck. Once you’ve made that mistake, you inhibit your operations in the political arena.”[20] In his last autobiography, Byrd explained that he was a KKK member because he “was sorely afflicted with tunnel vision —a jejune and immature outlook—seeing only what I wanted to see because I thought the Klan could provide an outlet for my talents and ambitions.”[21] Byrd also said, in 2005, “I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times … and I don’t mind apologizing over and over again. I can’t erase what happened.”[9]

  20. “It’s sad to see democracy being whittled away by the unending soap-opera of MSzP leadership fight.”
    How is democracy whittled away by the demise of a corrupt, anti-democratic party?
    MSZP’s hopeful death would be the second birthday of Hungarian democracy, the most significant step towards democracy in the past 90 years.
    It can give way for a democratic opposition to emerge. We should all be looking forward to it.

  21. Johnny Boy: “It can give way for a democratic opposition to emerge. We should all be looking forward to it.” Can you elaborate what is not democratic from any of the current oppositions? We do know what Fidesz is about. Fidesz took power under democratic measures with a very differnt platform that they are running on , and the whole world is taking notice.
    Economist: http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches/2011/06/hungarian-media?fsrc=rss
    By the way, since you must agree with Tom Lantos as Orban thinks highly of him, he has said in an earlier interview on Hungarian TV that a democratic government only exist if it is elected by democratic measures and holds its core to democracy. The first part is true for Fidesz but the second…. With the exception of the ever shrinking Fidesz base everyone knows that democracy is dying in Hungary in order to keep Orban in power. (Refer to article above.)

  22. Some1 your claims about Fidesz are not worth commenting as they are nothing else than the usual incomprehensible left-wing bullshit. The “whole world taking notice” consists of you (left) and left only, the rest of the world is perfectly in peace with what is happening in Hungary. And that rest is the vast majority of the world, not you.
    MSZP is completely anti-democratic as they always were. They are the direct continuation of MSZMP, all of their actions, their campaigning style and “program” (which they don’t have and never had) are all about seizing power for its own sake, and when seized, holding on to it even with violence (see 1947-1990 and 2006), trying to discredit their democratic opposition everywhere with the help of Russia, or in their absence the EU, and so on.
    Their references to democratic values are 100% pretence. Their commitment to democracy always existed only in words because this is currently the most widely accepted form of goverment, but never in actions or behavior. If, let’s suppose, another form of government that is considered better than democracy would emerge, they would immediately switch to pretending to be its best practicers, yet inside they would remain the same corrupt, immoral and violent species.
    József Szájer summarized this perfectly when he said the ‘socialists’ are like the left-handed person ‘converted’ to be right-handed who does most of the things he learned with his right but when a cup falls, he grabs it instinctively with the left.

  23. Johnny: “MSZP’s hopeful death would be the second birthday of Hungarian democracy, the most significant step towards democracy in the past 90 years.”
    Just out of curiosity: which was the first birthday for you?
    Sackhoes: I remember that speech, it is now nearly five years old, Ferenc Gyurcsany is not Prime Minister anymore and tries to organise a political group within MSzP, a party of 25.000 members as I learned. I can imagine that they have money and connections etc. but this will not vanish with MSzP shrinking further, and some former MSzMP members are accepted members of Fidesz. Those people will still be around, perhaps more hidden than before. So I cannot see why (except perhaps if he had political ideas that are convincing for some people) Ferenc Gyurcsany should be so relevant that he could prevent other political groups and organisations from emerging. And (now I am provoking a bit I know) why admitting to have “lied” in a clearly specified situation and with a clearly stated meaning is considered such a crime while the accusation of “you are lying” is so common that it has no real meaning anymore remains a puzzle to me.

  24. I love the way SB attacks the ‘socialists’ with the baseless accusation that they want to do what his own party have actually done!
    I was going to say it would be funny if it wasn’t so serious, but then I realised it actually is still funny!
    None so blind, eh?

  25. JB Can you re-read your comment. You are actually taking about Fidesz. Post to be elected for, only one candidate per post.
    József Szájer was left, than converted to right. Is he talking about himself?

  26. Johnny Boy: “‘socialists’ are like the left-handed person ‘converted’ to be right-handed who does most of the things he learned with his right but when a cup falls, he grabs it instinctively with the left.” Did Szajer told this to Orban? It seems that he has been in every spectrum of the politics so far. Right now he is cozying up to China. For THat matter I am certainly hope for the left in Hungary, but that is not always the case in Canada. THe difference is that in Canada the right is still aim for democracy while in Hungary they aim for autocracy. You should know, you are right in the thick of it. I have a great friend who is a New Democrat and is a Councillor. I voted for her because she s the best suited for the job. On the last provincial election I voted conservative as I felt that the right candidate was a conservative. On the last federal election I voted Liberal as they would be the best to do the job.I wish you would be half as open minded. I know it is to much for you even begin to comprehend. So, what do you have to say about the article from the Economist?

  27. “Just out of curiosity: which was the first birthday for you?”
    The regime change in 1990. But I’m opting for considering SZDSZ’s demise the 2nd birthday, so MSZP’s death may well be the 3rd one. We’ll see.
    “I love the way SB attacks the ‘socialists’ with the baseless accusation that they want to do what his own party have actually done!”
    Nice on Paul, you are on a creative rampage as always, this time it’s redirecting my message to me with a tongue in cheek like the fastest runner in the kindergarden.
    Your claims could even be true, too bad reality has already proven the exact opposite.

  28. GDF: I am well aware, of course, of Sen. Byrd and his shameful past. There were other racists too, like Strom Thurmond, who ran for the Presidency on a minor party ticket and got 2.4& of the vote. And there was also good old reliable Gus Hall, head of the American Communist Party was also a perennial candidate for decades. I don’t think he ever hit 1%. Yes, there are many strange animals in the zoo.
    I am talking about the major parties, though, Republicans and Democrats and I am standing by what I said. No past KKK membership would survive the arduous vetting process of the campaign.

  29. Very interesting point brought up by Fidesz’ own clean breed, Johnny Boy : “[I consider Hungary’s new Birthdays] the regime change in 1990. But I’m opting for considering SZDSZ’s demise the 2nd birthday, so MSZP’s death may well be the 3rd one. ” The exact attitude of Fidesz and Orban. These group of autocrats are gladly cuddling up to the Jobbik, praise China’s political records, but could care less abut the opinion of the Venice Commission, the EU, the USA, and the list goes on. They aim for autocracy while covering themselves with the flags of democracy. To prove my point:
    Press release – AP041(2011)
    PACE co-rapporteurs to make a visit to Hungary regarding request for the opening of a monitoring procedure
    Strasbourg, 04.07.2011 – Kerstin Lundgren (Sweden, ALDE) and Jana Fischerová (Czech Republic, EDG), co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) who have been appointed to assess the request for the opening of a monitoring procedure in respect of Hungary, will make a fact-finding visit to the country from 6 to 8 July.
    A January 2011 motion, signed by 24 members of the Assembly, raised “serious concern” about recent developments in Hungary in four areas related to human rights, the rule of law and the functioning of democratic institutions.
    The co-rapporteurs are due to meet, in particular, the Speaker of Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister and the President of the Constitutional Court, as well as members of the different parliamentary factions, several parliamentary committees, representatives of the media, civil society and the diplomatic community. In due course they will prepare an opinion on the request to open a monitoring procedure, to be submitted to the Bureau of the Assembly.

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