Regrouping on the left: MSZP on the brink

In the wake of the EU parliamentary election the non-Hungarian media will undoubtedly be preoccupied with the fact that the second largest party in Hungary is an extreme-right, racist, anti-Semitic party. But in the domestic press the “demise” of the Hungarian Socialist Party and the surprisingly good showing of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció is the chief topic. After all, Fidesz’s large victory was a foregone conclusion, and the Hungarian media had speculated for some time that Jobbik would surpass MSZP. But no one predicted that DK would almost catch up with MSZP.

DK’s performance was especially unexpected because most opinion polls predicted that DK had no chance of sending delegates to the European Parliament. Medián, normally a very reliable polling firm, forecast a large Fidesz victory, Jobbik as the second-place winner, and MSZP in third place. As far as E14-PM and LMP were concerned, their chances were slim, teetering around the 5% mark. The party that, in Medián’s opinion, had no chance whatsoever was the Demokratikus Koalíció.

As it turned out, the predictions were off rather badly in the case of the smaller parties. As it stands now, all three–E14-PM, LMP, and DK–will be able to take part in the work of the European Parliament. The largest discrepancy between the predictions and the actual results was in the case of DK, which with its 9.76% will have two MEPs in Strasbourg.

The talking heads were stunned, especially those who have been absolutely certain that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s name is so tainted that there was no way he could ever again be a major player in Hungarian politics. Even those who sympathized with him felt that he returned to politics too early and by this impatience jeopardized his own political future.

The very poor showing of MSZP had a shocking effect on the Hungarian public as well as on commentators. No one was expecting a large win, but Medián, for example, predicted at least 14%. Instead, the final result was 10.92%.  A devastating blow. On her Facebook page Ildikó Lendvai, former whip and chairman of the party, described MSZP as being asleep or perhaps even dead. Slapping around a dead man, she wrote, is a waste of time. The governing body (elnökség) of the party has already resigned en bloc, and Saturday we will find out whether Attila Mesterházy will have to step down. Some well-known blog writers suggested that he should leave politics altogether and find a nice civilian job.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened to the three parties that constituted the United Alliance in the April 5 national election. The supposition that MSZP did all the heavy lifting for the combined ticket turned out to be false, at least based on the new returns. DK and E14-PM together garnered 18% of the votes as opposed to MSZP’s 10.92%. A rather substantial difference. EP-valasztas 2014-2It is also clear that the relatively good showing of the United Alliance in Budapest was due to the two smaller parties. This time around DK and E14-PM received 26% of the votes as opposed to MSZP’s 11.5%. DK ran second behind Fidesz in the capital (13.1o%), very closely followed by E14-PM (13.07%). Which party won in which district? It seems that Gordon Bajnai’s party was strong in the more elegant districts of Pest and Buda: the Castle district, Rózsadomb, downtown Pest, and Óbuda. Gyurcsány’s party won in less affluent districts: Köbánya, Újpalota, Csepel. Altogether DK won in nine outlying districts.

DK also did better than MSZP in several larger cities: Debrecen, Győr, Nagykanizsa, Kaposvár, Érd, Kecskemét, Pécs, and Székesfehérvár. In addition, there were two counties, Fejér and Pest, where DK beat the socialists. I should add that Fidesz lost only one city, Nyírbátor, where MSZP received 41.12% of the votes to Fidesz’s 32.35%.

As I predicted, very few Hungarians voted. In 2004 the figure was 38.50%, in 2009 36.31%, and this year only 28.92%. There might be several reasons for the low participation. For starters, people took a large Fidesz victory for granted. They did not think their votes could make a difference. Moreover, it was less than two months since the last election, and only the very committed took the trouble to make another trip to the polling station.

As far as the composition of the European Parliament is concerned, it looks as if EPP will have 212 members and S&D 186. So, the candidate for the post of the president of the European Commission will most likely be Jean-Claude Juncker, the man Viktor Orbán would not vote for in the European Council. What is wrong with Juncker? One very big problem is his country of origin: Luxembourg. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding is also a Luxembourger, and she was very tough on the Orbán government. As Orbán put it: “the commissioner from Luxembourg has only hurt Hungary in the past. So, Hungarians cannot support a Luxembourger.” And Redding was not alone. There was another Luxembourger, Jean Asselborn, foreign minister in Juncker’s government, who criticized Hungary’s media law. It seems that Orbán developed a general dislike of Luxembourgers.

Orbán might not be alone in the European Council in his opposition to Juncker because it looks as if  David Cameron will also oppose him. Mind you, he also has problems with Martin Schulz. I doubt that the anti-Juncker forces will succeed, however, because Angela Merkel has thrown her weight behind him.

As for Juncker, naturally he was asked about his reaction to Orbán’s opposition to his nomination at his press conference today. Juncker started off by keeping the topic away from his own person, saying that “this is a problem that exists between Fidesz and EPP,” but then he told the journalists what was on his mind. “I cannot accept that just because a former minister from Luxembourg got into an argument with the Hungarian government it is en0ugh reason to exclude another Luxembourger from the post of president of the European Council. This is not elegant reasoning.”

Elegant reasoning and Orbán? In his fairly lengthy and exuberant victory speech, the prime minister called the Hungarian MEPs the “advanced garrison of Hungarians who defend the homeland abroad.” He sent them off with these words: “Greetings to the soldiers entering the battlefield!”

 

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29 comments

  1. Orbán hopes to be asked by Angela Merkel to change his position to Juncker. He could be right. However, another scenario is also possible, that Merkel is reaching an agreement with the SPD and they will not need Orbán. In that case, the question will be how the EPP will react to Orbán disloyal position.
    Already in July 2013, some EPP MEPs have voted for the Rui Tavares report. Therefore, we will probably see more of that attitude.
    Some of those on the left side of the political Spectrum in Hungary put a lot of energy into fighting Ferenc Gyurcsány. The “gyurcsányozás” became a verb in colloquial Hungarian meaning the bashing of Gyurcsány. After this election, those people will have to revise their position. I think Gyurcsány’s personal charisma contributed to the relative success of DK.
    Will the opposition parties find a candidate for the job as mayor of Budapest? Will they unite or continue bickering and help Tarlós to keep his job.

  2. With such a low turnout, it really doesn’t give a fair picture of the current parties. I’m delighted to see the MSZP getting hammered because if we are lucky, they will cease to exist and something better may emerge. But sad that Gyurcsány has done so well because it means he’ll remain in Hungarian politics, a fish bone caught in the throat that can’t be swallowed or coughed up. And the opposition are never going to be able to claw any votes from the other side of the political divide so long as he is part of the alternative.

  3. Eva I notice that you very often use quotation marks for things that are not quotations. For example:

    ““I cannot accept that just because a former minister from Luxembourg got into an argument with the Hungarian government it is en0ugh reason to exclude another ”

    When someone googles, it thinking it is a quotation it gives no results except this blog. In case this is something that you translated from another language or you transcribed from a video or somehow produced this content another way can you give the source of the original as well? Just in these cases where it is not a quotation that can be found with googling. It is somewhat annoying when someone is trying to find out more about the quote and google gives nothing.

  4. You can Google until doomsday. It is my own translation from Hungarian because it is not available in English, French, or German. At least I couldn’t find it.

    I don’t put things into quotation marks which were not in quotation marks in the original.

  5. What I found interesting:

    In most counties the sum of the Fidesz and Jobbik votes is between 71 and 73% – with a few exceptions, Budapest of course. But also in Györ, Esztergom, Csongrád and Baranya that sum is “only” around 65%.

    Are/were these counties “Socialist Strongholds”?

  6. Cameron is under no expectation to vote for Juncker because his party are not members of the EPP (because of its federalist agenda). What makes Orbán’s situation peculiar is that he is picking a fight with his own faction. In truth though, the whole European Parliament is a farce at the best of times which is why no one can be bothered to take it seriously enough to go and vote.

  7. Éva: “the prime minister called the Hungarian MEPs the “advanced garrison of Hungarians who defend the homeland abroad.” He sent them off with these words: “Greetings to the soldiers entering the battlefield!””

    With such start, I expect him to equip “his men” adequately for their kaladozasok to the EP and they will appear as frightening Magyars on horses, “raining arrows” on the other Europeans. The only thing that worries me is that he can send just 12 Fidesz fighters, the horses and arrows might not be admitted. Looks like a complicated mission. It’s high time Viktor I. finds out that the best defence of his homeland is withdrawal from the EU.

  8. I don’t think you can really read anything into EU votes, the people simply don’t see them as real, meaningful elections (how many people know who their MEP is or what MEPs or the European Parliament do – how many care?). It’s just a chance to score points/make protests.

    We have just had a very similar experience in the UK, with UKIP (the anti-EU party) winning hands down and the only really pro-EU party (Liberals) being almost wiped out. No one seriously thinks we’ll get anything like these results in next year’s general election. It’s just seen as a game, and a chance to have a go at politicians.

    And a turnout of less than 30% invalidates it even more. If a polling company asked 1,000 people who they were voting for and over 70% didn’t bother to answer, how seriously would we take their ‘findings’? And it’s even worse in a real election – the government doesn’t ring you up or stop you in the street, you have to care enough to give up your time to go to the polling station – only the few dedicated citizens and those with an agenda can be bothered.

  9. As for the situation with DK and MSzP – I fear this is just a meaningless distraction. The political climate in Hungary has changed totally in the last 10 or 15 years, there is effectively no appetite for, or belief in, left-wing politics any more (even the centre-left variety of the ‘socialists’ and the liberals). And I can’t see that changing in the next 10 or 20 years.

    The only way to counter Orbán is to revive the non-populist/nationalist centre-right. As voters move away from Fidesz (which is already happening), they currently have nowhere to go. Some will dally with Jobbik, few (if any) will turn to the left. There is no MDF, so where do they go? Off the radar completely.

    How many of those ‘don’t knows/won’t tells/can’t be bothereds’ are actually centre-right voters who don’t want to vote Fidesz? There could be a large pool of centre-right/non-Fidesz voters out there already, but with no party to vote for.

    What Hungary needs right now is not the revival or restructuring (or even re-birth) of MSzP, or the miraculous resurrection and ascension of Gyurcsány, it desperately needs the recreation of the MDF.

    As bizarre and counterintuitive as it might seem, we on the left-liberal side of politics should be ignoring whatever the irrelevant old dinosaurs of the left are doing, and concentrate instead on helping the centre-right re-establish itself. In the sort-medium term, this is the only way to defeat (and replace) Fidesz-Jobbik.

    And the short to medium-term is probably all the time that Hungary has left.

  10. @Kirsten

    What’s gotten into you? Did you drink your palinka allotment all in one shot?

    I’m concerned over this:

    “It’s high time Viktor I. finds out that the best defence of his homeland is withdrawal from the EU.”

    So, is this mockery or have you gone over to the ‘dark side’ and are now advocating anti-EU policy?

  11. Petöfi, the words of Viktor Orban apparently work like palinka :-). I was just thinking about the apparent mental deficiancy to try to battle for the defence of the country with 12 people in a parliament and institution from which you can withdraw without a battle if you so wish.

  12. Paul: “And a turnout of less than 30% invalidates it even more. If a polling company asked 1,000 people who they were voting for and over 70% didn’t bother to answer, how seriously would we take their ‘findings’?”

    For that it is quite costly. In Germany, a fake party has been able to garner enough votes to send one deputy and expressed its intention to send one member after the other for one month to the EP just that everybody gets a chance to get his 30.000 €. No word about some parliamentary work. Madness. So the best one can hope for after these elections is that the debate about the usefulness or not of the European institutions and integration becomes a bit more focused, and that it will not be considered an academic question that “does not interest anyone”. The sceptics have found out that they can live comfortably on EU money by sitting in the EU parliament. In principle they have now sufficient space to make their vision clear to the public (or their variety of “visions”), people should take notice where they have arrived now and what they are doing there (living from taxpayers money and doing what exactly? Telling people to vote for them because Brussels is so evil, so that they can continue to pocket their EU money).

    In any case, the hard issue is that those in favour of integration will have to come up with better ideas than before to make integration more “interesting” to people so that they eventually see that much of what they take for granted is somehow related to the EU and the integration process. And that it makes sense to try to remedy the most pressing deficiencies of the union without destroying the project. I would not yet rule that out, depending on how hard we must try, but I wonder whether I would bet on that :-).

  13. Paul””As for the situation with DK and MSzP – I fear this is just a meaningless distraction.”:

    We disagree. What happened on the left is for real. This is the first time that DK, E14 and MSZP tried their luck as individual parties and MSZP failed. Moreover, I don’t see much hope for its recovery. It is very possible that something new will grow out of DK and E14 in the next couple of years.

  14. Wolfi, in a way yes.

    Csongrad is distorted by Szeged, which is the last MSZP sronghold due to one of the last MSZP mayors, otherwise it is solidly right-wing.

    Baranya has Pécs and Komló, both used to be MSZP strongholds (big mining towns), neither are strongholds any more (or rather for Fidesz), but at least there are still some more opposition voters there than on average.

    Győr proper used to be an MSZP-leaning, battleground place, but since the MSZP mayor left it went to Fidesz which obviously kept it, Győr-Sopron county like most Western-Hungarian counties just does’nt contemplate left-wing politicians, it’s like Texas in the US, Democrats need not apply.

    Komárom megye, interestingly was one of the last strongholds (rather holdouts) of SZDSZ, the left is relatively strong there too, I would think also because it has many formerly important but now declining industrial towns (Tatabánya, Dorog, Lábatlan etc.).

    But these former “strongholds”, with the exception of Győr, which is successful and is now solidly Fidesz-leaning, and Szeged which is quite OK and where the left is still quite strong, are declining (never mind their new town centres).

    The point is that Fidesz-Jobbik has easily 2/3s of the votes (which could translate into many more seats in the Parliament) in rural areas. The left has been unable to cross over to any of the more affluent places like Győr, Veszprém, Székesfehérvár, Kecskemét, many of which were battleground towns 15 years ago.

    These EP election figures have relevance for the internal distribution of power of the left field, they do not affect Fidesz’ unbelievably strong and committed support with which the left cannot really do anything. (For example it is now obvious that LMP will not be a great party, it lacks the leadership, among others. It is a small protest party.)

  15. Excuse me. The best description for Orban: one on a mission to breach the walls of Europe.

    Not in the interest of Hungary, but on order from his many sponsors.

  16. From today’s Financial Times it is quite obvious that Juncker is over and finished. He will not become president of the Commission. (article title: “Cameron urges EU to ‘drop business as usual’:

    “Mr Cameron urged colleagues to “heed the views expressed at the ballot box” and to embrace change: he wants them to reject calls for the veteran eurozone fixer Jean-Claude Juncker to be installed as European Commission president.

    In a series of calls on Monday Mr Cameron urged six fellow leaders including Angela Merkel, German chancellor, to see the elections as a chance to install fresh faces in the top Brussels jobs now up for grabs.

    But Mr Cameron has told Tory colleagues that Mr Juncker is a “totally unacceptable” candidate and that the Luxembourger’s vision of an integrated Europe – with the euro at its heart – is out of step with public opinion.”

    As you see from the above Cameron has now thrown his full weight behind blocking Juncker which means he has essentially no chance of being elected. Not only because of the voting weight of the United Kingdom, rather the influence it wields within Europe.

    This FT article even implies that Juncker is so desperate that he tried to claim having Merkel’s support who according to FT only said that “Right now we are going with Juncker into the debate”,meaning that is her starting position during the negotiations. The Financial Times makes it clear that Merkel’s position is very far from what Juncker claimed, it is a “only a tepid endorsement”. This desperate move by Juncker was done to shore up his support FT says.

  17. Thank you Mr. Cameron. You are dividing Europe. Is it your conservative tradition?

    It would be useful, to close ranks with Merkel, Juncker and Hollande to continue on a united path.

    And where is the chief divider’s voice? Is Obama also allying his office with extreme right-left-winger racists in Europe?

  18. Clark, the full weight of Cameron in the EU is not worth much, The much reduced in European strength Conservatives are not a part of the EPP and the EPP has, even without Fidesz and Forza Italia (which are both rumoured to be on their way out of the EPP) enough votes in coalition with the Social Democrats, to comfortably set through the Commission and Parliament Presidential combination they agree to, and this will likely happen with the support of the Liberals and Greens,

  19. @Unite EU, Juncker is an avowed federalist, he believes the EU should move in the direction of great integration of nations, and the transfer of sovereignty to Brussels, held together by the Euro. It is a perfectly defensible point of view, but it is not Cameron’s view and it is most definitely not the view of the UK electorate. So Cameron is absolutely right in not supporting Juncker. It would be a travesty of the message the electorate (myself included) gave UK politicians last week if he did.

  20. @HiBoM

    Of course, the UK and Cameron are against integration and historically have always been apart from mainland Europe. But integration is the right way to go to elevate prehistoric political cultures (like that of Hungary) into the real world of the 21st century. Nationalism is such utter nonsense.
    A country can maintain its individuality through its culture and language without indulging in madcap political ideas. Maintaining small, national identities is just a way of keeping the local
    mafia chietains in place.

  21. Here’s some new ground that Orban will no doubt till:

    “Swiss group to allow assisted dying for elderly who are not terminally ill.”

    Our heroic leader will no doubt show Europe the way: Hungary’s pension problems will soon be over…

  22. It really will be interesting to see who becomes “EU president” – to give in to Cameron would be very stupid imho. Cameron must be very desperate because of the rise of UKIP.

    Sometimes I think it really would be better if the UK left the EU – they seem not at all to be willing to follow the EU core, always want an “Extrawurst”! Cameron seems to believe in the power of the lost British Empire – in reality however Britain is losing more and more of its influence – it’s almost the laughing stock of the EU.

    And it’s also time to break the power of the bankers in London!

  23. “Gyurcsány’s party won in less affluent districts: Köbánya, Újpalota, Csepel. Altogether DK won in nine outlying districts.”

    They did not “win” anywhere. Fidesz did. In the districts you mention, DK came in second.

  24. Honestly, reading this today and laughing at the suggestion that DK represent a way forward for the Hun ‘left’ … tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999.

  25. Whoever, where did you read that “DK represent a way forward for the Hun left” ? Nowhere, I fear. However, it is true that the Hungarian left will be very different from the one we have seen until now.

  26. The history of the EU reminds me more and more of the history of the USA…let’s hope a civil war is not in the offing!

  27. “tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999.”

    Typical gloating from a Fidesz troll, who probably thinks that he or she will be one of the few people who will be better off after the Orbán regime finally implodes under the weight of its lies and authoritarianism. A more apt year to compare this one to would be 1948. Not exactly the same, nor as dire, but you can’t seriously believe that democracy exists in a country where one party has written the constitution and determined the voting districts single-handedly, then still received a 2/3 majority after only receiving 41% of the vote at the next elections. So DK arguably is the most viable democratic party in Hungary. Let’s hope they don’t mess things up as badly as MSZP did.

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