A new political coalition in Hungary? Let’s hope so!

As I sit here to write about the latest and perhaps the most important political development of 2013, the situation is still far too fluid to be able report on the final outcome of this new round of negotiations among the democratic opposition forces.

Yesterday Gordon Bajnai on ATV and Attila Mesterházy on Magyar Rádió practically simultaneously announced that the negotiations that resulted in the ill-fated bilateral agreement between E14-PM and MSZP proved inadequate to strengthen the anti-Fidesz forces and therefore a renegotiation of the terms is necessary. MSZP has been languishing while E14-PM has been losing support. At the same time Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) has been gaining ground. According to some polls, it has garnered more potential voters than E14-PM which, in its agreement with MSZP, received 31 electoral districts out the available 106 in which the party could name its own candidates. At one point MSZP offered only two losing districts to DK and told the DK negotiating team that several of the party’s top politicians, including the party chairman Ferenc Gyurcsány, were not welcome on the MSZP list. Not surprisingly, DK refused these offers and demands.

In the last couple of months those voters who would like to get rid of Viktor Orbán and his corrupt and incompetent government have become discouraged and dispirited. By mid-December it seemed that at least four democratic opposition parties would run with separate lists and their own candidates, which would make a Fidesz victory in the coming election inevitable. Saner observers pointed out that as long as the anti-Fidesz voters don’t see a united and hence strong opposition, they will not be inspired to either work for the cause or vote for opposition candidates. After all, their efforts and votes would be wasted.

Yet both the Bajnai and the Mesterházy camps remained adamant. They not only refused to listen to “the voice of the people” but also attacked Ferenc Gyurcsány with such vehemence that at one point it looked as if any understanding with DK was impossible. Tibor Szanyi (MSZP), for example, called Gyurcsány “a mentally disturbed Bolshevik billionaire with whom one cannot build a future.” Bajnai accused him of betraying the aspirations of the democratic opposition. László Puch, the powerful MSZP politician who handled the party’s shady finances, said that “Gyurcsány all his life uttered only stupidities.” Gyurcsány stood fast. He has good political instincts and knew that these would not be the final words if events dictate otherwise. Moreover, he claims to be impervious to insults. He considers them part and parcel of politics.

Some people might complain that opposition politicians could have saved themselves a lot of headaches if they had realized the force of Gyurcsány’s opinion on the issue at the very beginning: given the new electoral rules, one can win against Fidesz only if there is a common list and one candidate for the post of prime minister. Mesterházy claimed yesterday with some justification that MSZP’s original idea was indeed to have a common platform, and negotiations to that end even began about a year ago. At that time it was Gordon Bajnai’s team that decided not to attend these meetings. And so the idea withered away.

negotiations2In fact, E14-PM kept postponing negotiations with MSZP in the hope of making the party stronger and thus having a stronger negotiating position. Mesterházy also indicated yesterday that it was E14-PM that was dead set against the participation of DK and Ferenc Gyurcsány in the negotiations. Apparently, it was not so much Gordon Bajnai who felt so strongly against his former friend and political ally but the few former LMP politicians who had left their party and joined Együtt 2014. This antagonism was understandable because, after all, LMP was a political formation that came into being in direct opposition to Ferenc Gyurcsány and his policies.

But finger pointing doesn’t lead anywhere. It is possible that originally it was E14-PM that was the obstacle to wider cooperation, but MSZP’s Mesterházy and some politicians around him were quick to follow the lead of Bajnai’s party. In fact, in the last few weeks one gained the distinct impression that E14-PM had had a change of heart and instead of the earlier harsh talk against Gyurcsány, E14-PM politicians were carefully leaving the door open for a renegotiation of the terms of the agreement signed by the two parties.

According to yesterday’s Népszava there were a number of influential liberal intellectuals who helped Gordon Bajnai make up his mind. Népszava mentioned by name László Bitó, formerly professor of ocular physiology at Columbia University and writer of fiction since his retirement in Hungary; Ágnes Heller, philosopher; Bálint Magyar, SZDSZ politician and former minister of education; Sándor Radnóti, literary historian; and Iván Fischer, conductor and music director of the renowned Budapest Festival Orchestra. These people have argued passionately for some time that the opposition’s ticket should include all parties and individuals who could contribute to an electoral victory in April.

Gordon Bajnai announced his willingness to abandon the idea of becoming the next prime minister of Hungary. Actually, if the old agreement between E14-PM and MSZP had remained in force, even then it would have been unlikely that Bajnai would have become prime minister given the large difference in size between the two parties.

Mesterházy in theory also showed his willingness to talk about all possible issues, even including giving up his candidacy for the post of prime minister. Lately there has been a lot of talk about both men stepping back and finding a third attractive and inspiring candidate. What we heard this afternoon, however, after a three-hour meeting between the negotiating teams of Bajnai and Mesterházy belies the latter’s openness to giving up his claim to the leading position on the common ticket.

MSZP seems to be rather inflexible in other respects as well. According to some socialist sources, the party doesn’t want to give a place on the common ticket to Ferenc Gyurcsány. We know enough about the membership of DK to realize that neither the membership nor the party’s other leaders would ever agree to his exclusion. I can’t believe that MSZP will be able to maintain that position. People are sick and tired of politicians in general and are especially tired of those politicians whose political ambitions seem to override the needs of the country. Too much insistence on the premiership may backfire. Moreover, Fidesz’s spokesman concentrated her criticism of the announcement on the selfishness of the politicians involved, whose only concern is personal gain.

We don’t know what the final result will  be. After three hours of negotiations this afternoon the two teams decided to continue talks this evening. We will see what tomorrow brings. And the next day. And the day after that….

73 comments

  1. My opinion is that Mesterházi would fit the bill OK, more than adequately. Also after all he has benn the elected leader of the stongest opposition party. So he hasplenty of right to battling Orbán when – in fact – the quetions comes down to a duel.

    So lets support him. That means if YOU or any other opposition leaning individual wants the opposition ot COALESCE, the YOU, the voter also take your share in compromising for the sake of EXPEDIENCY.

    All this in uncomfortable for many people becasue we think democracy means voting for your preferred candidate.

    In this one-vote no 2nd referendum election that the Fidesz has -on purpose- established, this is no longer the case. THE VOTER also MUST COMPROMISE in order to have his/her voice COUNT.

    The election laws require us to do this in order to be COUNTED.

    Fidesz is counting that the average populace will not undrstand this. In case you are such, dont hesiotate to have the issue clarified, even on this discussion !!!!!

  2. Andy, I like Attila Mesterházy and I think his claim to the post is justified given MSZP’s preponderance. The question is whether he will capture the imagination of the electorate or not. We will see in a couple of months but by then it might be too late. These two parties sure left the decision far too late and I think E14 has to carry the blame on that one.

  3. “I can’t believe that MSZP will be able to maintain that position. People are sick and tired of politicians in general and are especially tired of those politicians whose political ambitions seem to override the needs of the country. Too much insistence on the premiership may backfire. ”

    MSZP’s Mesterházy can easily maintain the position of candidate if he wants to. Remember that he was already candidate for Prime Minister in 2010. By accepting any less than full nomination he would publicly declare himself a stooge (not sure if that’s the right word). The situation would look like this: Mesterházy is good enough for a candidate in 2010 when the chance to win is 0% BUT as soon as there is a little bit of chance to actually win he is not good enough any more? What type of message would that send?

    “Gordon Bajnai announced his willingness to abandon the idea of becoming the next prime minister of Hungary.”

    Did anyone see what was said about this in Egyenes Beszéd? It was quite revealing.

  4. Here are my predictions for the final outcome of the negotiations:

    MSZP gives up two seats both of them districts with no chance of winning.
    E14 is forced to share its share of 31 districts with DK and a token few seats given to the Liberals. E14 retains 14 seats with 14 for DK and 3 going to the liberals. The two non winning seats from MSZP are given to other people like Bokros or Kuncze so the claim can be made that they are also included in the coalition.

    In exchange of dominating in the individual districts MSZP is forced to give up seats on their party list but they are willing to give up only about 5 seats from there out of the first 30 and another 5 seats from the next 30 then giving up the 20 seats from 60-80 completely.

    Thus Gyurcsány, Bajnai and 4-6 others gain ensured seats but the other’s can only get in if they win in their individual districts.

  5. Lest we forget, he was the MSzP candidate for prime minister at the disasterous 2009 election too.

    He was not able to increase the support for his party, while the Fidesz support plummeted in 2011-2012.

    In a well-functioning opposition party, he would have been replaced long time ago.

    He is a wishy-washy politician to my taste. I and lots of voters cannot see conviction in his talks and speeches.

    The election is not about changing government. We have to restore democracy against
    a hardened, criminal-souled ruling party. They can be beaten only by tough opposition.

    And by good organization!

    We need a tough guy, a good organizer who has charisma.

  6. A pity, that triumvirates went out of fashion a while ago – they would have a chance then.

  7. Has he organized tens of thousands of people to go house by house?

    Has he asked the MSzP European representatives to flood Hungary with election observers?

  8. gybognarjr :
    To little, too late, by too few, but oh, so very stupid and selfish! Hungary Executes Better. (especially in stupidity)

    I second the above perception.

  9. They have to find some fourth person for the job. There are reasonable candidates: Ildiko Lendvai for example. She stayed in the MSzP still close to all the three guys. Although she might not accept it. I am pretty sure there are well qualified others as well.

  10. I recommend the study of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting, ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights” for study
    to westerners who wish to understand the Hungarian psyche. Hungarians think–with their puffed out notions and self-delusion–that they live in the middle panel. In fact, they’re rapidly heading to panel three–Hell–with not a self-realization in sight.

  11. For the opposition this election is emphatically not about changing the government, let alone the system (the Orban regime).

    It is about jointly gaining a 1/3s blocking minority in the Parliament with respect to any further constitutional amendment.

    Even though Fidesz made sure it, but only it, can govern without regular amendments under this current constitution, governing would still be difficult even for them without a 2/3s majority.

    Given that the economy will not improve in any meaningful way in the foreseeable future, a good veto power in the hands of a joint opposition is actually quite an ok influence for the time being.

    For the opposition to win a 50+, but less than 2/3s majority (which would in any case take everybody by surprise, although I do not exclude it completely) would be a disaster given the constitutional structure (including the entrenched Fidesz-loyal people in the prosecution, judiciary etc.). At this stage the leftist parties are simply unprepared to govern, let alone govern together. They have no policy plans, no draft laws, no personnel ideas etc.

    To Spectator:

    a triumvirate is never a good idea (see SZDSZ’ election history in that respect which did not name a prime minister candidate in 1990 and perhaps not even in 1994, I can’t remember that). Anyway, people in an election cannot be enthusiastic about a diffuse small group of people, at least Ms. Lendvai sees that clearly, I read it in an interview. I also agree with her than any potential candidate would have already emerged, there are no reserve names. A prime minister’s position is for a political animal, and such creatures are not hiding at home. Election is very much about choosing between individuals at the top. That is why it is a tough choice, so I guess Mesterhazy will be the candidate, with Bajnai as his deputy or something. I would be surprised by any new (old) name for prime minister candidate.

  12. Though I’m an optimist at heart I feel that Ted is right – the opposition (not including Jobbik!) will be lucky if they get one third of the seats …

    And if they don’t get their act together real soon now they will surely stay way below that threshold – and Orbán will have an supermajority again!

  13. Wolfi: But this is the best we can hope for. These people are unable to govern the country together, imagine if this ridiculous negotiating game would be done with governing responsibilities. They would fall apart in no time and Orbán would be back in office before you sober up from the victory celebration. For a real change Fidesz and its policies have to self-destruct first which just hasn’t happened yet. Gaining 1/3 will have a moderating effect and give the country a chance to actually survive Orbán’s rule in one piece.

    Also finally we’ll see if Gyurcsány’s inclusion will actually bring or take votes. I know what the polls have to say on that, I’m not sure if I buy it, now we’ll see. One thing is for sure, it won’t be hard for Habony to get together the Fidesz core now.

  14. One more thing. If the opposition’s only election agenda will be to change the government without matching Orbán’s story with an equally appealing vision of Hungary, then they don’t understand democracy any better then Orbán does and are doomed to a catastrophic defeat united or not. I’ve heard Fodor, Magyar and others arguing that it is enough to work out what to do once they are elected which amounts to asking the electorate for a free ticket. Nobody other then their core supporters will buy that, in particular, I won’t buy that. On the other hand, good luck aligning the alleged programs of these three (or more) parties without some of them making an absolute ass of themselves. If it wasn’t all contributing to the demise of my country, I’d say interesting times are ahead.

  15. The number of “new” citizens, who do not reside in Hungary has reached 0.1 million yesterday.

    44.9% live in Romania
    31.0% live in E-landia (easy case of potential fraud)
    17.9% in Serbia
    1.4% in Hungary (isn’t this a contradiction?)
    1.0% in Germany
    3.8% all others

  16. I Apologize for my grammatical mistakes. Would it be possible to put up a “correction” button?

  17. GabeGab :

    They have to find some fourth person for the job. There are reasonable candidates: Ildiko Lendvai for example. She stayed in the MSzP still close to all the three guys. Although she might not accept it. I am pretty sure there are well qualified others as well.

    I have a soft spot for Ildikó Lendvai. Very smart, Did a fantastic job as leader of the MSZP caucus. Would be an ideal choice.

  18. Ukraine+Slovakia combined 0.7%
    US 0.4%
    Switzerland 0.3%
    Canada 0.3%
    Australia 0.3%
    UK 0.2%
    Sweden 0.2%
    France 0.1%
    Italy 0.1%

    All others 1.2% (each country here has fewer than 100 registrants)

  19. tappanch :

    I Apologize for my grammatical mistakes. Would it be possible to put up a “correction” button?

    I will look into it. I as ‘owner” of the blog have this opportunity and I don’t understand why commenters cannot.

  20. Gyurcsany should remove himself from the political scene. Then and only then the opposition might have a chance

  21. @Joe Simon

    “We need a tough guy, a good organizer who has charisma.” – I am quoting myself.

    Out of the tres viri, only Gyurcsany approximates the criteria.

    I fully support Eva’s idea to nominate a smart woman to lead the opposition

  22. Ted writes: “At this stage the leftist parties are simply unprepared to govern, let alone govern together. They have no policy plans, no draft laws, no personnel ideas etc.” This seems to be true, but there is a clear perception that these parties are pro-EU and oppose nationalizations. I don’t see a lot of admission on the part of socialists that their own involvement in rapid privatization actually constituted a give away to western business interests. Orban and his followers can run on a bogus policy of national independence and the opposition focuses on the destruction of democracy which Fidesz simply denies and characterizes as a lie.

  23. tappanch :
    I fully support Eva’s idea to nominate a smart woman to lead the opposition

    I also fully support this idea, however I don’t see it happening in a country where women are still seen as a kitchen utensil. Pity, in general Hungarian women to me seem smarter and more realistic than Hungarian men with their inflated egos.

  24. tappanch: did you mean to say 1 million? 0.1 million is only 100k people, and I think we are way past that. We are over 500.000 at least.

  25. Joe: Nobody cares about Gyurcsany that much any more. He will not be a determining factor for the voters. I understand why he is being demonized tirelessly (because he is the only politician Orban actually fears and had been humiliated by in the 2006 tv debate for which he will never forgive himself to have entered into), but simply there is not much mileage in hating him that much any more. A lot of people are past that. Those people who hate him that much would not have anyway voted for MSZP/Együtt (without Gy.).

  26. I should know better, but I started this with a surge of optimism after reading the heading. However, I read absolutely nothing to justify any optimism whatsoever.

    What’s changed? Nothing, as far as I can see. Gy is still the only politician with any chance of besting OV, but is still hated by everyone. Everyone still disagrees with everyone else. Everyone is still trying to grab the biggest slice of the tiny pie.

    And, as someone else said, if a miracle happened, can you seriously imagine this shambles trying to run the country? OV wouldn’t have to use his extra-parliamentary troops, his media power, or his money – he’d just be able to sit back and let them screw things up.

    I’m not sure what’s worse – OV back in power with another super-majority, or this bunch of fools and egotists running the country. I am eternally glad I don’t have to make that choice.

    By the looks of it, it’s going to be even longer than I feared before the ‘opposition’ gets its act together enough to get rid of Orbán. We’re in this mess for the long haul – and God alone knows what will be left of Hungary by the time it’s over.

  27. Earnest :

    tappanch :
    I fully support Eva’s idea to nominate a smart woman to lead the opposition

    I also fully support this idea, however I don’t see it happening in a country where women are still seen as a kitchen utensil. Pity, in general Hungarian women to me seem smarter and more realistic than Hungarian men with their inflated egos.

    I would love this to happen too. But, leaving aside Earnest’s (accurate) analysis, can you imagine how a female PM would be treated in Parliament?

    Julia Gillard’s experience would be a picnic by comparison.

  28. Best Bet: Fidesz Gov’t Without 2/3 even with Jobbik

    I too think that a strong liberal opposition leaving Fidesz to face the consequences of its years of thievery and incompetence without the help of a 2/3 majority is a better bet for the future than a liberal government without a 2/3 majority. But the liberal opposition representation also has to be big enough to prevent Fidesz from reaching 2/3 in coalition with Jobbik (which there is certainly no guarantee that these scruple-free opportunists would not resort to, if need be).

    And, yes, Gyurcsany is the only one with the brains and the gonads to stand up to Orban. The fatuous voter prejudice against him is almost as big a shame as their fatal following of Orban.

  29. Paul :

    I would love this to happen too. But, leaving aside Earnest’s (accurate) analysis, can you imagine how a female PM would be treated in Parliament?

    Julia Gillard’s experience would be a picnic by comparison.

    In that case, you don’t know Ildikó. She is a great debater and far too clever for some of those Fidesz morons.

  30. Several papers are now writing that Mesterházy will be the nominee for PM, just as I predicted. Will be interesting to see what happens now.

  31. Eva S. Balogh :
    Breaking news: agreement on common list!!!

    Yes, however they agreed that Mesterhazy would lead the list. Apparently Egyutt-PM tried to follow my advice and find a fourth person instead, but that proposal did not win. Anyway I think Mesterhazy will be okay, even if he might not be everyone first choice. And please do not forget that it still seems to be a kamikaze job.

  32. Breaking news: Mesterhazy will try to challenge Orban.

    I have already expressed my opinion of him.

  33. tappanch :
    The number of “new” citizens, who do not reside in Hungary has reached 0.1 million yesterday.
    44.9% live in Romania
    31.0% live in E-landia (easy case of potential fraud)
    17.9% in Serbia
    1.4% in Hungary (isn’t this a contradiction?)
    1.0% in Germany
    3.8% all others

    You mean the number of Hungarian citizens who registered for voting from abroad. As expected, the figure is far from the half-million new passports granted. But I’m a bit surprised no to see Slovakia on the list at valasztas.hu ?

  34. tappanch :

    Breaking news: Mesterhazy will try to challenge Orban.

    I have already expressed my opinion of him.

    That may not be the end of the story. I only read that MSZP will give the PM and that there shouldn’t be surprised there. That doesn’t include Lendvai.

  35. With news coming in at this speed, I’m concerned we are not going to be able to discuss Kerényi’s hysterical new action about a new government newspaper!

  36. “I only read that MSZP will give the PM and that there shouldn’t be surprised there.”

    Mesterházy confirmed to a journalist’s question that it will be him.

  37. ” I only read that MSZP will give the PM and that there shouldn’t be surprised there.”

    MSZP will give the PM and it will be Mesterházy. At least that is what was announced today at the Bajnai-ME press conference.

  38. Looks like the developments caught Gyurcsány unaware, he’s just heading home from vacation!

  39. @Marcel

    Of course, there are about 0.6 million new citizens (the updated numbers are kept secret),
    and 0.1 million of them registered to vote SO FAR.

    I think Fidesz target is 0.5 million registered voters, or 10% of the expected voters.

    If Fidesz gets 27% of the Hungarian vote + 7% from new voters, they reach the 2010 level.

    So, in the new Fidesz-made election system,
    their 27% support inside Hungary could be translated to 75% in Parliament.

  40. Announcement by the Economics Ministry:

    preliminary budget deficit, 2013: about €3.1 billion.

    Add the approximately €5 billion of EU support.

    Total gross debt of Hungary is about €75 billion.

    Add €10 billion of the private retirement funds diverted to lessen the number above.

    The GDP was €97 billion in 2012.

  41. 2014 budget:

    Domestic revenue: €48.1 billion
    EU support: € 5.2 billion

    Outlays: €56.6 billion
    Deficit: € 3.3 billion

    I used the exchange rate of €/Ft = 300

  42. In Slovakia (5.4 million people)

    Revenue: €14.1
    Outlays: €17.4 billion in 2014.

    Therefore in Hungary, domestic revenue per capita is €4,900

    In Slovakia, the same number is €2,600, while the gross salaries are 30% higher.

    I think I proved that the Hungarian State is a fat, overbearing, money-sucking animal compared to the young Slovak State.

  43. @tappanch

    I thought the numbers on valasztas.hu were about all Hungarians registering abroad, ie “old” and “new” together. Maybe I’m wrong.

    And yes, I eventually came to the conclusion that Slovakia & Ukraine were in that category – but doesn’t also Austria?

  44. I find myself agreeing with Éva that a female candidate for PM is needed. But strongly disagree about Lendvai who I think is pretty much shop soiled and will be dismissed as ex MSZMP. No, if you wanted an imaginative choice for the ideal candidate, it would be Éva Tétényi, mayor of Esztergom, who has gone out of her way to reject being labelled left or right (but is liberal in the sense that most of us understand!), talks extremely well and above all, has an aura of decency which no politician in Hungary can match. Admittedly, she has totally achieved nothing in her job (although the odds are ridiculously stacked against her), has shown no indication that she has any ideas about economics, let alone the ability to get them implemented. But if she was the PM candidate, she just might attract votes from all sides of the fictive divide. And she would be a wonderful breath of fresh air in Hungarian politics. I have on my Facebook list and the articles she links to, the comments she makes, show her to have her head firmly screwed on and pointing in the right place.

    Talking about Facebook, three of my “friends” immediately posted comments to the effect that if Mesterházy is the candidate, Orbán might as well open the champagne now. And they are right.

  45. @Marcel

    The numbers are the registered “new” voters, who do not maintain an address in Hungary.

Comments are closed.