How solid is the Bajnai-Mesterházy pact?

It’s time to return to the state of the Hungarian opposition which, given its daunting electoral challenge, should be united and pursuing a politically savvy course. Instead, it remains fragmented and for the most part bumbling.

In late September Medián found that the great majority of left liberals would like to have a single list and joint candidates in each of the 106 districts. So far the opposition hasn’t heeded their call.

Then there was Solidarity’s demonstration at which a styrofoam statue of Viktor Orbán was toppled. Solidarity’s alleged allies, Együtt 2014-PM and MSZP, distanced themselves from Péter Kónya’s “street theater.” They thereby lent credence to the position of Fidesz and KDNP politicians who claimed that this symbolic act was tantamount to an actual assassination of Viktor Orbán. The only opposition politician who stood by Péter Kónya was Ferenc Gyurcsány. As far as I know, Kónya is planning new street performances. Whether Együtt 2014-PM and MSZP embrace these activities or whether Solidarity ends up joining forces on a national level with DK remains to be seen.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s see what is going on within Együtt 2014-PM. First of all, it will soon be called something else, which I consider a blessing as long as they come up with a decent name for a party. Most people, I assume, know that Együtt 2014 was the original name of Bajnai’s group to which PM (Párbeszéd Magyarországért = Dialogue for Hungary), another ill-chosen name for a party, was tacked on. PM comprises the ten or so former LMP members and their followers who broke with András Schiffer.

The name change is necessary because Együtt 2014-PM is not a party. The PM people insisted on maintaining their independence, and therefore this cobbled-together creation was a party alliance formed only for the election. But there’s a problem with this arrangement. The threshold for parliamentary representation for a party alliance is 10% as opposed to 5% for a party. And, according to the latest polls, E14-PM has only a 6% share of the votes. Naturally, the party’s spokesmen insist that the polls are all wrong and they have at least twice that much. It seems, however, that their socialist friends take the polls seriously and keep pressuring the Bajnai crew to create a real party just in case. Viktor Szigetvári, co-chairman of the party, just yesterday in an interview with HVG confidently announced that they’re aiming to capture 20% of the votes at the election, but at the moment that goal cannot be taken seriously.

At the same time that Együtt14 is losing support, Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció is gaining ground. According to Medián, DK actually surpassed E14 among those who are certain that they will vote at the next election.

HVG, an influential and well-informed media outlet, has been watching the shifts that have been occurring on the left. Within the course of one week HVG published two articles indicating possible changes that might have to be made to the Bajnai-Mesterházy deal. On September 4 the paper reported that its sources in E14 and MSZP admitted that “Gyurcsány revived” even though they tried to minimize the significance of the changes in DK’s standing. They conceded, however, that DK’s momentum highlights “the contradictions inherent in the Mesterházy-Bajnai agreement.”

Meanwhile Ferenc Gyurcsány is taking advantage of the shifting public sentiment and is campaigning aggressively. He promised to continue his nationwide campaign unabated until the Christmas holidays.

You may recall that after the appearance of Gordon Bajnai DK lost about half of its earlier support. András Kósa of HVG wondered whether perhaps these earlier DK supporters, disappointed in E14’s performance, are now returning to DK. It is also possible that some MSZP voters who want a single opposition party list are shifting their support to Gyurcsány, the only opposition politician who insists on a single list, which is, in his opinion, the key to electoral victory.

HVG‘s article also said that DK leaders are ready to recruit new supporters even at the expense of E14 because that would force the renegotiation of the Bajnai-Mesterházy agreement. Gyurcsány, in fact, began to criticize both Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy. A few days ago he complained about the lukewarm campaign style of Bajnai. In a lengthy interview with the Austrian Der Standard he claimed that Bajnai and Mesterházy are the ones who fear competition from him. And only yesterday he said that in the coming campaign one needs not only goalies but forwards as well. This was a reference to Bajnai who plays amateur football as a goalie and who described himself as a political goalie rather than a forward.

Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai They are not such a good friend anymore

Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai
They are not such good friends anymore

Today HVG came out with another article based on E14 and MSZP sources. Gábor Gavra, editor-in-chief,  joined András Kósa in taking responsibility for the information gathered. They learned that Együtt 2014 has a solution to the DK problem. If it turns out that because of a strengthening DK negotiations between E14 and MSZP must be reopened, E14 would give up two districts and would expect MSZP to turn over six districts to DK. There was a sentence in the Szigetvári interview that pointed to a potential thaw in relations with DK consistent with such a renegotiation. When asked whether there is any possibility of an understanding between E14 and DK, Szigetvári answered that “There is a chance, and a wide collaboration is in the interest of the opposition. E14 will not stand in the way.”

Unfortunately the hypothetical E14 offer is not as generous as it seems. The two districts they are willing to give DK are Fidesz strongholds. Of the six districts that belong to MSZP at present only two could possibly be won by an opposition candidate. An unnamed DK politician’s reaction undoubtedly reflects the feelings of the DK leadership and the 8,700 party members: “What magnanimity! Two parties with approximately the same popular support and Együtt will keep 29 and will give us two. This doesn’t even deserve comment.” Apparently one DK politician who is a member of the presidium said that they would be happy with a 60-40 split of the 31 districts E14 currently has as a result of the Bajnai-Mesterházy pact. But such a split would deprive E14 of being able to have a separate party list.

Gordon Bajnai immediately denied that E14 has been thinking about reopening negotiations with MSZP. That  may even be true in the strict sense of the word. However, every party has to have contingency plans, especially if MSZP insists on reopening negotiations in the eventuality of a further fall in E14’s popularity.

As far as Gyurcsány’s strategy is concerned, I’m becoming convinced that he is trying to force the hand of the opposition parties to come up with a common list. This may in fact become a necessity if neither E14–or whatever it is called by then–nor DK could have a party list. In this case a single list would be the only option. Polls over the next two months or so will undoubtedly help shape the strategy the opposition parties will have to adopt.


  1. In his speech at Chatham House on Wednesday, Orban said how important it is to have a robust opposition if you want effective democracy.

    The Hungarian left have nothing to complain about. Fidesz’s deeds which this blog describes are often so odious, that even a moderately effective opposition would expose them and stop them.

  2. I’m becoming more and more convinced that Mesterházy doesn’t want to win this election. My gut feeling is that he wants to use 2014 as a clean wipe on the opposition side. He probably expects Együtt, DK, and LMP being crippled over whose pseudo-dead bodies it is going to be easy to emerge as the unquestionable opposition leader in 2018 when Fidesz might be in much much worse shape than now.

    In my opinion, Mesterházy is a pretty shady Machiavellian figure, but as usual that means he is pretty smart too, I can’t believe that he doesn’t see how weak and ineffective their campaign is.

  3. @ Jano

    My, my, people still have no inkling of how pervasive is Hungarian duplicity at its pinnacling best. Mesterhazy has reached the apogee of his political ambitions: to be in the secure, stable, and well-filled pockets of a politico who will, secretly fund him and select members of his inner cirlce–for many years to come.

    Have you forgotten how, just after the Bajnai merging was announced, Mesterhazy had a televised speech before thousands how, “MSZP will do this; and MSZP will do that”….with nary a mention whatsoever of Bajnai? Nice start to a political union, wouldn’t you say?
    After that performance, I then thought, Brutus could’ve taken lessons on back-stabbing…

  4. Perhaps Gyurcsany will be strong enough by 2018 to topple both Orban and Mesterhazy (who does indeed strike me as both simpering and sleazy).

    Bajnai’s honest and competent, but too weak.

    Question is whether Gyurcsany’s governing skills will prove as powerful as his electoral and oratory skills. There’s certainly no one anywhere near as strong as him in sight (and that includes Orban, minus his media monopoly).

    Gyurcsany also looks to be surrounded by the best and the brightest.

    (If only the Hungarian populace had had enough sense and insight — and decency — not to fall for the post-Oszod Fidesz FUD that toppled him, but it seems to have been too close to their hearts…)

  5. We have discussed this here before:

    If the opposition should win in 2014 they would have to bear the consequences of the machinations of Fidesz, including the possible economic breakdown after the consequences of all those stupid election presents (utility cuts etc …) come to fruit.

    So maybe they are quite sensible in not really wanting to win – let Fidesz bear the consequences including the wrath of the EU which is bound to come sooner or later!

    A bit OT:

    Utility cuts are like the flat tax in reality presents for the rich which profit most – to reduce costs for heating etc people should get cheap loans/mortgages to isolate their houses, put in new windows, get new heating systems etc …
    That’s what is sponsored by the government in Germany and other countries – not just reducing prices which is only a short term solution!

    In our village there is gas available everywhere – but many people can’t afford this and still burn coal (and other really smelly stuff …) – we’ll have to get used to having windows closed again when we return to Hungary at the end of this month.

  6. Stratfor praises Orban to the sky

    Orban correctly assumes that with an increasingly distant European core and without any powerful patron to replace it, Hungary cannot avoid an eventual negotiated confrontation with Russia. Orban’s most controversial policies — the appropriation of private pensions, the attempted neutering of the judicial branch, the ongoing nationalization of strategic energy assets, for example — are all designed to concentrate power in the state’s hands. Centralizing power will improve Budapest’s negotiating position for what Orban sees as an inevitable opening to the East.

    Orban and the Fidesz party’s policies consistently clash with the liberal ideals enshrined in the European Union and have therefore incurred the ire of Brussels. However, knowing that Hungary can no longer ward off Russia by integrating further with the European Union, the disapproval of the Western elites matters far less to Orban than his ability to sustain Hungary’s sovereignty in the long term.

    The geopolitical reality from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea is thus: Europe is disintegrating, Russia is reasserting itself and the United States is mostly ambivalent. The Hungarian experiment is only the first of its kind….

  7. How interesting. András Kósa of HVG is a friend of mine – we’re actually going to watch the Hungary-Holland football game later on tonight together. I’m going to ask him about this DK Együtt split while we watch Hungary get massacred.

  8. Wow!
    I just downloaded that Stratfor analysis:
    “clash with the liberal ideals enshrined in the European Union”

    I pity the poor Hungarians – Fidesz takes them either 200 years back to a feudal system (if you consider it a translation in time) or 1000 km east to Belorussia (if you consider it a translation in space)!

    In any case Hungary would be lost as a democracy …

  9. @Ovidiu: Interesting effort on part of Stratfor to read long-term strategic goals into the Orban madness. Alas, Orban has no long term vision, no matter how much he likes to pretend he has such a thing. His only long term goal is very self-serving: to ride whatever political wave comes to stay in power and make sure that his “reign” leaves a mark in history (yes, he is ambitious that way). He is driven by his own self-importance not by any strategic considerations of Hungary’s interests.

  10. @Ovidiu: I also think that this article is a lot more indicative of growing European concerns shared by some over Russia’s increasing influence rather than of Orban’s strategic thinking.

  11. OT (as always!) – this is the OV video my wife and her Fidesz friends have been sharing on FB:

    I don’t know how this comes across to a Hungarian audience (presumably, well, as that’s who it is intended for), but from a UK perspective the whole video seems very odd (even leaving aside the footage of the cat!).

    Orbán just doesn’t look or act like a statesman or visiting PM, he seems more like a country cousin on a visit to the big city, in fact he looks totally out of his depth. I’m no fan of Cameron, but just look at the two of them side-by-side. They’ve been in power more or less the same length of time, one propped up by an awkward coalition, the other in total control, and yet, from the body language, you’d guess it was the other way round.

    Orbán also walks in a very strange way – is this how he normally walks? At first I thought it was the sort of swagger I would have expected from him, but then I started to wonder if it was something medical – like an old football injury or something? And his English is very strange – not bad (although with a marked Hungarian accent), but his voice is strangely high-pitched – quite different to how he sounds in Hungarian.

    All in all, he looked and sounded like a fish out of water. As an ‘honorary’ Hungarian, I squirmed (although my wife thought he did very well). I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in No. 10 after he left – Cameron looked genuinely pleased to see him at first, but it wasn’t long before his body language was saying “how much longer do I have to put up with this buffoon?”.

  12. @Paul–‘walks in a strange way’. Yes, a side-side walk, with no cross-lateral movement in the torso. Perhaps he is wearing some sort of corset which would limit natural movement.

  13. Completely OTT, Holland are presently slaughtering Orbanistan 6-1.

    I sincerely hope there will be a parliamentary debate on Monday to consider this serious state of affairs.

    Perhaps Our Dear Leader can leverage another tax on the banks and the public utility companies to compensate for this blow to our national pride.

    Alternatively he could follow the Dutch (a la Ajax) model and look to expand the concept of free expression in both the sporting and political sphere.

  14. oneill :
    Make that Holland 8-1 Orbanistan.

    A clear case for more football stadiums in Hungary, and daily training in schools.

  15. A disastrous night for Hungarian football, after recent years when things seemed to be improving.

    Not only did they get thrashed (by a team that has already qualified and has nothing to prove!), but Turkey and Romania won their games – quite comfortably. Hungary could still (in theory) end up as runners-up and therefore have a chance of qualifying, as they have an easy final game. But they need Turkey and Romania both to lose. Turkey might, as they are playing Holland, but I can’t see Romania losing.

    Not a happy day for our little ex-foci player.

  16. While accessing the Stratfor article, I noted there groveling for paying customers at $39.95 per month.
    Now, imagine what a couple of hundred thousand dollars might buy you…? Nuff said.

  17. Gretchen :
    For the Chatham House speech in English:

    Actually not a bad speech until he got to the ‘nations’ bit, then he went loopy.

    I don’t see how he can claim to be reducing the debt though, when he is running a steady deficit. Surely any deficit just makes the debt higher?

    Mind you, that was at least a little more realistic than many of his other claims…

  18. Paul: Not only did they get thrashed (by a team that has already qualified and has nothing to prove!).

    That is not entirely true. Yes they qualify, but apparently the better the balance (of number of goals) is, the better your chances with the lottery for the first round are.

  19. “Completely OTT, Holland are presently slaughtering Orbanistan 6-1.
    I sincerely hope there will be a parliamentary debate on Monday to consider this serious state of affairs.”

    That might be a real possibility. Communications director Máté Kocsis is calling for heads to roll:
    “Humiliation, shame, pathetic! We can’t stop at just Egervári…” (Egervári resigned immediately following the match).

    The last time the Hungarian team lost by 7 goals was in 1941!

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