democratic parties

The first draft of a “party program” of the Hungarian democratic opposition. Part I

On July 16 the Magyar Szocialista Párt (MSZP) and Együtt 2014-Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM) signed an agreement which at last makes the cooperation between these two parties more or less a certainty. Naturally, there are still a lot of questions, among them how this new “election association” (választási szövetség) will deal with other democratic parties such as the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) that is after all not much smaller than  Együtt 2014-PM. And what about the small liberal parties? Although for the time being a decision on a common candidate for the premiership is not an issue, in time it certainly will be.

The text of the agreement is available online. It is a fairly lengthy document, so today I will tackle only the first half of it.

In the preamble the document reasserts that the period between 1990 and 2010 was one of the freest and most democratic in Hungary’s history but it also adds that many problems were left unattended and therefore the system became unstable. A simple return to the time prior to 2010 is thus not a solution. According to the statement signed by Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy, “the electorate must receive assurances that the new government will govern in a predictable and expert manner and will stand on solid moral grounds.”

The signatories promise to look after those who cannot look after themselves and to pay special attention to children, women, salaried employees, small business people, and pensioners. The current government favors the well-to-do but the new coalition will expect a larger contribution from them in the name of  solidarity.

Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy at the press conference after the meeting of July 16 / Népszabadság, Photo Zsolt Reviczky

Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy at the press conference after the meeting  Népszabadság, Photo Zsolt Reviczky

Let’s see what the specific points are that these two parties agreed on. First, the decision was made that the Basic Law of 2011 cannot remain the constitution of the land. That is a definite switch as far as Együtt 2014-PM is concerned. Only a few weeks ago Viktor Szigetvári said in one of his interviews that Együtt 2014 could live with the Fidesz constitution because, after all, it is not so bad. Obviously that was an illogical stance. The Basic Law was written by one of the Fidesz politicians; it was written for Fidesz and it was passed by Fidesz and Jobbik. Surely, a government that wants to break with the present political system cannot function under this constitution which, even without its amendments, was unacceptable to the Venice Commission.

Very rightly, a new democratic government must restore municipal autonomy and end the excessive centralization of power created by Viktor Orbán’s government. In addition, it wants to put an end to decision making from above without any consultation with societal groups. Naturally this is not as easy a task as it sounds.  What are they going to do with the nationalized schools or the hospitals? These are only two questions that must be solved but there are many more because the earlier system of self-government in cities and towns was not exactly ideal either.

The third topic of the agreement covers law and order issues with special attention to the police. I can certainly appreciate the decision to rethink the whole structure of the police force. The new democratic opposition seems to be committed to creating a “community police force” instead of a national hierarchy that has been the Hungarian model ever since there has been a police force in Hungary. They also want to get rid of TEK (Terrorelhárítási Központ) whose commandos in ski masks can take over ordinary police functions. The new government will also get rid of the new 340-350 member parliamentary guard which as it stands will defend 199 MP’s from next year on.

The document also includes the promise that the new government will work out a comprehensive strategy against corruption. All government contracts and all tenders will be open to the public on a website that can be visited by all. In this work they will ask the assistance of civic organizations concerned with corruption issues.

There is the promise, let’s hope for the last time, that the documents of the Kádár regime’s security forces will be opened to everybody. The agents’ names will be revealed. They will also strengthen parliamentary and civil control of the present national security agencies. They also want to re-examine the many cases that the government deemed top secret and made unavailable for sometimes as many as 80 years. They promise to take away the unlawful land leases granted to Fidesz supporters. As for the tobacconist shops, the government will initiate a review of the cases. Actually, if they asked me, I would have suggested undoing the whole ridiculous system.

As for economic growth I’m sure that once the Orbán government is gone there will be a much greater influx of foreign capital because the new government, especially if it is headed by Gordon Bajnai, will inspire confidence. Investors will greet the formation of  the new government with a sigh of relief. Of course, it will take time but I have no doubt that there will be greater growth and a lot of good will worldwide toward a new government committed to democracy and a healthy market economy.

When it comes to employment I’m much less optimistic. It is all very well and good to say that every Hungarian family should have at least one gainfully employed person but that requires sustained economic growth and a better educated workforce. And that is a difficult undertaking. It is easy to say that “we will do our best to train people for gainful employment,” but one needs a lot of money for that and also a population that is “willing and able.” There are in the document a few promises that don’t sound realistic to me. For example, the state would guarantee further educational opportunities to every man and woman under the age of thirty who after finishing their studies cannot find a job. One has the feeling that the authors of the document themselves are aware of the present difficulties of the unemployed because the new government would triple the duration of unemployment benefits from three months to nine.

The coalition will put an end to the flat tax introduced by the Orbán government that caused so much trouble both for the poorer strata of the population and as well for a balanced budget. They promise that the new tax law will reflect the government’s desire to increase investment and hiring.

They also plan to scrap the Orbán government’s labor code. They would restore the rights of the employees, including the rights of the trade unions.

European Union subsidies will be spent mostly on education, healthcare, public transportation, and the creation of new jobs instead of on “prestige projects” and football stadiums.

There is the usual mention of a concern for a livable environment and reducing wastefulness in energy consumption. The latter will again cost a lot of money because the government will provide funds for making dwellings more energy efficient.

One of the most fully developed subjects of the document concerns education. They will again raise the compulsory school age to 18. If you recall, one of the first decisions of the Orbán government was to lower the age at which students could leave school to 16. They promise the introduction of steps that would ensure integration and minimizing differences between schools. Once again, this is easier said than done, especially since experts repeatedly tell us that as long as parents are free to send their children to schools of their own choice the differences between schools and the education children receive will get greater and greater. And I’d bet that a possible successor to the present government would not have the guts to put an end to the practice of free school choice.

On the other hand, they will put an end to the Orbán’s government’s very high tuition fees as well as the bans on graduates accepting work abroad if they received a tuition-free education. In their scheme, everyone who is accepted to a university or college will pay no tuition for the first year. However, depending on academic achievement and financial needs, there will be tuition from the second year on. I’m not quite sure where they will find the money for it, but they want to finance a three to five month study abroad for all college students.

As for demographic problems and the employment of women, what we can read in this document is very vague. They will make it possible for women not to have to choose between employment and motherhood. It remains their secret how this is going to be achieved.

To be continued