Commentators are divided over how much time the opposition has to get its act together and begin serious negotiations that may end in a joint effort at the polls at the next election. Everybody knows that separately no party or group is strong enough to win against the monolithic Fidesz. Although some people accuse the MSZP leadership of thinking that their party can single-handedly beat Orbán, I doubt that any of the most influential MSZP politicians truly believe in such an outcome.
There are many who are convinced that the opposition has plenty of time. There is no need to hurry. After all, there is almost a year until the next elections. It would be perfectly all right for them to come up with a solution by the end of the year. Others, and I belong to this latter group, maintain that every moment that is wasted in party jostling to achieve a better position at the negotiating table works against the opposition’s chances at the next elections. Hungarians by now have a bad opinion of politicians in general and the disarray among the opposition only reinforces their negative feelings about them. Many voters who do not want to support Fidesz believe that since there is no unity on the left, there is no one for them to vote for.
Since I’m one of those who think that a move toward forming a united opposition should start as early as possible, I was happy to read that Gordon Bajnai is finally ready to talk with MSZP. At the end of November 2012 Attila Mesterházy suggested immediate negotiations with all opposition parties and groups that would like to see Viktor Orbán and his government go. Several smaller parties, including Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció, positively responded to Mesterházy’s call. Bajnai’s Együtt 2014, however, refused to join them, claiming that first the opposition should spend its time “uncovering the past.” He demanded that MSZP take stock of its past mistakes. After a lengthy back and forth, by early March it became clear that the Bajnai group was not ready to negotiate.
So, in the first few minutes after seeing the headlines, I was excited. At last, I said, things are moving in the right direction. But after looking at the details of Gordon Bajnai’s plan I became less enthusiastic. First of all, Bajnai is ready to negotiate only with MSZP. Second, negotiations wouldn’t begin until June 16. The date is significant. It was on June 16, 1989 that Imre Nagy and his fellow martyrs were reburied. It was also the date when Viktor Orbán as a result of a much lauded speech began his meteoric rise to political prominence. Bajnai also chose another significant date in recent Hungarian history for a joint appearance with MSZP: October 23, the day the Hungarian revolution of 1956 broke out. I do realize that historical symbolism may have significance in politics but these dates are unfortunate. During July and August life more or less comes to a stop in Hungary. Parliament is not in session and most politicians leave for their yearly holidays. I simply can’t believe that much could be achieved during the summer months. Moreover, public interest in politics during the summer is even less than usual. ATV, for example, for financial reasons suspends some of their political programs. All in all, the dates picked seem untenable.
But why doesn’t Bajnai want to start negotiations earlier? He claims that the parties must work out their programs and that they also have to lay down the fundamentals of their policies that would entail “a rejection of the period before 2010.” A rather strange demand considering that during this period he served as minister in the Gyurcsány government and was also prime minister supported by the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition. I have to assume that these are not the real reasons behind his demand to postpone the negotiations. Rather, he is trying in the interim to build up his party that at the moment has the support of only 4% of the voting population. Tonight András Bánó, who was substituting for Olga Kálmán on Egyenes beszéd at ATV, managed to get Bajnai to more or less admit that this is indeed the case. So, Hungarian voters will say “politics as usual.” In my opinion that will not endear Bajnai to them. The video of the conversation in which Bánó put some very uncomfortable questions to Bajnai is available on ATV’s website.
Magyar Nemzet immediately noticed that Bajnai didn’t mention Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció, and since then it became apparent that he is ready to negotiate only with MSZP. Of course, one understands why Bajnai considers Gyurcsány a political liability, but avoiding any contact with Gyurcsány will not save him from Fidesz’s campaign to link the two of them. Indeed, the author of a Magyar Nemzet article simply called Bajnai a sly politician who furtively avoids the issue. The journalist intimated that the link between the two men is so strong that his repudiation of his old friend is no guarantee of anything. Gyurcsány and Bajnai were “partners in crime” in the past and will work together again given the opportunity.
Attila Mesterházy immediately responded to Bajnai’s call for negotiations and with great political skill suggested that as far as he is concerned he is ready to start negotiations on Monday. And since DK has steadfastly supported negotiations “without any preconditions” Mesterházy also insisted that DK be represented at the forthcoming negotiations.
Bajnai’s answer was disappointing. He rejected Mesterházy’s call for an immediate start to the negotiations. In his opinion, “the parties have to use the spring months to inform their voters of their programs.” Well, it is true that Együtt 2014 does need to work out a program, but MSZP has already crafted its own. Although Bajnai avoided mentioning DK or Gyurcsány, he made it clear that Együtt 2014 is ready to negotiate only with MSZP. When one of the reporters asked him about DK he was forced to say something. From his answer I gathered that he would like MSZP to make a separate deal with DK so he and his party wouldn’t have to sit down with his former friend and his prime minister.
Naive Bajnai who thinks that this will help his case. It won’t. I doubt that too many undecided voters will be swayed by his determination to talk only with MSZP or that he can build up his party significantly in the next two months. I also doubt that Fidesz’s propaganda against the Bajnai-Gyurcsány duo will be any less fierce because of his “sly” avoidance of DK.