Gordon Bajnai’s Együtt 2014 and the MSZP

I think it is time to return to the democratic opposition’s effort  to come to a political understanding for the sake of a united front against Fidesz and the Orbán government. I already mentioned the Medián poll that indicated that if Együtt 2014 had participated in the election as an independent party this past Sunday it would have received 14% of the votes while MSZP garnered only 11%.

The poll was taken about a week after the formation of Együtt 2014 and, not surprisingly, there were a lot of skeptics on both sides of the aisle concerning the accuracy of the results. László Kövér in his usual blunt manner announced that Medián’s poll was no more than a PR job by Gordon Bajnai himself. According to him, Bajnai and his associates hired Medián to publish a phony poll. How typical of László Kövér’s subtle style. But one could hear doubting words about the accuracy of the poll from MSZP politicians as well. Of course, they didn’t accuse Bajnai of organizing a favorable poll, but they kept emphasizing that one poll indicates nothing and that one must wait a few months to see whether there is a trend that would indicate strong and steady support for Együtt 2014. It is also possible, the socialists said, that the method Medián used was flawed.

I for one tend to believe that Medián’s numbers might be correct. I base this opinion on my impression that people who would dearly love to see Viktor Orbán and Fidesz be defeated in 2014 emphatically demand unified action because they are convinced that a fragmented opposition cannot possibly win the elections. This belief of mine was reinforced today when I learned that, although the MSZP leadership is somewhat leery of getting involved with Együtt 2014, the supporters of the socialist party are very much in favor of cooperation.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, Bajnai began a nationwide campaign to make his political plans more widely known. According to an anonymous MSZP politician, Bajnai’s audience comes mostly from MSZP supporters. The same MSZP politician added that “there is growing pressure on the party leadership to join Bajnai’s umbrella organization.” MSZP supporters “are positively crazy about him,” the informer claimed. Perhaps there is fear among the rank-and-file socialists that Attila Mesterházy might not be the best candidate for the premiership. Perhaps they figure that he has neither the experience nor the stature for the job. On the other hand, the MSZP leadership appreciates Mesterházy’s efforts at rebuilding the party that suffered a devastating defeat at the polls, comparable only to its fate in 1990. Then, MSZP received only 10.89% of the votes. After all, Mesterházy’s achievement is nothing to sneeze at. According to Ipsos’s poll released today, while Fidesz’s share is 19% of eligible voters, MSZP is not far behind with 16%. That means 1.5 million voters for Fidesz and 1.3 million for MSZP.

Ipsos didn’t include Együtt 2014 as Medián did as a potential party running on its own, but the pollsters came to the conclusion that Gordon Bajnai could mobilize about 4% of those who at the moment would like to vote but cannot chose a party. That means the mobilization of 300,000 voters badly needed on the anti-Fidesz side. If we add about 250,000-300,000 for LMP and about 200,000 DK voters in addition to MSZP’s 1.3 million, we are getting fairly close to the magic 2.5 million supporters that are apparently necessary for an electoral victory. That is, if all these parties unite and agree on common candidates.

HVG is normally very well informed. According to their sources, leading MSZP politicians who had been suspicious of Gordon Bajnai and who were ready to reject him out of hand are now cautiously changing their stance, mostly because of the pressure from below. HVG seems to know that the rank-and-file complained when István Nyakó talked about MSZP’s “serious differences of political opinion” with Gordon Bajnai. Several party members insisted that the party leadership force Nyakó to refrain from open criticism of Bajnai.

Mesterházy himself is careful not to commit himself one way or the other but t0 sound cooperative. He expressed his satisfaction that the former prime minister is returning to the political arena because “we need all the help we can get to replace the current government.” He repeated several times that he is “open to cooperation.” He emphasized, however, that it is too early to talk about the person of the future prime minister. Moreover, Mesterházy continued, MSZP should sit down and find out exactly what Együtt 2014 has in mind. After all, MSZP is a left-wing party while former finance minister Péter Oszkó’s ideas on economic policy are far from those of the socialist party.

The general feeling is that the MSZP leadership is not eager to cooperate with Bajnai. In the last few days the party worked out several detailed programs–for example, on education and on the handling of hard hit regions of Hungary, i.e. the northeastern corner of the country and southern Transdanubia, especially Baranya and Somogy counties. They are currently working out the party’s economic policy. So, they feel that they are ahead of Együtt 2014.


What the Democrats of Várpalota would like to see

However, Bajnai gathered a very able team from different fields–healthcare, the economy, justice–that will soon enough come out with a program. Péter Oszkó, for example, in an interview expressed his belief that “coming up with a common platform will be a child’s game.”

I wouldn’t be that optimistic, but I’m also inclined to think that by next spring there might be a common platform. The first step was taken by Együtt 2014 when the Bajnai team sent its “Fundamentals of Moral Principles” to LMP in order to sound out the party’s leadership. This weekend LMP may decide on its future course of action. Although the party is split on the issue, according to people in the know 70% of the membership is for cooperation with the forces of Milla, Solidarity, and Bajnai’s foundation.

Finally, let me call attention to the latest brilliant opinion piece of Árpád W. Tóta. As usual, it is hilariously funny and this time upbeat. According to him, the “boys will definitely lose and now are in a panic.”  At least this is how Tóta interprets Fidesz’s mad scramble to come up with a foolproof way of winning the next elections. It certainly doesn’t help the government’s situation that the Central Statistical Office released the latest GDP figures today and the results turned out to be worse than expected. Hungary’s gross domestic product decreased by 1.5% year on year in the third quarter of 2012. As long as the Hungarian economy is in recession, the popularity of the Orbán government is unlikely to change for the better.

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13 comments

  1. What do the mustachioed Kovers of Fidesz, who march 400,000 strong through Budapest, know or care about ‘economics’? Nothing. So, I don’t much go along with the idea that ‘as long as the economy is in a dive….et.et.” What can work is if Bajnai attracts some significant number of disgruntled Fideszers (who are still able to think) and splits that party’s support.

    As for the MSZP, it is justly worried that if they join Bajnai their party will disappear… deservedly so.

  2. Petőfi: “As for the MSZP, it is justly worried that if they join Bajnai their party will disappear… deservedly so.”

    I agree, I think MSZP conveniently accepted loosing this election in the hope and DK and LMP wouldn’t even make it in which would leave MSZP as the only opposition force for 2018. Együtt 2014 is a big hit to their plans and a threat to the “muddy water” (zavaros), in which – similarly to Fidesz – they liked to fish so much in the past 20 years when they were on government.

  3. Jano :
    Petőfi: “As for the MSZP, it is justly worried that if they join Bajnai their party will disappear… deservedly so.”
    I agree, I think MSZP conveniently accepted loosing this election in the hope and DK and LMP wouldn’t even make it in which would leave MSZP as the only opposition force for 2018. Együtt 2014 is a big hit to their plans and a threat to the “muddy water” (zavaros), in which – similarly to Fidesz – they liked to fish so much in the past 20 years when they were on government.

    I was very happy to hear of two events with Bajnai’s group this week: one was some sort of moral code to which they will hold
    parliamentary members (I think); the other was the news that one-time Orban economic adviser, Laszlo Urban, has joined Bajnai. That is huge news. It seems to suggest that other, thinking, conservative, members of Fidesz will do likewise.
    Hopeful.

  4. Kövér is denouncing Medián because he knows it for a fact that Nézőpont and Századvég are publishing propaganda (nézőpnt is positioned to be more partizan though). Unfortunately the media gives them full space without questioning their methodology and background.They don’t depend on the market for any business and are financed lavishly by the government. Medián and Szonda however have to depend on the market and thus need to be as good as they can, becase if it turns out that they were unprofessional, noone will hire them.

    I also wonder what will happen if – at least some – international observes will deem the election undemocratic given the new rules on election, campaign, campaign finance etc.

  5. Two thoughts:

    1) I don’t think there is any point anyone winning the next election except with a two third majority that can reinstate all the checks and balances, and kick out all the people who Fidesz have “planted.” I think Bajnai and friends have to come up with a new constitution and a very detailed plan to be presented to the electorate as to what they will do if they get a thumping great mandate.

    2) I think it is absolutely fatal for Bajnai and co to present themselves as “the left.” There is no appetite for the “left” in Hungary, at least not enough to win a sizable majority. The new movement has to be “the centre” and I agree with Petofi that Urban is a good catch. I was rather dispirited to see people like Kuncze (against whom I have no personal grudge) hinting about re-activating himself, and if people think that Bajnai is simply an umbrella organisation to allow Szekeres, Lendvai, Kiss, Kuncze et al to return (having in my view disqualified themselves from future involvement by past incompetence and corruption), then it is doomed.

  6. petofi :

    What do the mustachioed Kovers of Fidesz, who march 400,000 strong through Budapest, know or care about ‘economics’? Nothing. So, I don’t much go along with the idea that ‘as long as the economy is in a dive….et.et.” What can work is if Bajnai attracts some significant number of disgruntled Fideszers (who are still able to think) and splits that party’s support.

    As for the MSZP, it is justly worried that if they join Bajnai their party will disappear… deservedly so.

    I think that we have to distinguish between the hardcore Fidesz voters who march out to hear the Great Leader and the millions who used to vote for MSZP and SZDSZ but who at the last elections voted for Fidesz because they were disillusioned with the “last eight years.” It is this group (1.3 million strong) whose members say that they would like to vote but don’t know for whom because they don’t want to return to MSZP but certainly regretted their decision two years ago to vote for Fidesz. And, just as you said, it is this group that should be attracted.

    In my opinion MSZP will not disappear because social democratic parties are part of the European political landscape. Traditional MSZP voters will not leave MSZP but perhaps will more easily return to the fold with Bajnai at the head of the ticket.

    As for the lousy economic figures. Let’s not forget that “it is the economy, stupid.”

  7. Jano :

    Petőfi: “As for the MSZP, it is justly worried that if they join Bajnai their party will disappear… deservedly so.”

    I agree, I think MSZP conveniently accepted loosing this election in the hope and DK and LMP wouldn’t even make it in which would leave MSZP as the only opposition force for 2018.

    One could hear individual MSZP politicians saying things like “if not in 2014 but surely in 2018” Fidesz can be dislodged but I don’t believe that this view was generally accepted by the party leadership.

  8. Perm :

    Kövér is denouncing Medián because he knows it for a fact that Nézőpont and Századvég are publishing propaganda (nézőpnt is positioned to be more partizan though). Unfortunately the media gives them full space without questioning their methodology and background.

    Indeed, this is a very bad policy of the opposition media. Even people who are politically more educated than the average are misled. A cousin of mine who is an avid reader of left-of-center papers one day wrote to me in absolute panic that according to Nézőpont Fidesz was leading by a mile. So, I asked her: “Do you know what kind of people run Nézőpont and on whose money?” She had no idea.

  9. Kingfisher :
    Two thoughts:
    1) I don’t think there is any point anyone winning the next election except with a two third majority that can reinstate all the checks and balances, and kick out all the people who Fidesz have “planted.” I think Bajnai and friends have to come up with a new constitution and a very detailed plan to be presented to the electorate as to what they will do if they get a thumping great mandate.

    I think that if they win without 2/3 that is still a far better situation than now. At least they could arrest any further deterioration of democratic, educational, and economic institutions.

    I do agree that they need a comprehensive plan to move things back in the right direction.

  10. Pete H, they would be able to arrest further deterioration of institutions but would find themselves involved in a savage political battle with them, making government impossible as a time when Hungary will need urgent first-aid. A two thirds majority would enable them to dismantle these same institutions (a dreadfully dangerous thing to do, as we have seen) while giving them some ability to actually implement new measures. But I don’t envy them.

  11. Kingfisher – a 2/3 majority is an absolute essential for any incoming government hoping to undo the mess that Orbán has created. But just how likely is it that anyone would manage such a majority?

    This would require 3 things:

    1) The creation of a broadly centerist opposition appealing to the vast majority of those disillusioned with Orbán.

    2) The reengagement of most of the voters put off by the last 20 odd years.

    3) A significant minority of core Fidesz voters switching sides.

    Whilst all that isn’t impossible, I fear that it requires people to be far more alarmed by what’s happening than they are now, an opposition far more politically astute than the current bunch, and a leader a great deal more charismatic than Bajnai.

  12. Paul :
    Kingfisher – a 2/3 majority is an absolute essential for any incoming government hoping to undo the mess that Orbán has created. But just how likely is it that anyone would manage such a majority?

    I would not like to see anyone with a 2/3’s majority as anything they produce is likely to riddled with (different) flaws. The only fair way out is a negotiated way out and not having a 2/3 majority would force these much needed negotiations.

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