Negotiations between Hungarian democratic parties and civic organizations began

On December 27, 2012 we learned that the democratic opposition parties and organizations at the behest of MSZP will begin negotiations on January 2 with a view toward creating a common platform. Their first task will be forming a joint declaration of their commitment to “the rule of law, constitutionality and democracy.”

MSZP apparently arrived at the negotiations “well prepared,” claimed Tamás Harangozó, a relatively new face in the party. Lately Harangozó has been in the news as one of the victims of László Kövér’s ire, which prompted the speaker to announce that “the gentlemen to my left should be grateful to be able to sit in this chamber at all.” Later Kövér was forced to apologize. Demokratikus Koalícó’s delegation, comprised of Dezső Avarkeszi, Judit Csiha, and Anna Buzás, a university student, is led by Csaba Molnár, one of the deputy chairmen of the party.

By yesterday, it became clear that representatives of MSZP, MSZDP (Magyar Szociáldemokrata Párt), DK and Együtt 2014 (which by now everybody calls E14) will be at today’s meeting. If all goes well, the negotiations will continue until the parties are ready to nominate candidates for each of the electoral districts, most likely sometime late fall of this year. Viktor Szigetvári, vice chairman of Haza és Haladás Alapítvány established by Gordon Bajnai, will be one of the negotiators of E14. Szigetvári opened the gate to other organizations that might like to join over and above those eight that were initially asked to participate. But already by yesterday we knew that LMP and 4K! would not be at the negotiating table.

Apparently 4K! would participate in the current negotiations only if there were a prior understanding according to which after a victorious election the elected parliament would declare itself to be a constitutional convention. Once the new constitution was adopted, the government would resign and new elections would be held.

Another party that refuses to work with the others is LMP. As András Schiffer confidently predicted this morning on ATV’s Start, LMP will be able to win the elections against Fidesz on its own. All those people involved in the negotiations are politicians of the past who are responsible for the present state of affairs and therefore he refuses to cooperate with them. During his conversation with the reporter he showed himself to be altogether inflexible. LMP, he declared, is true to its original political declaration. It doesn’t matter that circumstances have changed; his party will refuse to change its position. Such inflexibility is a sure sign of a bad politician.

Unity / Wikimedia Commons

Unity / Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to members of the delegations there is an interesting development: Péter Bárándy, minister of justice in the Medgyessy government,  is heading the E14 delegation dealing with constitutional issues while his son Gergely Bárándy, as MSZP’s legal expert, will represent MSZP’s point of view.

The negotiations began today with a discussion about the rule of law. More specifically, how a new democratic government can handle the situation Fidesz has created in the last two and a half years. After all, a new government can legally change the recently erected far from democratic structure only if it musters a two-thirds majority. I’m sure it will not be an easy topic to agree on. I think that not all people will agree with Viktor Szigetvári (Haza és Haladás) who is adamant on the subject. There are others who see legal loopholes that might circumvent the fairly unlikely occurrence of acquiring such a large electoral majority. Others, I am sure, will argue that the Fidesz political appointees planted for very long tenures could for all intents and purposes paralyze the work of the new government if they remain in their posts. E14 is obviously well prepared for such arguments and came to the negotiating table with a seven-page document. The restoration of the rule of law in the opinion of the E14 leaders is not an end in itself but a beginning.

E14 is also adamant that a new constitution cannot be a document supported by only one half of the population. “Formal legitimacy” is not enough. “Lasting and respected government by all can be created only if it is supported by a significant portion of civil society.” In brief, E14 believes that convincing a large part of the present Fidesz supporters is a must. The legal experts helping E14 are theoretically right in this regard, but looking at it from the perspective of practical politics I find it hard to believe that in a year and a half there will be a real change of heart among the absolutely devoted followers of Viktor Orbán.

There are some specific steps that should be taken immediately after the elections: to put an end to the practice of retroactive laws, to abolish the Media Council, to end parliament’s jurisdiction over the functioning of the churches, and to rewrite the electoral law, including the practice of registration that at the moment is still in the hands of the Constitutional Court. E14 would also restore the powers of local governments, but it wouldn’t abolish the newly established “járás” system. However, the government offices established within that system would be put under the jurisdiction of local governments within the “járás.” Naturally E14 would work toward the elimination of corruption by making party and campaign finances transparent. It also insists on making the documents relating to the Rákosi and Kádár regime’s internal security agencies and their agents publicly available.

According to Origo E14 arrived at the negotiations with an alternative plan for a new constitution. It was apparently Péter Bárándy’s job to outline a constitution that is in line with a modern democratic state. If, however, the opposition isn’t able to come up with a two-thirds majority E14 also has plans for “a more modest constitutional correction” that would include the restoration of the Constitutional Court’s former competence  before the Orbán government’s restrictions on it. In addition, they would greatly reduce the number of cardinal laws, i.e. laws that need a two-thirds majority to alter.

After three hours, the word was that the representatives of all the groups agreed on all points. But naturally the devil is in the details. Next week MSZP would like to move on to economic matters, but E14 already indicated that first its representatives would like to close the discussion on the rule of law and the constitution.

In any case, from the few descriptions of the negotiations I read the beginnings sound very promising.


  1. London Calling!

    This is an encouraging start to the new year (HNY to all btw!) – But there appears to be an empty seat besides the non-attending political parties.

    It would be very ‘franchising’ if the students had representation in their own right – or have I missed something?




  2. There seems to exist a bit of a contradiction, at least the reportings are unclear.

    The “immediate” constitutional amendments require the same 2/3 majority as any wholesale change or an entirely new constitution.

    I don’t really get how they would be able to carry out only the supposedly minor changes (ie. prohibition of retroactive laws etc.) but not the rest.

    The only realistic scenario is if only 3-4 representatives would be missing from the 2/3s and LMP would provide those votes for the “minor” changes, but LMP would be unwilling to consent to other changes. But without bigger changes ie. at the consitutional court etc., the government would be killed in a year. I mean just to lead back the energy sector (and that is only the energy sector) to a sustainable path they will have to increase prices by about 30-40% (as Orbán will reduce gas prices this year by another 20% according to the current plans). And this is only a start.

  3. Plano: “The only realistic scenario is if only 3-4 representatives would be missing from the 2/3s and LMP would provide those votes for the “minor” changes, but LMP would be unwilling to consent to other changes.”

    If LMP goes along I don’t think that they will even get into parliament.

  4. What I meant was: the only realistic scneario in which a new opposition can push through a ‘minor’ constitutional amendment but is unable to push trough a more comprehensive amendment is a combination in which LMP holds the key to the 2/3.

    Otherwise I simply cannot interpret their approach to minimum and maximum constitutional porgrams. Both require the same 2/3.

  5. I guess there is another interpretation, these options were for the EGyütt-MSZP meetings, they themselves have to agree on a major amendment first.

  6. I like the sound of E14’s ideas.

    But I’m afraid this is all still pie in the sky unless Fidesz-Jobbik can be defeated in the next election. And that isn’t going to happen – and even if it was, Orbán wouldn’t let it.

    There’s also the small matter of how the opposition is going to get its message out to the people, when almost all of the media is owned or controlled by Fidesz.

    But, let’s assume the Democracy Fairy does visit Hungary in 2014 and, not only do the ‘united opposition’ manage to stay united, but they also win a sizeable number of seats. Then I think it does begin to look hopeful.

    The key to the Hungarian situation is twofold: Orbán’s total power/control, and the people’s ignorance/apathy. There isn’t much that can be done about the first, but a sizeable success for an anti-Orbán movement in 2014 would send a clear message to the apathetic majority that there is hope after all – effectively bypassing Orbán’s media control.

    And once they realised that there were people standing up to and opposing Orbán, they would begin to realise that opposition was possible. It would become OK once again to voice anti-Fidesz opinions and to discuss politics. And once that starts, Orbán’s power starts to be whittled away. As with the USSR in the late 80s, or Libya more recently, it doesn’t matter how powerful a regime is in reality, once the people start to lose faith in it/fear of it, it’s effective power is dangerously weakened.

    Orbán has proved himself very effective at creating and managing widespread opposition (although now in government, he is still very much benefiting from the negative image he created of MSzP and Gyurcsany whilst in opposition). But I strongly doubt if he will be able to control a situation where people stop believing him and start turning against him. He will panic and do crazy things (which will backfire), but, once the tide starts to turn, he will not be able to stop it.

    But to get to that point we need a united opposition that stays united and wins a sizeable number of seats in 2014, and then STAYS united for the next parliament. If it can’t do this, then any gains in 2014 will be lost – along with the only real chance to get rid of Orbán.

  7. As for LMP, Schiffer seems to be utterly divorced from reality – and seemingly determined to destroy ‘his’ party.

    I’m actually rather puzzled about the control he seems to have. My impression of LMP was that it was an ‘anti’ party, rather like the Greens over here in their early days, with no leader as such. So how did Schiffer get to be leader and (apparently) have so much power?

    The best thing LMP could do is to get rid of Schiffer before it’s too late.

  8. Paul, I think Ferenc Koszeg has a point re LMP. Let LMP should decide what they want. For Egyutt and MSZP they simply don’t matter that much. (In fact this quasi-obsession about the idea that they would be so important to any cooperation in the opposition, makes them way more important than they are. For one, if not for this issue, they would not be in the media and so on). LMP would add (under the current system) only a very small number of seats, and only a few percentage points in votes.

    MSZP-Egyutt have to win by a landslide anyway as it seems Egyutt does not want to push trough a referendum with only a 50%+ majority in parliament. So, let them play and have their own playground while the ‘pros’ agree (I have my doubts about their ability to agree and have a common view, but whatever). LMP is really the least of Egyutt’s (and the oppositon’s) problems.

  9. I agree that LMP doesn’t really matter much. In fact, as times goes on, they will matter less and less especially if too many people see András Schiffer on television too often. It maybe just me but I found me very unlikable.

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