current-events

Electoral fraud in Baja: More details emerge

The by-election in Baja is still not over, at least if it depends on the opposition. The public is learning more and more about the characters involved in the alleged electoral fraud. It looks as if the orchestrators of the highly suspicious results in one of the polling stations came from the ranks of Fidesz party activists who are responsible for campaign strategies. Moreover, these party workers have a track record of manipulating the voting process if they think that Fidesz needs it in order to win.

Let me start the story with two men who can be seen on a video rudely interrupting Gordon Bajnai, the former prime minister and co-chairman of Együtt-PM, as he is listening to the complaints of an elderly woman. They badger him with accusations of wrongdoings that he allegedly committed when the company for which he was working was involved with a business that ended up in bankruptcy. Since the business had something to do with raising geese, these “civic” demonstrators recruited by Fidesz usually arrive with either live or rubber geese and drown Bajnai out with loud cackling.

This encounter was no different except for the fact that the “demonstrators” were Fidesz employees. One of them was Máté Kindlovits, the personal secretary of Gábor Kubatov, who is the brains behind Fidesz’s campaign strategy. Kindlovits is no stranger to Hungarians who follow political events. He could be seen on a Fidesz video leaked to the public about the party’s preparation for the 2009 mayoral by-election in Pécs.

The other man was Tibor Csörsz Elszaszer, who can be seen on the same video. Elszaszer was caught by the police as he was taking mostly Gypsy voters to their polling station in Pécs. The police found a long list of names and addresses in the car. Elszaszer’s explanation was simple minded: the men in his car were on their way to go fishing but they stopped off to vote. I might mention that Elszaszer was originally active in Jobbik, and in 2006 he tried his luck as a MIÉP-Jobbik candidate in the Érd municipal election. Magyar Narancs found photos of Elszaszer with Jobbik’s Előd Novák of kuruc.info fame.

These two men, however, could not alone ensure a Fidesz victory in Baja. They solicited the help of some local Roma leaders. One of them, Tibor Ajtai, the chairman of the county’s Roma self-governing body, is an “expert” on chain-voting. In January of this year a tape recording surfaced in which Ajtai admits that he was the one who helped Fidesz’s candidate, Krisztián Kapus, become mayor of Kiskunfélegyháza. He managed to devise a “beautifully executed chain-voting scheme,” but he was greatly disappointed because, although Kapus initially gave him and another Roma leader jobs in city hall that were to last until 2014, they were terminated in September 2011. One can only wonder what kind of promises were made to Ajtai for services rendered in Baja. Ajtai also seems to be engaged in usury. According to some of his victims, instead of giving monetary assistance from funds available to the Roma organization, Lungo Drom, he lent the strapped men money from his own resources and then demanded that they repay him two or three times the amount he lent them.

The second Roma leader who was most likely involved is Szilveszter Horváth, who actually lives in the district. His wife was strategically placed inside the polling station where apparently with the help of sms messages back and forth she could report on the progress being made inside.

Tenytar1

And finally, here are a couple of charts from TénytárThe first one shows the results in this particular electoral district between 2006 and 2013. The red bars represent MSZP and its partners and the orange Fidesz. The chart shows the results of the national and local 2006 and 2010 elections and the 2013 by-election. As you can see, even with the likely voting irregularities, the opposition doubled its support compared to 2010 in this pro-Fidesz district.

Tenytar2

The second graph compares the results of the 2006 and 2013 municipal elections, broken down by the five polling stations in the district. Ténytár opted to compare this year’s results with the results of 2006, when the left fared much better than it did in 2010. You may notice that a third party (brown) ran in the 2006 elections. That was the MFC Roma Unity Party.  Even if you take the total of the Fidesz and Roma votes in 2006 (and it does not make a lot of political sense to do so), it still falls short of the 97 votes cast for Fidesz this year.

The National Election Committee is unlikely to accept the complaints and decide that balloting should be repeated in this particular polling station. At least this is the widely held view in Hungary. But the opposition parties could still go to the courts and see whether the “independent” justices might be convinced by the available evidence that a repeat is warranted. If this case is swept under the rug, Fidesz might pay dearly for a small win in a by-election when it comes to determining the validity of the results of the next national election. In fact, there are some people who doubt the existence of electoral fraud in Baja because they simply can’t believe that Fidesz would risk that much.

On the other hand, Zsolt Bayer, the far-right Fidesz journalist, is not shy. In his weekly column he “humbly thanks the upright Gypsies who with their votes assisted in this victory,” adding that “Lungo Drom did a fantastic job.” It sure did, but if I were Bayer I wouldn’t be proud of it.

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Voting fraud in Baja? Most likely

Yesterday there was a by-election in the city of Baja, the hometown of Gordon Bajnai. Baja’s population hasn’t changed much in the last century. It hovers around 35,000. Baja is considered to be a rather conservative city. The last time there was a socialist mayor of the town was in 2002. Since then Fidesz has easily won in the city at the municipal elections. The current mayor of Baja is Róbert Zsigó, who seems to be the latest “star” of Fidesz. Although he has been a member of parliament since 1998, he was pretty much of an unknown quantity until recently when he was picked to be one of the growing number of Fidesz spokesmen.

Baja had to hold a by-election because one of its council members, Tünde Bálint, a lawyer, died. The three most important opposition parties (MSZP, Együtt-PM, and DK) supported a single candidate, Melinda Teket, a young reporter at the local independent television station. With Baja being the hometown of Gordon Bajnai and the town considered to be a stronghold of Fidesz, this particular by-election became something of a test case. Many people thought that if Melinda Teket wins, it will be an indication of what might happen at next year’s election.

So, let’s take a look at the results of past municipal elections in this particular district. The adult population of this district is currently 2,913. Of these only 31.65% cast a ballot this year, which for a by-election is not actually that low a number. In 2010 Tünde Bálint won handily, receiving 58.9% of the votes. The situation was the same in 2006 when the Fidesz candidate got 63% of the votes. In 2002 when an MSZP candidate won the district, he barely squeaked by. He received 309 votes against his Fidesz opponent’s 294 votes.

Csaba Kovács, a close friend of Róbert Zsigó who otherwise works as a security man at the local German-language high school, was Teket’s opponent. In the end he won the election by getting 61 votes more than his opponent. Kovács received 467 votes and Teket 406. The rest went to Jobbik and to LMP.

voting fraud2It is worth taking a closer look at the figures. There were five polling stations. Teket won in three in close contests (184 opposed to 173, 137 as opposed to 133, and 41 as opposed to 28) and lost one with a 21 vote difference. But then there was the fifth (Bokodi út 62) where Teket got 29 votes and Csaba Kovács got 97!  Clearly it was in this district that Teket lost the election.

Együtt 2014-PM already complained to the local election committee on Sunday when one of its activists outside of the Bokodi Street polling station was threatened by two people who told him not to try to observe their activities because he will see what will happen to him. The activist claims that these two people kept bringing voters to the polling station by car. That in itself is illegal according to Hungarian law, but I suspect that this is not the only thing that these Fidesz activists did.

Since then we learned that this particular polling station is in one of the poorest parts of Baja, which is largely Roma inhabited. The leader of the local Roma self-governing body was entrusted with the organization of the voting. Two young fellows transported the voters back and forth. Origo has a short video on which one can hear one of the drivers apologizing for the fact that this is his third trip and he just hopes that this is okay. He is being assured by the Fidesz activists that he can come fifty times if he wants to. While this was going on outside, inside apparently the wife of the head of the local Roma organization kept updating somebody or somebodies who had cast a vote already and who had not.

It is possible that the transportation (and perhaps compensation) of the Gypsy inhabitants of the district was not the only violation of the electoral law. Those who were getting out the vote most likely wanted to make sure that voters were actually casting ballots for the “right” candidate. It seems, according to some reports, that so-called “chain-voting” could take care of that. I’m not 100% sure how this is being done, but I assume it resembles the college tricks of the 1950s when all exams were oral (and when students weren’t graded on a bell curve). Three students were called into the professor’s room to take the exam. Each student was supposed to pick a question written down on a small piece of paper. Each piece of paper had a number. These students pulled not one but two slips of paper and thus could decide which one was more to their liking. The second slip of paper was hidden and taken out to someone in the waiting group who naturally had plenty of time to prepare his answer. The new student pulled a question but gave the number of the smuggled-out question and again hid the one he just pulled. And on it went.

I don’t know what the National Election Committee will do, but I suspect that it will be difficult to ignore the issue. The fraud, however deep it went, seems far too blatant. But quite aside from the possible fraud at this particular polling station, given the past electoral history of the town and this particular district the candidate of MSZP-E14-DK did remarkably well. Especially if one considers the extremely dirty Fidesz campaign.

Fidesz also believed that this election was important and in fact Róbert Zsigó called this election an important indication of whether the horrible socialists can return or not. Well, I guess without the Roma vote most likely they would have. I suspect that even Viktor Orbán feared an MSZP-E14-DK victory because in the last minute he cancelled an appearance in Baja. Most likely it was at that point that the decision was made to give the Fidesz candidate a little extra help.

In a small election a few votes can decide the outcome, and some would argue that a similar fraud couldn’t have a significant impact on a national election. I would argue that this is not true. The number of the parliamentary districts is not all that large and, since 50% plus 1 vote decides who wins, in a close election every vote counts. Therefore, I do hope that the National Electoral Committee will investigate the possible fraud that occurred at this particular polling station.

Attila Mesterházy and Gordon Bajnai on the campaign trail

I noted yesterday that the election campaign has begun. I should have added that Fidesz has been campaigning from the very moment its government took office in May 2010. With election comes what Hungarians call “the spreading of the goodies,” at least temporarily making the electorate happy so they will support the government at the next election. This practice, which cuts across parties, has been largely responsible for Hungary’s chronic indebtedness and its large budgets deficits. Very often this largesse was financed with borrowed money.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán swore that it would never happen under his watch that Hungary would borrow money to pay for social benefits. In fact, he was so serious about national indebtedness, which he considers the source of all the ills of the Hungarian economy, that it was written into the constitution that “the Central Budget … will have to ensure that the level of the state debt does not exceed half of the value of the gross domestic product of the previous calendar year.” Right now the national debt is larger than ever and only yesterday the government announced that Hungary had submitted a registration statement to the SEC for the issuance of up to $5 billion in debt securities. This will be the second such bond issue in US dollars this year. I wonder what Viktor Orbán will do if his government is unable to fulfill its constitutional duty with respect to the level of the national debt? It’s not that I fear for Orbán’s political well-being. This government is very inventive, so I’m sure they would come up with something to avoid the resignation of the government.

While the government has the means to distribute money and other perks, the opposition must be satisfied with promises. As has happened in Hungary time and again, these promises turn out to be empty. The 2010 promises of Fidesz, including one million new jobs in ten years, couldn’t be fulfilled. In fact, it was just announced that fewer people have jobs today than a year ago. The Balatonőszöd speech was partly about putting an end to this practice and stop deceiving the electorate. For a while the opposition parties seemed to have paid heed and refrained from falling back on their bad habits. Their politicians kept emphasizing the difficult economic situation and the long road ahead. But as the election gets closer they seem unable to resist the temptation.

So, let’s see who is promising what. MSZP held a huge meeting in Miskolc, a town that was once an MSZP stronghold. The crowd responded enthusiastically when Attila Mesterházy announced that if the MSZP, hand in hand with Együtt 2014-PM, wins the election “the winners will be the children, the youth, the women, the employees, the small- and medium size entrepreneurs, and the pensioners.” In brief, everybody.

Fair enough. Almost everybody would indeed win if Fidesz were sent back into opposition. But what specifically did Mesterházy promise? From September 2014 on students will receive a free education at Hungarian colleges and universities. A year ago the socialists were talking only about a tuition-free first year, after which tuition would be charged based on academic achievement and social needs. But now, it seems, there is no qualification. We know from past experience that the Hungarian budget cannot possibly afford the luxury of totally free higher education.

The socialists also plan to create a situation in which at least one person in each family is employed with a decent salary. I assume that he does not consider the current salary of workers employed in public works projects, which is not enough to keep body and soul together, decent. According to Mesterházy, the desired level of employment can be achieved by abandoning “this idiotic economic policy.”

He promised more money for education and promised to build gyms instead of football stadiums. They will spend more money on healthcare. Unemployment insurance, which was truncated by the Orbán government, will once again be available for nine months. The socialists will make sure that public transportation for people over the age of 65 will be “truly” free. Mesterházy admitted that to achieve all these things one must have robust economic development, but he added that “yes, we will achieve this too.” MSZP wants to modify the across-the-board lowering of utility prices, which currently threatens the industry with bankruptcy. The socialists suggest lowering prices only for those in need. MSZP would also change the tax system and get rid of the flat tax, which has done a lot of damage to the economy.

As you can see, there are plenty of expensive promises here. The healthcare system is in ruins, and it seems that the same is true of education. Even with higher taxation on the “rich,” as Mesterházy called those whose incomes are above average, healthcare and education cannot be salvaged. As currently configured, healthcare is a bottomless pit. Throwing more money into it is no remedy. It’s time for some fresh thinking.

Source: publisherdatabase.com

Source: publisherdatabase.com

Együtt 2014-PM also began its campaign, and it looks as if the party is concentrating, at least for the time being, on the under-35 generation. The party’s slogan is “Come home, stay home!” According to E14, the flight of young Hungarians is “one of the most serious problems today.” If they win the election they will open offices in each embassy and consulate where they would offer jobs in Hungary for those currently abroad. They would also assist those Hungarians who just finished their studies abroad and would like to return to Hungary. In addition, he promised that “he would guarantee a job or training that would lead to a decent job for all those under the age of 30 who hadn’t had a job in the last six months.”

Bajnai offered up a few numbers. He would spend at least 1% of the GDP on higher education and would again open the doors of colleges and universities to anyone who has the ability. Bajnai also promised 250,000 new jobs in four years. Well, that number is more modest than Orbán’s one million in ten years, but as we know governments cannot create jobs.

It’s not clear whether people actually believe these promises or whether, after all the unfulfilled and unfulfillable promises, they are jaded. Hungarians say they don’t believe politicians, but perhaps their belief is selective. Perhaps they believe promises from which they themselves will benefit and disregard the rest. Perhaps they believe some of the promises of their favorite candidate and none of the promises of the other candidates. Who knows? I doubt they would be honest with pollsters.

At any event, it’s tough to campaign with the message that people should prepare themselves for more lean years when opponents are promising a host of goodies in a “rising tide” economy. People want hope and change and a “yes we can” attitude.  (And a few more forints in their pockets one way or another.)  Disappointment that the government hasn’t delivered sets in only later.  Just ask Barack Obama.

The price of collecting signatures of the quick and the dead

My initial impression of HVG‘s young editor-in-chief was negative, mainly due to his habit of appearing for TV interviews wearing a baseball cap backwards. But I have since completely revised my opinion of Gábor Gavra. He has turned HVG into a powerhouse of investigative journalism. It was HVG that in the final analysis was responsible for President Pál Schmitt’s resignation. While they were at it, they managed to prove that not was all kosher with the dissertations (yes, plural) of Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén, the pious spokesman for the Hungarian Catholic Church. Alas, proof or no proof, Semjén stayed and Schmitt’s replacement, János Áder, is only superficially better than his predecessor.

HVG‘s track record of exposing documented misdeeds encouraged others to come forth. For instance, they broke the story of the allocation of tobacconist shop concessions in Szekszárd where the Fidesz members of the city council determined who among the party faithful should be rewarded. The brave vet who approached HVG with the tape recording has since left the party and, as a result of his disclosure, has been having all sorts of problems in his hometown.

HVG‘s latest revelation deals with the Fidesz petition to lower utility rates. According to the tapes it received, Fidesz paid young high school students who were eager to make some pocket money 100 forints per local signature, 500 forints if the signature came from someone out of town. We know from the article that appeared in HVG yesterday that the editors of the paper have not just one tape but most likely several at their disposal. Moreover, as we know from past experience, Gábor Gavra likes to hold a few pieces of evidence back for later use. So, although right now the evidence points to Dunakeszi and Fót, who knows what else the editorial staff of the paper has up its sleeve?

What we know already is damning enough. The kids didn’t just pound the pavement in their hometowns. It seems they were sent to other localities. The evidence comes from a mother whose underage son began collecting signatures on Friday and didn’t return home until Monday. The worried parents actually informed the police about the disappearance of their son. Surely, if he had been working close to home he would have gone home for the night.

Fidesz collected 2.5 million signatures and paid an unknown sum of money to the students for their efforts. But why would such a signature campaign be needed? Wouldn’t it be a no-brainer for 2.5 million people to support the idea of lowering utility rates? It seems from the tapes, however, that it wasn’t all that easy to collect those signatures. One boy boasts that in two days he managed to collect 102 signatures; another claims that one can make 8,000 forints a day.

The payment per signature might explain the many “mistakes” that came to light once Viktor Orbán sent thank you notes to those who signed his petition. Thousands of people complained that they didn’t sign the petition and still got a letter or that their long deceased relatives were also profusely thanked by the grateful prime minister.

Voting fraud

Róbert Zsigó, one of the many Fidesz spokesmen, immediately came to the rescue, claiming that the signature campaign that HVG described was a purely local initiative. A local politician decided to reward the youngsters “from his own salary.” Sure thing. As the video of Zsigó’s press conference attests, that can’t be the real story because Zsigó himself got confused. First he denied that “we paid” anything, but a second later he said “we paid” (fizettünk). So, did they or didn’t they? I suspect they did, and they did it nationwide.

As soon as the news broke, Tibor Szanyi (MSZP), taking advantage of the situation, expressed his belief that if Fidesz can pay for signatures for utility prices why wouldn’t they do the same at the national election where the stakes are a lot higher? We do have to distinguish the two cases. Payment for collecting signatures is not against law as long as we are talking about adults, although I don’t know the status of payment for collecting phony signatures. Payment for votes, in whatever form that takes–well, that’s something else entirely. And, of course, voter fraud (to mention only three of its possible iterations: vote early and often, resurrect the dead, vote on behalf of those who do not intend to vote) is illegal. Unfortunately, MSZP’s suspicions are not unfounded. A lot of people worry about electoral fraud. Viktor Orbán can’t imagine life without being the prime minister and I’m sure he will do everything in his power to remain in office.

Odds and ends from Hungary: A court case, a new poll, and a successful country

Again, there are too many interesting topics and I don’t know which one to pick. So I decided to cover as many as I have space for without making the post too long.

First, I received a short note from András Arató, CEO of Klubrádió, announcing the Kúria’s landmark decision with regard to one of the controversial writings of Zsolt Bayer. The decision was rendered in a case that involved Klubrádió.

I wrote about the article,”The Same Stench,” which was the subject of the case, at the time of its publication. In it Bayer called Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a member of the European Parliament, and András Schiff, the internationally acclaimed Hungarian pianist, “stinking excrement” and lamented the incompleteness of the massacre in the forest of Orgovány where many Hungarian Jews were murdered in 1920.

In “Let’s Talk It Over,” the most popular program on Klubrádió, its host György Bolgár talked to Péter Feldmájer,  the chairman of MAZSIHISZ. In the course of their conversation they labeled the Bayer article anti-Semitic. Bayer sued for infringement of his personality rights and also for damages, claiming that because of the interview he ceased to receive commissions for articles from the French daily, Le Monde. The case eventually ended up in the Kúria, which is the highest court of the land. No further appeal is possible.

In its  June 26 ruling, the Kúria found that a reading of Bayer’s article could logically and lawfully lead to the finding that the contents of the article were anti-Semitic. Bayer’s attempts to frame the reference to Orgovány as a mere metaphor failed. According to the ruling, he must endure the criticism that his article deserves and must allow others to form an honest opinion of the article without using the legal institution of personality rights to shield himself from public criticism.

This ruling of the Kúria is of landmark importance, as it finally shows that neo-Nazi, racist, and hate speech cannot be published with impunity in Hungary. Freedom of expression and its manifestation in the form of criticism stand as potential means for anyone seeking to take action against extremist statements.

All in all, Klubrádió is proud that it had a role to play in this very important decision.

I might add that it would be nice if the Media Authority actually allowed Klubrádió to broadcast on a frequency which can be used free of charge and which the station is entitled to use. Although at least a month has gone by since the court decision in Klubrádió’s favor, nothing has happened yet although the Media Authority has no right to appeal.

* * *

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I spent a whole post on an interview with the CEO of Medián about the intricacies of poll taking in Hungary.  Medián just came out with a poll that probed public reaction to the tobacconist shop affair. Their first attempt at gauging public reaction was three weeks ago when 56% were against making tobacco products a monopoly and disapproved of the way it was done. By now that number is 73%. Moreover, the percentage of those who heard about the affair is exceptionally high: 94%.

What is especially interesting is the breakdown by voting groups.  There were basically three main questions asked. The first was whether it is appropriate for a government to decide who can and who cannot sell tobacco products. The second concerned the appropriateness of a government party favoring its own adherents in allotting the concessions. And finally the respondents were asked what would they do now if they were in the position to do something about the situation that was created by the government.

To the question about the appropriateness of the government deciding who can and who cannot sell tobacco products, the overwhelming majority (73%) were against it and only 19% were for it. Not even Fidesz voters are crazy about the idea. As for the idea of a tobacco monopoly, 43% disapprove while 10% have no opinion; 47% support the government on this issue. Supporters of MSZP, E14 and other smaller parties on the left overwhelmingly, and predictably, oppose the nationalization of tobacconist shops (85-90%). What is much more interesting is the reaction of those people who are undecided. Among them 76% are against the government scheme. Medián differentiated another category whom they call “active undecided” voters. Those are the ones who say that they definitely will vote but that they still don’t know for whom. Among them 74% opposed the monopolization of tobacco products.

To the question of whether it is appropriate for a party in power to favor its own, half of the Fidesz voters answered in the negative. All others, including the undecided and the actively undecided, were overwhelmingly (80-93%) opposed. Let’s not forget that Viktor Orbán announced that he saw nothing wrong with favoring Fidesz supporters over others.

Finally there was the question of what to do with the state of affairs that was created as a result of the tobacco monopoly and the way the concessions were granted. 51% of those asked would undo everything and would allow anyone who wants to sell cigarettes to be able to do so. 26% would start anew by scrapping the results and announcing a new competition for the available stores. Only 14% wouldn’t change anything.

What do these figures tell us, especially in light of other polls on party preferences? All three of the most recent polls show Fidesz leading by a large margin over MSZP and by 6-8% over a united democratic opposition. But the percentage of undecided voters is still very large. According to Tárki, it is 49%. If the population’s dislike of the monopolization of tobacco products and their disgust with the concessions is any indication, the undecided and especially the actively undecided voters may offer up some surprises.

* * *

And, finally, here is a priceless Orbán quotation. He was in Brussels today at a meeting of the prime ministers of the member states. He told reporters afterwards that he looked around the table and there was not one prime minister whose country was successful. It was a strange feeling to represent the only economically successful country in this company. And here are these unsuccessful losers who give advice to him, the only successful one. But he took no offense!

Success by Kevin Houle / flkckr

Success by Kevin Houle / flkckr

In line with his allegedly conciliatory attitude to the West European losers, Orbán decided to give in on the issue of political advertisement. As things stand now, no party can advertise on any  commercial television or radio station during the campaign season. He announced that this restrictive law will be changed to allow parties to advertise on commercial stations. But the stations must provide the service free of charge. I’ll bet they will be thrilled. On the other hand, given the financial state of the opposition parties, getting some free advertising might help restore the balance between Fidesz with its practically unlimited resources and opportunities and the poverty-stricken opposition parties. Of course, in the “devil in the details” department, we don’t know how much time the commercial stations will set aside for “upaid” political advertisements and whether these ads will be permitted during prime time or only when the vast majority of people are either at work or asleep.

Interview with Endre Hann of Medián: Intricacies of poll taking

I was once again lucky enough to receive a bunch of Hungarian newspapers and periodicals, among them the latest  Magyar Narancs (June 13). Most of the articles in this issue are still not on the Internet, so you’ll have to wait awhile to read the full interview with Endre Hann, CEO of Medián, perhaps the most reliable polling company in Hungary. I found the interview absolutely fascinating, so today I’m going to share some highlights from it.

Endre Hann regularly appears on ATV’s “Egyenes beszéd” after Medián’s results on the popularity of parties and politicians are released. But he has only about eight minutes to explain the details of their latest survey. So, he cannot really say more about the results than what can be read in the newspapers. As it is, Olga Kálmán usually urges him to hurry. Well, here Hann has ample opportunity to go into the details of their latest survey based on a large pool of 3,000 voters.

Question mark by Smart / flickr

Question mark by Smart / flickr

What did the researchers at Medián learn from this and previous polls? First and foremost, that today there are considerably more people than a year ago who think that the country’s economic prospects are getting better. They are relieved that the economy survived a possible bankruptcy. This finding doesn’t necessarily mean that they believe in a bright future, but while a year ago optimists accounted for only 13% of the sample this time their numbers doubled to 26%.

At the same time only 33% of the people would like to see this government continue in office after 2014. These are the hard-core Fidesz voters, for whom nothing can shake their trust in Fidesz and Viktor Orbán. They number about 1.5 million. Last June when Fidesz’s popularity hit rock bottom (with a 23% share) it was only voters from this hard core that stuck it out. Today the number of potential Fidesz voters is 2.3 million, defined as people who believe that the present government is on the right track.

But what may cheer the opposition is that 56% of the sample would like to see the Orbán government voted out of office. Out of this group 20% (1.5 million voters) would like a change of government but do not know yet whom they should vote for. For the opposition it is key to attract that large group of people.

Hann talks at length about the phenomenon of “hiding voters” who for one reason or other don’t want to reveal their party preferences. He recalls that as early as 1994 people believed that support for István Csurka’s MIÉP (Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja) was much higher than the numbers pollsters came out with. They were certain that MIÉP voters were too ashamed to admit that they would vote for such an extremist, anti-Semitic party. Hann himself never believed in those “hiding MIÉP voters” and in fact in 1994 MIÉP received only 1% of the votes. However, this time around he is not so sure that one doesn’t have to count on true hiders.

I might add here that in 2002 all pollsters with the exception of Medián grossly overestimated Fidesz’s strength. Some by as much as 10%. At that time polls were skewed because of the fear factor; respondents were worried that somehow the Orbán government would find out if they expressed a preference for the opposition. This time is very similar to the situation in 2002, except to an even greater degree. Therefore, even Hann doesn’t exclude the possibility that the figures arrived at month after month overestimate the strength of Fidesz and underestimate that of the opposition.

How can a pollster notice that the respondent doesn’t answer the questions honestly? Internal inconsistencies usually give them away. Normally the answers to specific questions reflect the person’s stated party preference. Lately, however, this is less and less so. The example Hann gives is the tobacconist shop concessions. According to Medián’s latest poll, only 19% of the electorate approve of the government’s deciding who can sell cigarettes while 73% are against it. When these people were asked whether there should be a re-examination of the concessions, more than 40% of the Fidesz voters answered in the affirmative. Almost 50% of Fidesz voters consider it “unacceptable that a party should intervene with the market processes and should provide business opportunities to its followers. ” Only one-third of Fidesz voters think that the concessions were allotted lawfully. Yet these people say that they will vote for Fidesz. Will these people actually vote for Fidesz even though they don’t agree with its policies? Hard to tell.

This is not the only issue on which the majority of Fidesz voters don’t support Fidesz’s policies. There is, for example, the question of voting rights for Hungarians living abroad, especially in the neighboring countries. The majority of Fidesz voters supported giving these people citizenship but two-thirds of them opposed granting them voting rights. And 58% of Fidesz voters disapproved of the law on religion that allows political interference in the affairs of religious communities. Fidesz voters were also unhappy with the idea of voter registration that eventually was abandoned by the party and consequently the government.

Another topic discussed in this interview is the relationship between the Fidesz “hard-core” and Jobbik. Medián asked their opinion on a possible coalition between Fidesz and Jobbik if Fidesz gets the majority of votes but not enough to form a government. 51% of the “hard-core” answered in the affirmative.

As for regional differences, everywhere outside of Budapest Fidesz is leading the pack. In Budapest, according to the findings of Medián, the opposition even today “could easily defeat Fidesz.” Jobbik is still doing very well in northeastern Hungary (16%) while nationwide it has only a 10% support.

There is also a fairly long discussion on the “popularity” of politicians. The reporter pointed out that in the last Medián poll Attila Mesterházy was 3% ahead of Gordon Bajnai. Yes, answered Hann, but this result can be misleading. One is not only popular because a lot of people like the person but because he/she is less divisive. Hann checked the popularity of Mesterházy versus Bajnai in different voting groups. Only 5% of Fidesz voters would like to see Bajnai in an important political position, while 10% feel the same way about Mesterházy. The situation is the same among Jobbik voters: 16% of them would like to see Mesterházy in a political position as opposed to 10% in Bajnai’s case. “Mesterházy’s momentary advantage is due to being less rejected on the right.” This result is not very surprising given the aggressive anti-Bajnai campaign, while the government propaganda barely touches Mesterházy.

Bajnai is definitely doing better with the voters of the so-called democratic opposition parties. In all parties he leads over Mesterházy–among sympathizers of Együtt 2014 (89%), of DK (64%), of LMP (56%). Even among MSZP voters 30% think that Bajnai is more qualified for the job of prime minister than MSZP’s chairman. Overall, 51% of the democratic opposition prefer Bajnai over Mesterházy (43%). That is not a substantial difference. Translating it to actual numbers, we are talking about 200,000 voters. Among those who are against the present government but are still undecided as far as their party preference is concerned, 55% would prefer Bajnai over Mesterházy (33%). The difference here is about 100,000.

Another piece of information I learned from this interview is that 16% of Együtt 2014 voters would in no way vote for MSZP while 20% of MSZP voters hate Bajnai’s party. Despite this, Hann is optimistic about the next election. If the two parties agree on a common candidate he sees no problem with joint support of that common candidate.

And finally a few words about potential voters for Együtt 2014. Medián registered a fairly high voter base for Együtt 2014 of 7%, which means about 600,000 voters.  This is a higher figure than the other pollsters came up with. Of these 7%, 25% claim that they voted for Fidesz  in 2010, 37% for MSZP, 10% for LMP, and 15% didn’t vote in 2010 either because of age or because of general disappointment with politics.

These are highly instructive details. Month after month we hear only superficial descriptions of the results from different polling companies, although it is their in-depth analysis that gives the most food for thought.

Matriculation and politics: A couple of conspiracy theories

During the month of May people seem to be preoccupied with news about the Hungarian matriculation exams. All of the questions are thoroughly discussed in the media. Everybody has an opinion about the quality of the questions, their difficulty, and their political implications if any.

I find this national preoccupation odd. After all, how high school graduates perform on these examinations should really be the concern of the students and their parents. Moreover, matriculation means a great deal less than it did, let’s say, a hundred or even fifty years ago. Before World War II matriculation was the dividing line between the middle class and the rest of society. After the war the number of high school graduates grew significantly, and thus a matriculation certificate means a great deal less today than it did in the olden days.

Judging from past experience, this matriculation mania will last for weeks, but the first few days are the truly exciting ones as far as the Hungarian public is concerned because Hungarian language and literature and history are the first two subjects to be tested.

Commencement exercises

Commencement exercises

This morning students spent four hours writing answers to the questions on the Hungarian test, which had two parts. The first was a reading and comprehension test of a text on linguistics. The second required the students to write an essay on one of three possible topics.

As usual, this year’s Hungarian test has its critics. One possible topic was a short story by Sándor Márai (1900-1989); apparently, that was the most popular choice. The second was an essay by Leszek Kołakowski, the Polish philosopher, who is, as I found out, not well known in Hungary. Most likely the students had no idea who the man was. But it was the third that  raised the most eyebrows. Students were supposed to compare two epigrams: one by Dániel Berzsenyi (1776-1836) and the other by Mihály Vörösmarty (1800-1855). Both are about Napoleon Bonaparte.

Let me quote the Berzsenyi poem first:

Napóleonhoz

Nem te valál győző, hanem a kor lelke: szabadság,
Melynek zászlóit hordta dicső sereged.
A népek fényes csalatásba merülve imádtak,
S a szent emberiség sorsa kezedbe került.
Ámde te azt tündér kényednek alája vetetted,
S isteni pálmádat váltja töviskoszorú.
Amely kéz felemelt, az ver most porba viszontag;
Benned az emberiség ügye bosszulva vagyon.

(1814)

The soul of the age was Liberty whose flags your victorious armies carried. People worshiped you and the fate of mankind was in your hands. However, you surrendered it to your pleasure, and a crown of thorns replaced your laurels. The hand that raised you now throws you into the dust.

Then the Vörösmarty poem:

NAPOLEON

Nagy volt ő s nagysága miatt megdőlnie kellett;
Ég és föld egyaránt törtek elejteni őt:
Tűrni nagyobbat irígy lőn a sáralkatu ember,
S tűrni hasonlót nem bírtak az istenek is.

1833

He was great and because of his greatness he had to fall; Heaven and earth endeavored to make him descend: Man made of dust is jealous of the greater one and even gods could not tolerate his kind.

The president of the Association of Hungarian Teachers, I think rightly, claims that there is no way anyone can write a fairly long essay comparing these two epigrams. He also added that “the task borders on the embarrassing.” He is not alone in believing that the choice of Napoleon was not a coincidence.

Actually, I find this theory a bit of a stretch, but I agree that the Kołakowski essay “On travel”  was selected as part of an effort to dissuade Hungarian students from leaving the country and studying in some other European Union country. In the essay Kołakowski claims that people don’t travel in order to learn “because everything we can learn during a trip can be learned perhaps even better without travel.” The reason for travel is to escape  from everyday problems in addition to satisfying one’s curiosity.

It is unlikely that such a primitive little trick would deter some of those who are serious about leaving Hungary to study elsewhere. Here is a series of cartoons that appeared in Index, drawn by “grafitember.” A girl who is just graduating from high school stops at the corner store to buy a chocolate bar. She and the store owner are old acquaintances.

-Aunt Rose, kiss your hand! The usual chocolate bar, please!

-Oh, my dear Panni, you see this day arrived after all. Are you worried or did you study hard?

-I am not so great in Hungarian but I’m prepared.

-Where are you going from here?

-To Vienna, just as half of my class. Perhaps archaeology or management.

Indeed, it seems that the best and the brightest are planning to study abroad. Despite this exodus, Viktor Orbán today talked about how he is going to make Hungary the “land of knowledge.” Yes, from less and less money and fewer and fewer university graduates.