democratic opposition

The Hungarian socialists at a crossroads

While Fidesz and the Orbán government are busy hatching their latest plans to further restructure the Hungarian state and Hungarian society we cannot do more than wait for the day, which should come soon, when we find out what kind of austerity program will be introduced. There is no use talking about, for instance, all the leaked information from Fidesz politicians concerning the huge reforms of healthcare and higher education. We will turn to these topics when there are enough facts to make an assessment of the government’s plans. I should note, however, that Hungarians expect the worst. Pessimism about the future has grown in the last few months.

So, for the time being, let’s concentrate on party politics. Yesterday I wrote about the Ferenc Deák Circle, comprised of those MSZP politicians who consider cooperation with other parties of the democratic opposition essential for an effective stand against the growing “dictatorship of democracy” that Viktor Orbán has introduced in the last four and a half years. On the other side are the MSZP politicians currently running the party who have moved in the opposite direction. According  to József Tóbiás, the party chairman, there is only one party on the left and that is MSZP. He made it crystal clear in the last few days that his party will never make any compromises and will never join any other party. MSZP will break with the “authoritarian leadership of Ferenc Gyurcsány.”

Tóbiás’s dislike of Gyurcsány is common knowledge. When Gyurcsány and some of his fellow rebels left MSZP, Tóbiás was relieved. He announced that “MSZP gained an opportunity to go its own way and define itself as a leftist party.” That was in October 2011. Mind you, the departure of the “alien” elements from the party did not increase MSZP’s popularity. But Tóbiás is not one to engage in self-criticism. The current message to the other smaller parties is: never again will we have anything to do with you because you are the cause of our decline.

József Tóbiás and other MSZP politicians have been lashing out, condemning “Gyurcsány’s peremptory Führer-like politics” (Gyurcsány hatalmi, vezérelvű politikája). Leaders of three “platforms” within MSZP–the “Left-wing Gathering,” “Socialist,” and “People’s Group”–announced their support of Tóbiás and his policies. (There is also a “social-democratic platform”; Ágnes Kunhalmi belongs to that group.) The leaders of these three platforms asked the party leadership “to free the left from the trap Ferenc Gyurcsány, the former prime minister, forced them into.” Tóbiás needs no urging. In addition to breaking all ties to other democratic parties, he is ready to completely reorganize MSZP.

Source: Index / photo by Levente Haralamposz Hernádi

Source: Index / photo by Levente Haralamposz Hernádi

What kind of a party does he have in mind? Interestingly enough, his MSZP would be structured like Fidesz. Currently, the key figures in the nationwide structure of MSZP are the county chairmen. Some of these chairmen have become extremely powerful over the years and, since they hold the purse strings, they are difficult to dislodge. These chairmen were the ones who elevated Ferenc Gyurcsány to be the party’s candidate for the premiership in 2004 and they were the ones who dethroned him in 2009. Fidesz, on the other hand, is built around electoral districts. In Tóbiás’s scheme, each electoral district will have a chairman who can be removed by the central leadership if he is found wanting.

Apparently Tóbiás can’t remove the county chairmen because that would require a revision of the by-laws. What he can do without any congressional approval is to take money away from them. With that move, these formerly all-powerful local party leaders will become mere figureheads.

It is not only the structure of Fidesz that the MSZP leadership is ready to copy. The new MSZP will be “nationally committed party (nemzeti elkötelezettségű párt). This shift is not entirely new. MSZP’s leadership under Attila Mesterházy already thought that since Fidesz is so successful with its nationalist propaganda and since Viktor Orbán and Fidesz politicians constantly accuse the socialists and the liberals of “internationalism” and “cosmopolitanism,” perhaps success for the socialists requires greater emphasis on the nation. Tóbiás even managed to smuggle the concept of “Christian values” into his speech when he equated them with the socialists’ “social sensitivity.”

The divide between the left-wingers and the liberals in MSZP is fundamental. The question is whether the Orbán government can be dislodged by a united opposition or by a single, large socialist party. A similar debate went on in LMP a year and a half ago. The party’s parliamentary delegation was almost equally split between those who followed András Schiffer, who saw his party’s future in going it alone, and the rebels who were convinced that Schiffer’s tactics were suicidal. It was this debate that precipitated the split in LMP. The current situation in MSZP closely resembles what LMP went through then, although the split is not so even.

At the moment it looks as if the majority of the top leadership agrees with Tóbiás. According to them, the party’s problems began the day Ferenc Gyurcsány took over. He was too liberal, and therefore supporters of the party whose hearts were on the left abandoned them. Well, we know the answer is not that simple. Most likely Ildikó Lendvai was correct when she said in her Facebook note yesterday that the dividing line in Hungarian society is no longer between left and right. And if so, the whole reshaping of the party by József Tóbiás and his friends is most likely an exercise in futility.

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András Schweitzer: Factors that made Hungary a borderline democracy (and are likely to stay)

András Schweitzer is a journalist who has been working for HVG since 1999. Currently he is on leave of absence. Since June 2013 he and his family have been living in Brussels.

In addition to being a journalist he is also scholar with a Ph.D. in political science who is currently working on completing a second Ph.D. in history. For a number of years he has been involved with a historical research project for the 1956-Institute.

* * *

According to the official rhetoric, the profound constitutional and political restructuring by the second Fidesz government (2010-2014) aimed to put an end to two decades of post-communist meandering and to finish off the remaining legacy of state-socialism. However the actual legal and economic changes constitute more an illiberal turn back to the bad old days. Of all the countries that joined the West in the Annus mirabilis of 1989 Hungary returned to exist again in history in the Fukuyama sense.

It is logical but inadequate to blame the global financial crisis for this unfortunate chain of events. The corruption of the Hungarian democratic political and market-oriented economic system had already been going on years before it. The dramatic transformation should instead be attributed to the following factors.

1. As an unfortunate coincidence the Hungarian democratic opposition did not have a single outstanding politician comparable to Czechoslovak Václav Havel or Polish Lech Walesa when the Wall fell.  István Bibó, a brilliant scholar and deeply convicted democrat (the once spirited state minister of the Imre Nagy government in the heroic days of 1956) could have been such a character acceptable to all main dissident groups – but he died a decade too early. Of the sizeable pool of dissenters, Machiavellian and confrontational Viktor Orbán happened to be the most talented and ambitious, who managed to politically survive the last quarter of century by being both harsh with the opponents and attentive to popular expectations. He showed signs of wanting to concentrate political and economic power in his hands already after he had first become prime minister in 1998, but it was the two-third majority between 2010 and 2014 which made it achievable for him.

2. Skepticism is a widely prevalent attitude in Hungary and yet voters have always showed affinity for political illusions. Research shows that the correlation between the level of government spending and the election cycles in Hungary is significantly higher than in other East-Central European countries. Elections have increasingly become promise-contests where honest players (at the beginning Fidesz included) had no chance to win. Politicians had to learn this lesson or leave the scene. After winning with excessive election pledges in 2002 and 2006 the Socialists found themselves in a difficult position: first they tried to be true to their promises and accumulated a budget deficit reaching 10% of the GDP, then after the 2006 elections, when this was no longer feasible without an immediate financial crisis, Ferenc Gyurcsány admitted he had lied about the state of the economy and introduced tough austerity measures. This became an important reason for the increasing popularity of Fidesz.

3. Despite all the good intentions and creative solutions at its crafting, the complex election system of 1989 was unfit for Hungary. In a country where people tend to vote for candidates mostly according to their party affiliations and where there are no significant regional differences in voting patterns even the party list leg of the system and the additional compensation list could not guarantee proportionality. In a single party list system, which would be the proper alternative for Hungary, Fidesz would have won a simple majority of just over 50% in 2010, but the actual electoral system transformed this into a two-thirds win which is the legal limit to changing the constitution. The new rules made the 2014 election results even more unproportional: with more weight given to the first-past-the-post leg the system guaranteed about two-thirds of the seats to Fidesz with less than 50 percent of the votes. (It is typical of the relatively uniform Hungarian voting behavior that in a Westminster-style system Fidesz would have had a 98% majority in the 2010-2014 parliament as its candidates won in 173 out of 176 districts. The election result of last Sunday showed a similar pattern of homogeneity: with the exception of a few electoral districts in Budapest, Miskolc and Szeged the whole country turned orange again.)

4. Liberal democracy and free market economy did not produce a general sense that things are looking up as a result of economic reform (which would have been a necessary ingredient of the success of transformation according to the insightful prophesy of Ralf Dahrendorf), and there has been an illiberal downslide in public opinion. The failure of half-implemented liberal policies was used as an argument against liberal ideals. It was claimed that “neoliberal” openness and privatization resulted in foreign intrusion and the cheap selling out of the country’s wealth; tolerance increased crime; multiculturalism endangered the country’s cultural character; preference for market mechanisms brought unemployment and oligarchs; protection of civil rights brought inefficient government. Capitalizing on and enforcing this sentiment, left and right political groups sometimes joined forces in measures to undermine the third (liberal) power block, which practically disappeared by 2010.

"In the footsteps of our fathers" / Magyar Narancs

“In the footsteps of our fathers” / Magyar Narancs

5. Unlike the short 20th century Czech history, which could be schematized as the interwar democratic “good guys” being followed by the communist “bad guys” Hungarian heavy weight political leaders of the era – Miklós Horthy and János Kádár – are both controversial figures. Numerous Hungarians tend to forgive the interwar governor for being complicit in the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Jews by claiming that he resisted deportation until the German occupation, which, in turn, didn’t leave him much choice. Many exonerate Kádár for his crimes as a communist dictator by emphasizing that he managed to construct the “happiest barrack” in the Soviet camp. As opposed to the Polish, the Czech or the Slovak context, Hungarian history lacks the heritage of a wide scale popular anti-fascist movement, and the revolutionary fever of 1956 also faded with the subsequent decades of a relatively mild dictatorship. A democratic role model is generally missing from Hungarian political consciousness. Horthy gained legitimacy by being the admiral of the nation who held the steering wheel of the Hungarian mothership against a sea of powerful enemies (even if the nation suffered a devastating defeat at the end). Kádár was made popular by providing welfare to the widest possible masses (even if this led to a crippling debt burden by 1989). Already the first democratically elected government capitalized on the earlier dormant nostalgia for the Horthy era, which has steadily grown stronger ever since, while Socialists never dared to dissociate themselves from widely popular János Kádár.

6. The Inglehart–Welzel Cultural Map of the World based on findings of World Value Survey reveals a remarkable cultural pattern: of all the countries of “Catholic Europe” (other ex-communist states like Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia included) Hungary scores the highest on having  “survival” instead of “self-expression” values. This puts the country the furthest away from leading democracies of “Protestant Europe” and the “English-speaking” world and the closest to Serbia, Albania, and Macedonia. Survival values are indeed reflected in prevalent ideas of Hungarian political life: yearning for economic paternalism instead of a free market (stemming from the existential fear of individuals) and ethno-nationalist sentiments instead of tolerance (stemming from the collective existential fear of the nation). Kádár’s ways to gain legitimacy well fits the former whereas those of Horthy go hand in hand with the latter.

7. Sixteen years ago it was Hungary’s northern neighbor, Slovakia that was generally considered to be a laggard among the transition nations of East-Central Europe, with a populist unchecked majority rule in an unconsolidated democracy. At that time however the fear that Slovakia would be left out of NATO and EU enlargement served as a wakeup call to the people who in the 1998 elections ousted Vladimír Mečiar’s authoritarian-populist government. Unfortunately, lacking similar incentives, the equally strong signals from Western democracies to Hungary don’t seem to have a substantial effect. While numerous Hungarian individuals contributed greatly to world civilization (usually after emigrating from the country) the wider public has traditionally been quite inattentive to the outside world. Hungary is perceived by many to be an island in the German, Latin and Slavic seas, a feeling reinforced by the living grievances of the post-WWI events when Hungary lost two-thirds of its historic territory and more than 3 million ethnic Hungarians found themselves in foreign countries. The so-called Trianon-tragedy is usually blamed on disingenuous neighbors and conspiring great powers. The island feeling is also existent on the individual level: surveys have for decades shown an extremely high level of individualist sentiment and low-level of trust among Hungarians which hampers effective social cooperation.

Between 2010 and 2014 Orbán’s government created a peculiar system, which could be called a borderline democracy. It walks the rope of taking all possible undemocratic measures to ensure its power (from gerrymandering through concentrated denigration campaigns to limiting free press) while at the same time trying to maintain all the formal legal criteria of democracy. In order to produce laws that serve its political interests but don’t contradict EU legislation it collects and connects “worst practices” from other European countries (to use a term EU-expert Györgyi Kocsis used in early 2011 about the new media law). Having changed the electoral system to its liking, having filled political posts with friends and clients, having an overwhelmingly friendly media, it had a remarkably wide array of potential measures to ensure its decisive win at the 2014 elections. It must be noted however, that even if the democratic left had won in 2014, this would not have meant a quick return to democratic normalcy. Instead, the political fight and cold civil war that characterized the years 2006-2010 would have come back.

During the last 25 years politicians on the left and right have learned the lesson of being popular by being populist. As liberal parties were disappearing incumbents have managed to gain an ever greater pool of supporters. Orbán’s 2014 victory is the second time in a row (after the 2006 narrow win of Gyurcsány) when a party and a prime minister were given a second term. Orbán’s government successfully combined Kádár’s and the Horthy’s approaches to gain support – its actions and rhetoric were at times more socialist than those of the Socialists and more nationalist than those of the nationalists. It also managed to bleed out its opponents on the left and on the right by a thousand cuts (from discovering and publicizing awkward information about their politicians through starting legal procedures against them to strictly limiting their channels to address a wider audience or even to collect and use campaign money) but its voter base diminished since 2010 nevertheless. In the future more resources may be needed to successfully apply similar techniques, therefore further political and economic centralization and an increase in the confrontational rhetoric is likely to come in the run up to 2018.

Written on October 27, 2013, updated on April 7-8, 2014

MSZP’s campaign kickoff: Mesterházy in the limelight

As promised, I am returning to the large socialist gathering in the László Papp Sport Arena where, according to those who were present, all seats were filled. What you have to keep in mind is that most of the attendees are the core of the MSZP activists. Their job is to organize the campaign on the local level. My friends who attended the gathering were duly impressed by MSZP’s ability to mobilize so many people. They were struck by the enthusiasm and determination that seemed to have gripped these activists.

The people who reported to me about their impressions are not MSZP activists. They are members of a small group of outsiders who were invited because of their political roles in earlier times. Therefore, their  enthusiasm reflects a genuine satisfaction with Attila Mesterházy’s performance and MSZP’s organizational ability. They considered the event “professional.” From what I saw of it on video, I detected a lot of American influence. Although some reporters made fun of the “log cabin” video introducing Attila Mesterházy, I thought that it was well done and most likely effective. After all, people know relatively little about him.

According to one of my eyewitnesses, the introductory speeches covered practically all the topics. He was worried that Mesterházy would not be able to add much to them. He didn’t have to fear. Although Mesterházy’s speech was a little too long, it was well structured. First, he gave a succinct assessment of the last four years in which he covered all the major topics dealing with the workings of the mafia state. Second, he outlined his ideas about the future after the election. It was practically an outline of a government program which first and foremost will concentrate on strengthening the trust of foreign politicians and investors in the new Hungarian government. He promised to stop the kind of legislative practice that was introduced by the Orbán government. He pledged a more just social policy, a better quality of life, strengthening the middle classes, and greater mobility. The basis on which all of that can be achieved is a sound educational policy. Last but not least he talked about the need for the restoration of the rule of law. He added that some people don’t seem to realize the importance of a democratic state, but without a strong democratic structure there cannot be real freedom and real prosperity.

Source: news.yahoo.com

Source: news.yahoo.com

Mesterházy promised to take strong action against extremists and extremism, and he insisted that all the illegal and shady affairs of the Orbán government will be investigated and persons found guilty will be punished.

At the end of the speech Mesterházy walked over to Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gábor Fodor and shook hands with them. At this point came a standing ovation which showed, in my opinion, that it wasn’t only DK supporters who demanded joint action on October 23 but MSZP followers as well. Another sign of satisfaction with the new unity was the enthusiastic reception Gábor Kuncze received. All in all, it seems that supporters have no problem with the new coalition.

But now let’s look at how some reporters saw the event. András Pethő of Origo noted that until now only Fidesz called the MSZP politicians communists, but now MSZP leaders are returning the favor. For example, Mesterházy referred to Viktor Orbán as Bolseviktor. Actually, the communist label fits Fidesz better than it does the socialists. Hungarian socialists are not the ones who nationalize everything in sight. He also noticed that in Mesterházy’s MSZP there are entirely new faces and the great old ones were no longer sitting in the front row. On the other hand, Origo’s reporter found Mesterházy’s speech old-fashioned and far too long. Index‘s reporter was still preoccupied with Gyurcsány’s role in the campaign. He kept asking the participants to guess how many votes he will bring and how many people he will deter. Otherwise, the reporter for some strange reason decided that “Mesterházy’s weapon against Orbán will be Paks.”

The relatively new Internet site, 444.hu, was its usual flippant self. It started its coverage with: “Someone should think twice before voting for Attila Mesterházy because if he becomes the prime minister, his ‘state of the country’ speeches will be very long. This is the most important message of MSZP’s meeting Saturday.” And what follows was no better. The whole article is depressing with its supercilious and, let’s face it, stupid remarks. And then some people are surprised that the Hungarian public is full of cynical characters for whom nothing is important or sacred.

The assessment I enjoyed most was that of Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, director of Nézőpont Institute, which is an indirectly Fidesz financed think tank and polling company. He tried to be “scientific” and talked about Mesterházy’s “tactical mistakes.” One of them was that he invited Zoran Milanović, the social democratic prime minister of Croatia, to attend and to speak at the meeting. After all, Croatia has its differences with Zsolt Hernádi, CEO of MOL, who is being sought by Croatian prosecutors on bribery charges. According to Mráz, Hungarian public opinion is solidly behind Hernádi and therefore inviting Milanović was a mistake.

According to Mráz, Mesterházy should be more cautious and shouldn’t talk so openly about himself as the next prime minister of Hungary. He should be more modest because, if he loses the election, he will be responsible for the defeat. Mráz finds Mesterházy’s claim that the socialist government’s economic affairs were in order in the spring of 2010 “incomprehensible.” With this statement Mesterházy “included himself among the failed left-wing politicians.”

While one of my sources specifically mentioned all the friendly gestures Mesterházy made toward Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gábor Fodor, Mráz, following some of the reporters’ mistaken information, claims that Mesterházy never mentioned Gyurcsány’s name and “looked through him.” Clearly, these media servants of Fidesz are trying to sow dissent in the newly unified opposition, but I don’t think that they will succeed. Only yesterday Ferenc Gyurcsány advised his fellow politicians not to react to every accusation Fidesz comes up with. The best thing is ignore them. Mráz closed his analysis with these words: “Mesterházy with the campaign opening that was designed for him risked a lot. His predecessors, who may well be his successors, acknowledged all that with visibly mixed feelings.”

A friend of mine told me that he thinks most people underestimate Mesterházy’s political acumen. Let’s hope he is right.

In praise of Fidesz’s Machiavellian talents

Here is a good example of what I’m talking about. The electoral law that was originally submitted in September 2012 was immediately amended and in the following weeks the bill was changed several times. The process is not over. The Orbán government at the moment is planning to add another amendment to the already accepted text, and this may still not be the end of the fiddling with its provisions. It depends on what steps are deemed necessary to secure Fidesz’s advantage in the race.

Without going into all of the details of the law that naturally favors Fidesz-KDNP, here I will call attention to one new aspect of it. It is the generous campaign financing of any hitherto unknown or newly created party. This subsidy is different from the one million forints that will be given to every candidate of the established parties on debit cards issued by the treasury where recipients will have to give an account of their spending. The money that the government will give to these new parties, which Hungarians have already nicknamed “kamupártok,” meaning phony parties, will be in cold hard cash. The parties can just pocket the money. It seems that the government doesn’t care where these millions will go as long as a lot of people take advantage of a very enticing proposition.

Machiavelli2What does one have to do to become a party leader? One must have at least twenty-six good friends or, better put, business partners who are willing to declare themselves candidates in a given electoral district. Each candidate need collect only 500 signatures. That certainly shouldn’t be difficult. Once it has 27 candidates, the new “Swindlers’ Party” can have a party list, and from there on it will receive money that it can spend on anything it wishes, no receipts required.

Clearly this rather odd arrangement was devised by the Fidesz think-tank to benefit their own party. With this ploy they can splinter the opposition: there will be so many lines on the ballot in April 2014 that the already confused voters will be utterly lost. And some voters may feel that they should vote for their underdog friends. Thus, Political Capital and Transparency International suggested an amendment: money would be transferred to these new, possibly phony parties on debit cards and, just like more established parties, they would have to give an account of their expenditures.

The Orbán government, which usually ignores suggestions, especially those coming from NGOs, suddenly became interested. The Machiavellian campaign strategists saw an opportunity and decided to purposefully misunderstand the suggestion of Transparency International and Political Capital. Gergely Gulyás, the man who usually handles legal matters in the party, came to the conclusion that “it is worth considering an amendment that would regulate campaign financing in such a way that state subsidies will be issued not to those who present themselves as candidates but to those who actually finish the campaign.” Any candidate who doesn’t finish the campaign would have to return the money he received from the budget.

So, one could ask, what is so Machiavellian in this? Anyone who is following the party struggles on the liberal-socialist side should immediately realize why Fidesz is so eager to tighten up the rules. Although Ferenc Gyurcsány has been talking about designating candidates in all 107 districts, he hopes that by the end the democratic parties will be able withdraw candidates to maximize their chances. This amendment would mean that DK, MSZP, and E14 candidates would have to pay back millions of forints they received to finance their campaigns. The  money naturally would already have been spent and these parties, especially DK and E14, have meager funds with which to repay the government.

The innocent babes of Political Capital and Transparency International were flabbergasted but only remarked politely that “the politicians of Fidesz misunderstood” their suggestion. The planned amendment as described by Gulyás doesn’t solve the real problem. They also objected that their suggestions are being used “for measures that didn’t originate with them.” Surely, they don’t want to be responsible for an amendment that makes the opposition’s electoral chances even worse than they are now. The problems they originally called attention to are still there: these quasi-parties will receive their campaign financing in cash which, depending on the number of candidates, might be as high as 600 million forints. These “parties” will still not have to account for their expenditures. And naturally, these proposed measures don’t remedy the problem that while individual candidates will have to repay monies received from the government if they withdraw in favor of another candidate, these quasi-parties will be able to keep their money even if they don’t receive one single vote. In the rest of their communiqué they repeat their original suggestions.

Of course, crafty Gulyás and his ilk know exactly what they are doing. They weighed matters anew in light of Ferenc Gyurcsány ideas for a single list and acted accordingly. Their original scheme to  weaken the opposition by encouraging phony parties to enter the race will reap only modest benefits. But discouraging MSZP-E14-DK from cooperating by threatening them with the loss of millions and millions of campaign funds may be a real game changer.

Two speeches, one message: Gábor Kuncze and Ferenc Gyurcsány

Below you’ll find two remarkable speeches that were delivered yesterday: the first by Gábor Kuncze, long-time chairman of the liberal SZDSZ, and the second by Ferenc Gyurcsány, former prime minister and head of the Democratic Coalition. Both men said almost the same thing, and they were not alone in their criticism of the arrangement worked out by Gordon Bajnai’s Együtt-2014-PM and MSZP. They were joined by three other politicians who have been active in Hungarian politics over the last twenty or so years.

These speeches preceded Attila Mesterházy’s speech, which signaled the close of the large meeting of those who oppose Viktor Orbán and his government. Thus, the crowd’s demand that Mesterházy embrace the cause of unity is understandable.

* * *

The speech of Gábor Kuncze: My friends! It is from this spot that in 1956 those youngsters began their march for freedom and did something for it. They did what their country demanded and with their action they were written into the annals of world history.

Viktor Orbán knows what he wants and he tells us often without trying to hide anything. In Kötcse, in Tusnádfürdő, and the last time in London. Power for twenty years, riches to the Fidesz political family. Obedience and blind faith. His faithful flock understands his speech.

Kuncze Gabor

Gábor Kuncze

Anyone who wants to put his own freedom into Orbán’s hands and his money into his pockets should vote for him. Anyone who is a political adolescent who wants to have a fatherly leader above him should vote for him.

There is nothing left to uncover about Orbán, and it is not worth wailing over his arrogant power play, over the legalized theft, over the humiliation of citizens, over the fraudulent election in Baja. One mustn’t moan but must do something. If we are stranded with the mafia government of Orbán it will be not his but our disgrace.

Yes, our disgrace because those who want what Orbán does are few but still enough. In vain are we more numerous; we are still few. More than half of the electorate wants to get rid of this government, yet today Fidesz would still win the election. Because the democratic forces at the moment are unfit for the realization of society’s expectations.

The collaboration of opposition forces today consists of divvying up the meager leftovers after an expected defeat. Their main concern is who will receive how many places on the solace lists of a common defeat. I don’t ask for a place on these lists either for myself or for my fellow liberals. Because this fight cannot be won by sharing the spoils under the guise of cooperation.

It is not cooperation when the most important consideration of the negotiating partners is that after the lost election they will be able to form a separate parliamentary caucus, even if only with a few people. As if they were fighting for separate graves on the grounds of a common cemetery.

We cannot allow that to go on because we would be betraying the Hungary of freedom, civic virtues, and solidarity.

Today many of us follow each other on the stage. This is a large step for the parties but a rather small one for the country. Let’s speak clearly at last and let’s not celebrate something that should have been done a year ago and which, in its present form, time has already passed by. What kind of tennis players are we to wait a year to return Fidesz’s serves?

Therefore

• First of all: the election can be won only in the electoral districts. Therefore we must together find and support those candidates who have the best chance of winning. It is not enough to extort at the negotiating table electoral districts without strong candidates and without the appropriate organization. Beside every candidate’s name there must be the name of the common organization that will embody the collaborating parties.

• Second: there must be a common list because that makes the voter’s choice easier and that is what motivates them most. The question is not how many people want a change of government but how many people believe that change is possible. A common list also means a common list leader. If that cannot be achieved by the negotiating parties, we will have to think further. If you cannot achieve that on your own, the electorate will have to force your hand.

• Third: With the provisions of the new electoral law the government legalized the possibility of electoral fraud. Let us not have any illusion: if Fidesz needs it, they will commit fraud. Therefore, by the time of the election we must organize the widest possible monitoring system.

Failure to do everything possible for the recovery of our lost freedom would mean a betrayal of our compatriots. It is not enough to love freedom and democracy. One must want them and do something for them. My friends! We will not write world history as those young people did in 1956, but we are responsible for our children and we owe something to the memory of those heroes. We must also do what the homeland demands!

* * * 

The speech of Ferenc Gyurcsány:

Good day!

Seemingly I will speak of politics. But only seemingly. Because what I will be talking about first and foremost is morality.

A few days ago I may have met you personally on Szabadság Square. It was at that time that I said: “I will say straight out what others try to avoid. I take full responsibility for what others shirk from.”

There is no time for political maneuvering.  There is no time to tell only half-truths.

So, I will say again in plain language: if we continue this way we will lose next year’s election and with it the cause of freedom, the cause of the republic, the chance for advancement and a truly European existence.

Source: fel.hu / Photo Attila Szakonyi

Source: fel.hu / Photo Attila Szakonyi

I know Viktor Orbán. Twice I took part in a campaign that ended in his defeat. I know that Hungary today is led by a mendacious political scoundrel. We’ve said it already a hundred times, we’ve said it a thousand times but, tell me, how much better off are we by saying it one more time?

How far would that take us? After all, together we have already decided on the verdict: Orbán must go! We say that together with the voters who want change, and the voters are right. But while the majority wants to see Orbán gone, and this is also what the parties and movements of the opposition want, today our cause is languishing.

Why are we facing this situation?

Because in order to be victorious over Orbán, first and foremost we must conquer ourselves. Conquer our bad habits, our faintheartedness, dissension, and selfishness.

But the voters don’t say only this. They don’t say only—how does the slogan go?—Orbán, beat it! No, they don’t say only that. They also tell us how it can be done. They say it clearly, loudly, unreservedly that we, the parties, the movements, the supporters of the opposition, must unite. To unite not half-heartedly but tightly holding on to each other.

Orbán must be confronted with an unequivocal , united challenge. We need a unified bloc of opposition parties. In order to be victorious over Orbán we need a common program, a common candidate for prime minister, a common party list, and common candidates.

What stands in the way of a unified bloc?

Perhaps the machinations of the government? No!

The will of God? Of course not!

Perhaps some unavoidable legal pettifoggery? Not at all!

We ourselves are the impediments. Our acquiescence in the less instead of the adequate.

In the last analysis it is the lack of magnanimity, the inability to compromise, the selfishness, and the impenetrable personal ambition. For all this it is not Orbán who is responsible; we are.

We remember October 1956 as the great moment of the Hungarian people. A moment when the cause of the country was greater than fear, when patriots were ready to give their lives for the cause of freedom and victory over tyranny. But it is not enough to talk about those heroes. One must understand their example.

Today nobody has to die for his country. Today a great deal less would be sufficient. It would be enough to seriously think and seriously do everything that is possible to bring about the fall of Orbán, the defeat of tyranny.

The party I lead, the Democratic Coalition, is the most implacable opponent of Orbán. With us there is no bargain, no compromise, no arrangement. As chairman of this party, I will be working until next spring and even after for the creation of a Hungary of free citizens. To create a free, welcoming home from this homeland.

But let me speak clearly, firmly, and unequivocally: to talk about unity but not do anything about it is not enough. One mustn’t just talk about collaboration, one must create its preconditions. It is not enough to talk about collaboration; one must actually collaborate.

I say what others side step: I will do everything possible to remove all obstacles in the way of a strong, unified republican oppositional bloc. Because we must subordinate everything else to that goal.

So, I will be explicit!

The opposition needs one leader. Not two, not three, not eight but one. Only one. A leader who can unite all democrats, who can lead us to victory. Whoever is unable to do this, whose ambitions hinder an all-embracing cooperation, must rethink his role. There can be no compromise here. And if there is no solution forthcoming—let’s talk clearly—then a new leader must be asked to be the candidate for the post of premiership. Because the opposition needs a common leader! Not two, not three, not eight!

The opposition needs only one party list. Naturally, the political leaders nationwide want to be part of the legislature in order to represent the ideas in which they believe. And that’s how it should be. But if someone’s parliamentary ambitions prevents the setting up of a common list of the republican oppositional bloc, then that person must let someone else take his place. And let me speak clearly again: If I were such an obstacle—I believe that I’m not—but if I were, I would retire from the race.

Because I’m not fighting for a seat in parliament. I am fighting for victory. Not victory for me but for us, the citizens of democratic Hungary. And there shouldn’t be any misunderstanding: I will do everything in my power to reach that goal. If necessary I will plough up the country from left to right to offer an example of struggle, passion, straight and plain talk.

To conclude, as Gábor Kuncze, my friend and colleague, said: the republican opposition should have in every district only one common candidate. Today this is not the case. We must agree and we must be willing to withdraw our candidates in a proportional fashion. There is no other way and we in the Democratic Coalition are ready to do just that. Then you should be ready to do it as well! One mustn’t be selfish, one must be ready to sacrifice. The service of the country is paramount. At any price!

The negotiations mustn’t be closed, but must be opened up again! The new constitution was supposed to be cut in granite and yet by now they have amended it six times. They keep amending it because what is not democratic cannot be lasting. And the agreement our colleagues signed is not democratic, not lasting because it doesn’t satisfy the will of the democratic voters. Therefore, we must negotiate, negotiate, and at the end agree. The sooner the better. It might be tomorrow, but at the latest in the spring. We are ready.

And at the very end, in closing.

My dear friends. I’m not worried about the Democratic Coalition. We will be in the next Parliament. I should add that I’m not worried about myself because I—to the sorrow of some and I hope to the delight of many—will remain a politician and will lead my party to success.I’m worried about my homeland.

I would do anything to enable her to be free again and the home of hope and quietude.

I will fight for that.

For Hungary and for the Republic!

The latest Medián poll: Left-liberal voters want a united front

The democratic parties got a lot of bad news today. Two polls came out, and both show a growth in the popularity of Fidesz and less dissatisfaction with the performance of the government. At the same time, support for the opposition parties is stagnant. The democratic opposition has to rethink its strategy if it is to have a chance of standing up to the Fidesz electoral onslaught we all expect. The setup that was worked out by MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM isn’t attracting voters.

The Tárki poll shows a considerable strengthening of Fidesz support. According to the poll, Fidesz has the support of 50% of active voters. That means that, given the peculiarities of the new Hungarian electoral system, if the elections were held this coming weekend Fidesz would again achieve a two-thirds majority in the new smaller (199-seat) parliament. Among the same group MSZP has the support of 20% and E14 only 6%. That means that E-14 wouldn’t even manage to get into parliament because as a “party alliance” it needs 10% of the votes to be eligible for parliamentary representation. DK has 4%, 1% shy of the necessary 5% to become a parliamentary party.

In case someone thinks that Tárki is apt to overestimate Fidesz’s strength, Medián’s poll, also released today, confirms Tárki’s findings. Based on Medián’s latest poll, Fidesz would win big at the next election. A two-thirds majority is guaranteed. Medián figures 139 parliamentary seats out of 199. According to their model, MSZP-E14 is currently running 9% behind Fidesz. They would need another 450,000 voters in order to win the election.

Medián also asked potential voters about the state of the opposition. The details of the poll are still not available, but I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of the article that will appear shortly in HVG. The title of the article is “Kétséges együttes,” a clever wordplay that is difficult to translate. In plain language, those questioned have doubts about the agreement Bajnai and Mesterházy signed.

What is it they don’t like? Almost everything. The great majority of voters who support the democratic parties are not satisfied with the MSZP-E-14 deal. They don’t like the fact that the two parties decided on separate party lists. They also dislike the arrangement whereby the two parties divided the 106 districts between themselves.

Medián conducted personal interviews with 1,200 people between September 6 and 10. Only 23% of those interviewed were completely satisfied with the arrangement while 22% were totally dissatisfied; 41% said that the agreement is good but that it could have been improved by having a common list and a common candidate for prime minister. Even supporters of E-14 are not totally satisfied, although one would have thought that they would be pleased with the agreement that greatly favors their party. Only 37% of them are totally satisfied with the agreement as opposed to 26% of MSZP supporters.

As for the person of the potential prime minister, the supporters of the democratic parties still prefer Bajnai as they did earlier, but the difference in popularity between Bajnai and Mesterházy is smaller today than it was in July.

Median gyurcsanyPerhaps the most interesting question posed in this month’s Medián poll concerned the left-liberal voters’ assessment of Ferenc Gyurcsány. The question was: “There are those who claim that for the replacement of the Orbán government every opposition force is needed including Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party, the Democratikus Koalíció. Others maintain that Ferenc Gyurcsány is so unpopular that many people would rather not vote because they wouldn’t want to vote for a political alliance in which he is included and therefore it would be better if the parties’ collaboration would exclude him. Which viewpoint do you share?”

Support for the first viewpoint is colored in orange on the chart, support for the second in blue, and “no opinion” in light orange. The first line represents the replies of MSZP voters, the second E14 voters, the third “all left-wing voters,” the fourth “without a party,” and the last those who will most likely vote but who at the moment are unsure of their party preference.

I think this poll somewhat favors DK, although some people might counter that DK’s inclusion wouldn’t garner a lot of extra votes because his support is the lowest among those without a party. But considering Medián’s finding that support for MSZP-E14 hasn’t increased since an agreement was reached between the two parties, they probably don’t have anything to lose by including DK in a joint effort. I suspect that the potential upside reward outweighs the downside risk.

And if I were Bajnai and Mesterházy I would seriously reconsider the present arrangement of having two or three party lists. The majority of their voters prefer one common list and common candidates. They could run as a coalition called, for instance, Democratic Front or Fórum. And yes, one common candidate for prime minister candidate is a must. If they are serious about removing Orbán and making an effort to restore democracy in Hungary, they must come up with a winning strategy. Truly combining their efforts in a united front is what their voters want them to do.

The current state of the Hungarian opposition: Negotiations between MSZP and DK

I’m afraid I have to go back to the MSZP-DK negotiations because some of the coverage of MSZP’s reactions is far too sketchy.  MTI, which serves all Hungarian news organizations, first reported that MSZP found “three of DK’s nine-point suggestions unacceptable.” They are unacceptable because they suggest a renegotiation of the agreement between MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM. MSZP also found it worrisome that DK offers only “an election alliance while the socialists and Együtt 2014-PM agreed to a political alliance.”

Since not too many publications bothered to reprint DK’s nine-point proposal, which is available on DK’s webpage, I’m going to list the points here. Some of the more important passages are quoted verbatim. Others are only summarized.

(1) DK’s ideal arrangement would still be naming a common prime minister and having only one common party list. Therefore “we suggest holding out the possibility of coming to a possible understanding on these issues.”

(2)  “We recognize the validity of the MSZP-Együtt 2014 agreement. Although at present we are negotiating only with MSZP, we want to adhere to the MSZP-Együtt-PM agreement and we would like to apply the principles and their consequences to the agreement as a whole.”

(3) “The Demokratikus Koalíció is interested in the success of the negotiations and to this end the Party is ready to give up its right to form its own list and put up individual candidates.”

(4) “The desired agreement aims at concluding not a political but an electoral alliance…. From here on parties of the electoral alliance … will represent their own politics independently.”

(5) “It is our aim to have a common MSZP-DK list and to have common individual candidates.”

(6) DK believes in proportional representation when it comes to the individual candidates of the 106 electoral districts. MSZP and Együtt 2014 together have 1.4-1.6 million voters, DK has 100-200,000.

(7) Each party will have the right to name its own preferred candidates in the individual districts as well as on the lists.

(8) According to the unbroken Hungarian custom, “the largest party, i.e. MSZP, has the right to name the first person on the list and the smaller party, i.e. DK, will be able to name someone for the second place.”

(9) The two parties will prepare jointly for the election, they will name a team together and will jointly finance the campaign.

Even before the official word came from MSZP headquarters Magyar Hírlap learned from socialist sources that “MSZP is no longer interested in Gyurcsány.” According to the paper, MSZP politicians believe that leaving DK out of the agreement is more beneficial to MSZP because, according to polls ordered by the party, MSZP will receive twice as many votes without DK than with DK support. The paper took it for granted that as a result of MSZP’s refusal Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party will enter the race alone.

This doesn’t seem to be the case, however. As of this moment we still don’t know which three points are unacceptable to MSZP. In addition to these three unnamed points MSZP, which originally sided with DK on voting rights for ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries, by now has changed its mind, most likely as a result of pressure from Együtt-2014-PM. Now MSZP insists on DK’s acceptance of this Fidesz-introduced law which in fact is unpopular among people in Hungary proper. MSZP also wants to have an answer about DK’s position on a tuition-free first year of college.

It would seem on first blush that there  is no reason to think that there will be an agreement between these two parties. But MSZP didn’t close the door. The talks continued, after which Gyurcsány seemed optimistic. He claimed that “we got one step closer to an accord” and expressed his hope that a final agreement will be reached within days.  Gyurcsány said that DK doesn’t want to reopen the negotiations, stressing that its nine-point proposal didn’t contain such a demand. He also indicated that DK accepts all of the policy concepts on which MSZP and E14 agreed. I assume that means DK’s abandonment of its strongly held view on ethnic Hungarian voting rights.

Gyurcsány found it especially heartwarming that MSZP didn’t raise objections to DK’s proposals for a common list and common candidates. He added that there was no MSZP criticism of DK’s ideas on proportionality. According to him, MSZP simply indicated that they don’t want to extend that principle to Együtt 2014-PM because MSZP had already closed those negotiations.

Last Sunday  MSZP-DK-Együtt 2014 logos together resulted a large victory for the candidate on the by-election in Szigetszentmiklós

Last Sunday MSZP-DK-Együtt 2014 logos together resulted a large victory for the candidate in the by-election in Szigetszentmiklós

If Gyurcsány’s understanding of the conversation with the MSZP leadership is correct, this would mean that DK would have the right to name its own candidates in 7 or 8 districts. In the 75 districts to which MSZP is currently entitled, all candidates would run under the MSZP-DK logos. And on the list DK politicians would receive about 10% of the places.

Perhaps Gyurcsány is overly optimistic, but if his description of the situation is correct, DK is not as badly off as I thought only a few hours ago. I still have some doubts, however. What if MSZP insists on leaving Gyurcsány off the list? There is no way that DK will ever accept that demand. What will Együtt 2014-PM think if DK’s logo appears alongside MSZP’s red carnation? Or perhaps Gyurcsány’s reference to “common candidates” doesn’t mean that they would run under MSZP and DK logos. In brief, there are still many questions. But within a few days we ought to know more.