Ferenc Gyurcsány will not accept alms: New rounds of negotiations?

I devoted the last two paragraphs of my last post to Ferenc Gyurcsány’s unhappiness with the deal Attila Mesterházy and Gordon Bajnai hammered out. Yesterday Gyurcsány claimed that the agreement signaled the failure of the quest for unity and that the announcement by Bajnai and Mesterházy was no more than a fig leaf that covers up this failure. My reaction to this brief comment by Ferenc Gyurcsány last night was that the deal is not as bad as he imagines it to be.

Since then Ferenc Gyurcsány has appeared on every possible media outlet, starting with Kossuth Rádió, continuing with György Bolgár’s “Let’s Talk It Over,” and finally an interview with Olga Kálmán on “Straight Talk” (Egyenes beszéd). Obviously 🙂  Gyurcsány didn’t read yesterday’s Hungarian Spectrum where I suggested that instead of public appearances he should negotiate first with Mesterházy and then with Bajnai, perhaps with the backing of MSZP.

As a result of all these appearances I think I understand what Ferenc Gyurcsány is complaining about. Over the months he has never wavered in his conviction that there must be one common candidate in all 106 electoral districts. He has also emphasized the necessity of designating a common candidate for the post of prime minister. And finally, he felt strongly about a single party list. Now he claims that none of these three requirements for electoral success has materialized. After all, Mesterházy and Bajnai divided the 106 electoral districts between themselves; they created two party lists which will mean two parliamentary delegations that, in Gyurcsány’s opinion, will result in a weak government coalition. And third, by not naming a prime minister designate Viktor Orbán will face no challenger in the campaign.

As far as the candidate for the premiership is concerned, Gyurcsány has made it clear all along that he will not present himself as a contender. At the beginning he favored Gordon Bajnai, but by the end he felt that it was more appropriate to choose the top of the ticket from the largest party. He may have shifted his position on the prime minister designate because it was becoming evident that Együtt 2014’s attitude toward him was outright antagonistic and Gordon Bajnai didn’t seem to be able or willing to go against his colleagues in the party’s leadership. Or perhaps he realized that despite Bajnai’s best efforts E-14 has been unable to achieve serious popular support vis-à-vis MSZP and therefore Bajnai’s insistence on the post was ill advised and unfounded.

Instead of a secret deal between Bajnai and Mesterházy, Gyurcsány expected a new round of negotiations in which the other parties, including DK, were represented. After all, he is convinced that DK’s support is not much smaller than that of E-14. Instead, out of the blue he was confronted with a private deal that was made in secret and against the declared wishes of MSZP that also favored a common party list. I guess he felt betrayed. And he flew off the handle. He will not go and beg for crumbs and will not accept alms. As the day went by he became increasingly radical, declaring that if DK is not offered a square deal his party will run alone and will put up 106 candidates. He will show what DK and he himself are capable of. He darkly mentioned his ability as a campaigner.

Source: Hír24

Source: Hír24

According to the electoral law, in order for a party to be able to have a party list it must have candidates in at least 27 electoral districts. That’s the reason MSZP gave E-14 more than 27 districts. In fact, as it stands E-14 has 35 districts as opposed to MSZP’s 71. As far as Bajnai is concerned, if MSZP wants to give up some of its districts to DK or anyone else it is their business. He made it quite clear, however, that E-14 has no intention of yielding any of its 35 districts. Last night Mesterházy said that MSZP would be willing to give four districts to the other opposition parties. If that is the case, we can safely say that DK would receive no more than two seats and that would not satisfy Ferenc Gyurcsány who would consider this no more than crumbs. He made that much clear today. However, by tonight Gyurcsány calmed down somewhat and indicated that he was ready to negotiate and may not insist on starting the negotiations anew in order to scrap the present agreement between Bajnai and Mesterházy.

During his interview with Olga Kálmán we learned that sometime in the afternoon Gyurcsány talked to Mesterházy and indicated that he would accept a fair offer. He didn’t mention exact numbers, but I gathered that ten or a dozen districts would satisfy him. However, he would insist on a joint MSZP-DK party list. I also gained the distinct impression that he would demand some concessions from E-14 as well. While in the early afternoon he threatened that DK would run alone, by the evening he said that if DK doesn’t get a fair shake it might withdraw and refuse to participate in the elections, an option doesn’t like and he wants to avoid DK’s running of its own.

In the last couple of weeks DK has been waging a campaign because polls indicated that most voters don’t even know that Ferenc Gyurcsány left MSZP more than a year ago and established a party of his own. The campaign has apparently yielded results. I heard from independent sources that since the campaign began the number of new party members has grown appreciably–as it stands DK has over 8,000 members–and that the party’s telephone campaign is also successful. The party claims that 15% of those phoned are willing to be included in DK’s database. So, I gather that Gyurcsány thinks that his party’s popularity is nearing that of Együtt 2014 which is around 6% among the voters. He therefore believes that he deserves a piece of the pie.

And here is an encouraging piece of news for those who would like to see unity of action. On Sunday there will be by-elections in Szigetszentmiklós.  There MSZP, DK, and E-14 together support an opposition candidate. Magyar Nemzet has already announced that a Fidesz win would be close to a miracle because Szigetszentmiklós is traditionally a liberal-socialist town where Fidesz barely won at the local elections.

Szigetszentmiklós is not the first town where MSZP, DK, and E-14 managed to cooperate on the local level. It’s too bad that one cannot find the same willingness when it comes to national politics.

Agreement is reached between MSZP and Együtt 2014

Last night after I saw Attila Mesterházy announcing the decision of the party leadership to continue negotiations with Gordon Bajnai, I thought that this time an agreement might finally be reached. I assumed that Mesterházy was stepping back from his threat on Friday to consider the earlier agreement between the two parties on the division of individual electoral districts null and void and in its place to hold individual primaries to decide which party’s candidate would run in each individual district.

Despite all the acrimony and drama that occurred during the negotiations, an agreement came unexpectedly swiftly. I for one like the solution. I consider it the most democratic way of deciding who potentially will be Hungary’s future prime minister.

So, let me outline briefly what the deal is. In the Hungarian system each voter can cast two ballots. One for the candidate in his electoral district and one for the party he prefers. In the past someone who voted for the SZDSZ candidate most likely also voted for SZDSZ’s party list. At least in the first round of the election. In the second round his decision could become complicated. Let’s assume that the SZDSZ candidate lost to the candidates of MSZP and Fidesz and therefore in the second round the voter had to decide whether to cast a ballot for MSZP or Fidesz. In this case, our SZDSZ voter most likely would have opted for MSZP’s candidate.

This time there will be no second round and a simple majority will decide the winner of the race. Under these circumstances, the opposition parties cannot afford to run alone. They must pool resources and agree on a common candidate against the Fidesz candidate running in the district. Otherwise they will have no chance. Everybody knew that from day one. The only argument up until now was what to do with the party list or lists. Should the opposition join forces here as well and create a common party list or not? The greatest proponent of a common party list was Ferenc Gyurcsány. It would have forced the parties to come up with a joint candidate for the premiership.

Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy at today's press conference Source: Népszava

Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy at today’s press conference
Source: Népszava

The new solution is a compromise that may have its benefits. There will be one single opposition candidate in each of the 106 districts, but Együtt 2014-PM and MSZP will each have its own party list. Topping the E-14 party list will be Gordon Bajnai; Attila Mesterházy will have the same spot on the MSZP list. And then the voters will decide. Assuming that the opposition prevails over Fidesz, if E-14 gets more votes from its party list, the prime minister most likely will be Gordon Bajnai. If MSZP has a stronger showing it will be Attila Mesterházy. I think this is a fair deal.

The real question is whether or not Ferenc Gyurcsány is right in suggesting that with a common party list the opposition could gather more votes than it could with two or more party lists. Those who today hail the agreement argue that this arrangement might in fact be advantageous to the opposition forces. After all, they argue, there are some E-14 supporters who would never vote for a party list headed by Attila Mesterházy and, vice versa, some MSZP supporters would refuse to vote for a list headed by a non-socialist candidate. These people, therefore, might decide not to vote at all. But with this compromise these people can have it both ways. They can vote for the common candidate and can also cast their vote for their favorite party. We don’t know, and never will know with certainty, which system would bring out the most opposition voters, but I tend to think that this is the better solution.

The quick agreement between Bajnai and Mesterházy most likely surprised Fidesz and the right-wing media. Magyar Nemzet made the mistake of publishing an article only a couple of minutes before the joint press conference announcing the agreement. In this article the author outlined the possibility of MSZP making a deal with Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció and the liberals (Gábor Fodor, Gábor Kuncze) against Bajnai. In the same article he reminded the socialists of all the past “lies of Bajnai” and warned the socialists not to believe him.

Naturally the government parties are not at all happy with the agreement, but for the time being the Fidesz spokespersons could muster only a condemnation of the two party leaders who “are preoccupied with their personal ambitions.” A rather peculiar reaction to an arrangement according to which both men agreed to step back and let the voters decide their fate. But who said that Gabriella Selmeczi and her colleagues on Lendvay Street are the sharpest knives in the drawer? They are capable only of repeating phrases given to them, and it seems that the top party leadership didn’t come up with the latest Fidesz response to such a speedy and unexpected outcome of the negotiations.

Ferenc Gyurcsány seems to be the only major opposition player at the moment who is unhappy with the result. He claims that the agreement signals the failure of the quest for unity. The announcement by Bajnai and Mesterházy is no more than a fig leaf that covers this failure. I was somewhat surprised by Gyurcsány’s reaction. But from the media I gather that Gyurcsány is offended by Bajnai’s decision not to work with DK and Gyurcsány. While Mesterházy is ready to negotiate with everybody, I gather that E-14 has no intention of giving up any of its 35 districts to a liberal or DK candidate.

I understand Gyurcsány’s anger, but I would suggest that instead of making public declarations he should negotiate first with Mesterházy and then with Bajnai, perhaps with the backing of MSZP. For the time being he should support the best E-14 and MSZP managed to achieve. It is not as bad a deal as Gyurcsány thinks.