Dissension in Fidesz: Is Viktor Orbán’s leadership safe?

There is no question, the Orbán government is in trouble. And when there is trouble there is dissension. Of course, this is not the first time that Viktor Orbán’s political edifice has stood on shaky ground, but this latest quake has been the most serious of all.

In the middle of 2011 dissatisfaction with the government was considerable. Fidesz’s popularity in the polls was almost as low as it is now. Most of the government’s decisions were unpopular and there was genuine fear that Orbán’s new system of national cooperation would inevitably lead to an authoritarian state. By the end of 2011 sizable crowds could be called out to demonstrate against the government and for the republic.

During these stressful times rumors circulated that people close to Viktor Orbán were voicing their concerns and suggesting caution. Let’s not irritate the population further with unpopular decisions. Although it is normally difficult to learn much about the internal workings of Fidesz, it seems that several people raised their voices against Orbán’s strategy at the Fidesz congress held in July 2011. Criticizing the prime minister were László Kövér, Tibor Navracsics, and Zoltán Pokorni. Today these people have almost no say in the running of either the party or the government. Zoltán Pokorni, although on paper still vice-president of Fidesz, is only the humble mayor of a Budapest district. Tibor Navracsics, after being first minister of justice and later minister of foreign affairs, is today a marginalized EU commissioner. Kövér, although he rules the House with an iron fist, has no significant influence on the party.

By the end of 2012 Viktor Orbán silenced his critics with his masterstroke of lowering utility prices across the board. The unpopular decisions continued, but the majority of the Hungarian people were disarmed by a few thousand forints worth of savings on their utility bills. And those who at the beginning of the year were demonstrating against the government retreated, acknowledging the hopelessness of their cause. Fidesz’s popularity bounced back.

2014 began as a great year for Fidesz. After all, it easily won three elections within a few months, largely because of an unfair election law and the lack of a viable political alternative. I’m sure that the current Fidesz leadership–Viktor Orbán, János Lázár, Antal Rogán, and Péter Szijjártó–never imagined that by October a storm of anti-government sentiment would be unleashed.

In the past, every time the party was under fire the answer of Viktor Orbán and his closest associates was that the prime minister’s strategy had always proved correct in the long run. Surely, this gifted magician will shape the future as well. But the situation today is different. Orbán is in trouble not only because of domestic unrest but also because of his failed foreign policy initiatives. Some of his associates realize that he is unacceptable to Hungary’s allies, the European Union and the United States. And thus ostracized by his allies, Orbán endangers his country’s standing in the western world. Orbán’s position is shaky not only at home but abroad as well. And his critics have been much more outspoken than ever before.

One big difference between the earlier times of trouble and now is that the sharp exchanges between Orbán and his closest associates on the one hand and their critics on the other are now out in the open. Earlier they took place in private and the public learned about them only second-hand. The critics have become emboldened.

The brewing palace revolution began with a fairly innocuous sentence by Zoltán Pokorni about the flaunting of wealth on the part of people like János Lázár, Péter Szijjártó, Lajos Kósa, András Giró-Szász, and the mysterious Árpád Habony. János Kövér, most likely independently from Pokorni, expressed his misgivings about these people “living in great style.” Perhaps, he suggested, it would be a good idea to hold back a bit. That caused János Lázár, whose Rolex watch and whose gift of a 60-million forint apartment to his 10-year-old son was one of the reasons for public outrage, to turn against Pokorni in an interview he gave to Figyelő, a weekly that appeared yesterday. Here is the exact quotation: “A political veteran should think twice before, either out of personal resentment or political considerations, he weakens us because he at the same time weakens or executes himself.” Lázár didn’t mince words: he considers Pokorni’s remark “a stab in the back.” He views the criticism coming from Kövér and Pokorni as a generational clash. These old fogies should realize that their time has passed. His generation, the thirty- to forty-year-olds, is running the show now.  444.hu translated Lázár’s words as a message to the insurgents: those who go against the current leadership have no political future. Kövér did not respond, but Pokorni made a conciliatory statement that he shared with vs.hu. Apparently Lázár’s attack on Pokorni was approved and encouraged by Viktor Orbán himself.

This was a long time ago: Viktor Orbán and Zoltán Pokorni in 2004

This was a long time ago: Viktor Orbán and Zoltán Pokorni in 2004

Why did Pokorni’s remark raise such a furor in the top leadership? Budapest is full of possible, if mostly implausible explanations. One is that both the United States and Germany came to the conclusion that it is impossible to work with Viktor Orbán and they hope that someone else in the party might be able to replace him. Rumor has it that the American favorite is Zoltán Pokorni, while Germany favors János Lázár. That’s why Lázár reacted so violently to Pokorni’s remarks. To tell you the truth, I don’t believe a word of that story. Pokorni has not been in the forefront of national politics for a very long time and, as far as Lázár is concerned, who in his right mind would want to work with him?

Gábor Török, a popular political scientist who has an influential blog, is known to be somewhat partial to Fidesz, but lately he has become more outspoken than usual. He is convinced that all the negative news about the corruption of people like Lázár, Rogán, and Kósa must come from the inside and that Fidesz is “full of Brutuses.” According to him, “there will be no uprising until its leaders are confident that Orbán, after leaving Fidesz, will be unable to establish a party that could win against them.” Once they believe that Orbán is not a political threat, the young Turks will not hesitate for a moment.

Well, this opinion might not be terribly off the mark. Török has many friends in Fidesz and is more familiar with the situation in the party than most political scientists of a liberal persuasion. I should mention that Török finds the strained relations between Viktor Orbán and Washington extremely serious. I agree with him. As Török  said, Viktor Orbán has no idea how much the Americans really know, not just about his close associates but about his own dealings. And that must be very troubling to him because surely he has been the coordinator of the systemic corruption that has permeated the country, especially since 2010.


  1. I see that two FIDESZ MPs, János Bencsik and Dánkó Béla, voted against the party group and were fined 100,000 Forints each. I haven’t been able to find out which specific measure they voted against but it is an interesting development. A further sign of dissension within FIDESZ perhaps?

  2. @gdfxx The item was reported in the MTI’s English language “Hungary Matters” website (hungarymatters.hu), 19 December issue. Full text of the item is below:

    Two ruling Fidesz party lawmakers
    have been fined 100,000 forints
    (EUR 320) each for voting against
    the party group and depriving it
    of a two-thirds majority. Fidesz
    parliamentary group director György
    Balla told MTI that János Bencsik and
    Béla Dankó had been penalised after
    a vote on Monday, and party rules
    make clear that on every vote that
    requires a two-thirds majority it
    was obligatory to follow the party
    line. Irrespective of this obligation,
    however, every Fidesz lawmaker
    has the right to state their opinion
    beforehand within the group, and
    even in public, he said.
    Balla noted that this rule had
    been approved unanimously by
    Fidesz lawmakers at the start of the
    government cycle

  3. all illusions have been lost after the first day of the fid/job victory.

    nice liberals were defeated, and hungary was lost.

    this may get very ugly very soon.

  4. Everybody has there own mindsight, I know I have mine. As far as leadership goes, about the PM mind being questioned, Ferenc Gyrancany had his share of critics, as I recall they called him a clown too. Lets see who sticks it to us longer and keeps their sanity intact. I am an analyst of sorts and what I see is a lot of stress but focused on his agenda!

  5. Some Fidesz supporting mayors will back away shortly behind of Fidesz too. Until now the government helped to pay (for example) for medications to those who could not afford it. These are mainly older people with low retirement income. With a new twist the government downloaded this “social assistance” to the local governments. As many smaller villages do not have the budget (income) to pay for such necessary expense (they also have to pay now for kindergarten and such), in many communities those who cannot afford it will stay without medication. Some predicts that an exodus of sick people will start into the cities that can still afford to pay such “services”.

    While Fidesz made it mandatory to post certain savings to consumers, they do not want to post how much more expensive the monthly cost of current medications since they came to power.

  6. All I see is fighting among the underlings. Nobody in The (one-and-only) Party has challenged the Great O. Certainly, orc captains understand that something has gone wrong with their strategy, and each is trying to convince O and the orc hordes that their personal new strategy is the right one. One of them says the orcs should show a friendlier face, another says a new offensive is needed to eliminate enemies, the third says the captains are wearing too much bling to fight effectively. Not a single one of them questions the Great O’s right to command. Where is this supposed dissatisfaction with Orban? Rumours from ghosts.

  7. (I am tickled that my sense about Brutuses posted on December 10 is shared by others.
    “I would think there will be a very large power struggle will start out now in Fidesz. We already seen the signs for the last few months, but now everyone will start to fight for survival. I would not be surprised if Orban will shuffle his cabinet but I also think someone is just waiting to pull him down “Et tu, Brute?”)

  8. If they dumped O, what would happen? All the little die-hard Fidesz supporters would dump them. They know that. Think of all those people with Orban’s picture on their walls (I’ve seen them – even in some restaurants).
    The cult of Orban is the true faith among hard-core Fidesz people, even those now critical of policies. Bencsik, for instance (mentioned above as dissenting) said just 2 weeks ago on t.v. that Orban is one of the two greatest leaders in Hungarian history (the other, in his view, was I. Bethlen). Bencsik’s fight is with the captains, not Orban. Among the Fidesz faithful, Orban is the good king who doesn’t know what’s happening because his evil earls are keeping the truth from him.
    If they lost those supporters, they might not even get into parliament in the next elections. Every second-rank leader in Fidesz knows that. They helped create the Orban cult, after all.
    I suppose the only way they’d dump Orban is if he were to be dragged off to an insane asylum, but then how would they all look?? Instead, they’ll surely just try to get control of access to the asylum in the castle
    In my view, the only way he’ll end up in hospital is if his wife were to call in the doctors – but she may have just too much property and wealth to lose to be willing to do that, and in any case the faithful would turn on her if she were to do it.
    They may not see it yet, but they are living in a nightmare of their own making. Unfortunately, the rest of Hungary is too.

  9. On János Bencsik and Béla Dankó. Actually Dankó was fined 300,000 Ft because he voted no or abstained on three different issues. Two of them had to do with the new distribution of tobacco products and the other was the new law on social assistance I would not be surprised if Bencsik soon would be sitting with the independents. That would take care of the two-thirds.

  10. @gdf on voting rules. There are issues on which the members are free to follow their conscience but on others they are not. I somehow doubt that in Fidesz there is any issue on which they allow a choice.

  11. “Originally” in a caucus any opinion should be brought up before going to Parliament. MPs are required to ask questions, voice their opinion and debate before they decide what the party brings forward, but then it should be that all party members vote with the party. It is not a mandate, but usually that is how it works. It seems in fact that at Fidesz it became a mandate to got a party and if you do not, then you are fined. The 2/3 would not work if some of the MP dissent, when the party have exactly 2/3 in the house. THe problem with the current Fidesz doings is that often Fidesz changes what they bring to the parliament one day to another, so obviously there is no discussion. Often, as we seen it over and over again, even the Fidesz MP who submits a new law, has no clue whatsoever what is written in it. I would be not surprised to learn that what is get in front of parliament from Fidesz was never discussed. Any MP on the Fodesz side who thinks that they have a saying or there opinion matter, is a fool. They are little puppets who required to follow what the Leader wants in exchange to a nice, cushy and safe position. THat is until they do follow the Leader..

  12. The idiocies in the latest laws were too much even for president Áder who sent them back …
    Does nobody really look at what they vote on?

  13. The post identified a very interesting and important event. But I think your interpretation is a little fanciful.

    FIdesz are in trouble purely in the sense that if there was an election, they would probably attract far fewer votes than they did last April. But as there will no election until 2018, that is hardly important.

    Fidesz may be in trouble economically, but the ugly consequences of their economic mismanagement and corruption may still not mature for several years.

    So is there internal dissent? You are in danger of assuming Fidesz is a party, It isn’t and it never has been. It is a hugely restricted members only club and there is no mechanism or structure that allows for people to join and create independent lobbies. This is how Fidesz differs from MSZP which for all its incompetence, is much more recognisable as a political party in the west european sense. For example, Pokornyi has never been one of the insiders, even when he seemed to hold high office. His influence has always been zero. Kövér has never been on the outside and I don’t agree that he has no influence now. Yes, there has been some minor dissent, in that a couple of MPs didn’t follow the party whip, but it is mistaken to expect this to turn into a revolution. The MPs were hand picked by Orbán to press the correct button inf ront of them in parliament. No more and no less. None of them are people who have come up from ranks with their own agendas and have been picked to do that single job. Also, most are compromised because of their various side deals which is one of the perks of being a voting machine for Orbán.

    The dangers to Orbán’s power does not come from a pretend party (Fidesz) but the oligarchs like Simicska, Pintér (who is very much external independent agent) and others. They might challenge Orbán. But not anyone within Fidesz…

  14. Indeed, Fidesz resembles rather to some sect, where no personal integrity accepted.

    Still, I dare say that the number of true believers crumbling daily, pretty soon the majority will stay with the party, because of the absence of alternatives.

    Think about it.
    I guess its pretty likely that not everybody happy with the newfound Russian brothers, neither with the implications of the possible “family reunion”.
    Particularly, if it means abandoning the EU totally.
    I dare to say tag many Fidesz members – the less sectarian kinds – detest the oligarchs, the snobbish attitude of the nouveau riches, and all this.
    I would even go so far to assume that there are civilised conservative people among the members, who already has second thoughts seeing the “Horthy-reneissance” and all what comes with, the chauvinism, the forced de-secularisation, the deformities in the education and so on.
    I’d bet, that not all the Fidesz members are happy with the “Stadiums Instead of Healthcare” concept either – and I can go on quite a while – but still voting for the Fidesz, because they just can’t stomach the Jobbik, and there is nobody else out there, not in their ideological line anyway.

    If I dream on and say Orbán gets kicked out (don’t ask me “by whom?”, OK, I don’t talk in my sleep..) and the party detaches itself from the sect, and would form a modern European party, all the aforementioned – civilised conservative and largely disillusioned – Fidesz members would have a place to go and join.

    Orbán could take the zealots with him, and many would be surprised that their number would be far from impressive.

    If the “normal” Fidesz would keep the power to himself – instead of let the Jobbik grab the whole cake – they must do something along these lines, rather sooner, as I see it.

    If it was true what Török said about the young Turks, I see no real reason to hesitate, besides trusting in their own abilities, the situation ripening as we speak.

  15. Let’s not forget that each member of this ‘young generation’ around Orban, without exception, depends on Orban for their freedom.

    Habony, Szijjarto, Giro-Szasz, Lazar and Rogan with any normal prosecution would end up in jail for 5-6 years (based on the rather lenient Hungarian court practice). They are all deeply involved in countless corrupt transactions, in other words they are simple criminals. They will do any and everything to keep Orban in power and will never abandon him.

    Orban wanted this so (in fact encouraged them) because he knows that he just can’t and so he won’t count on independent people (not that Kövér or Pokorni didnt have butter on their heads).

  16. attila: I think you are wrong. THeir interest is not to keep Orban at the helm. THeir interest is keep Fidesz in power, and now that Orban’s popularity suffers, they have to look at a plan B. How can Fidesz survive and regain popularity? None of the Fidesz troopers want to go down with the ship just because of Orban, and the war for the power began…

  17. Well, while it is true that Orbán have all the means to keep the people around him at bay, who would say that none of them has just as much on Orbán? Maybe better to say, something what will stand in court too?
    Otherwise its rather in the public domain that the Great Leader in too, up to his ears.
    All this is question of interest, I guess.

    That’s why I think that “they” – whoever they are – can persuade him to go in peace, otherwise all hells going down on them, this is the key to survival.

    Won’t be easy, but it has to be done, otherwise the whole thing will stumble for sure.

    All in all, its only my theory, the signs and symptoms adding up and pointing this way – to me.

  18. “Revolt against Orban!”….What utter nonsense…bread-crumbs for the dying anti-Orban brigade.

    Orban has setup the perfect ‘rigged-game’ of revolving thievery that can never be matched or duplicated by any other. To say that any partaker thereof would try to topple this edifice is nonsense. Now, the game is perfect and the thievery of the country and its 9.5 million is going on apace….and includes the robbery of the future as it will be effected by the Paks plan. No one of the many thieves would dare obstruct this, even if he was slighted in some manner (Simicska, if it’s true..) because there will be opportunities to make up. No, the bag is sewn shut; and when the inevitable bankruptcy of the country will come about, the demons–America, the jews, the banks, the EU–have already been set up.

    Yes! Yes!!” will shout the hapless, brain-dead, Hungaricoes, “all these have attacked out brave Viktor who stood up to defend us and Hungary!”

    No doubt the great One and his buddies sit around the Friday fire sampling canine delicacies and laughing their guts out.

  19. “canine delicacies”
    Are you sure?

    We’ve just finished watching Monthy Python’s Flying Circus on Hungarian tv M2 …
    It doesn’t get any better than that …
    I wonder if there’s any significaance in them showing this show/series right now …

  20. @petofi
    “Orban has setup the perfect ‘rigged-game’ of revolving thievery that can never be matched or duplicated by any other” – exactly!

    And this perfect game being jeopardised by the recklessness of its creator – Orbán.
    Orbán is a liability, what his comrades simply can not afford to have unchanged.

    There will be no “revolt” to speak of, but the problem will be resolved somehow, its only question of time, you’ll see.

  21. Re “revolt.” Kövér in HírTV defended Pokorni and intimated that he does not think much of Lázár. That’s not the end of the story, believe me, Petőfi.

  22. Well, if Fidesz is to split into two (re Török Gabor’s point about the fear among certain fideszniks that Orban could set up his own party that would, at the moment at least, these findeszniks reckon, be more successful than Fidesz) then the election system must be amended too. With this election system Orban isn’t going anywhere. The election system is geared toward the dominant party of the right-wing, and Fidesz can’t afford such a split (or Jobbik must be ‘rearranged’ too). As a result, if there’s any more dissent among fideszniks Kövér will be dismissed from his chairman of the Parliament position and demoted to a simple MP. Pokorni is not even an MP, he simply doesn’t count. There are no other dissenters among the MPs. As long as Orban personally owns the prosecution, the courts and the constitutional court, Orban’s power is unassailable. There’s no likelihood whatsoever that his hold on these legal branches will weaken. What I can imagine though is that he will start waging a war on ‘corruption’ and on oligarchs and will incarcerate Simicska or others, like Putin did with Khodorkovsky. That would send a clear message. At least in Russia too, oligarchs pretty quickly realized that they must not meddle into politics. if Orban did so, I guess his hero Putin would approve.

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