Együtt 2014

The Hungarian government under domestic and foreign pressure

As I’m writing this post thousands are again demonstrating against the government. The crowd gathered in front of the parliament, which one of the organizers called “the puppet show,” and then is heading toward the Castle District, where Viktor Orbán is planning to move. The move will cost an incredible amount of money but, as one of the undersecretaries in the prime minister’s office said, the citizens of Hungary will be really happy once the prime minister moves to quarters befitting his position. Given the mood of these crowds, I very much doubt that that will be the case. The good citizens of Hungary who are out on the street actually wish Orbán not to the Castle District but straight to hell.

The demonstration was organized against corruption but, as usually happens at these mass demonstrations, the crowd went beyond the limited goal of the organizers and demanded the resignation of Viktor Orbán and his government. Fidesz politicians, it seems, have been caught flat-footed. They surely believed that these demonstrations would peter out. Winter is approaching and Christmas will soon be upon us. It was hoped that people would be busy shopping and preparing for family gatherings. But this time they were wrong. Suddenly something inexplicable happened: the totally lethargic Hungarian public was awakened. What happened? After all, the misuse of power and the network of corruption have been features of the Orbán regime ever since 2010 and yet the public was not aroused against its unrelenting abuse of power. Most people knew that Fidesz politicians are corrupt and that they stuff their pockets with money stolen from the public, but they felt powerless to do anything about it.

I see a number of reasons for this change in the Hungarian political atmosphere. I would start with the influence of the book Hungarian Octopus: The Post-Communist Mafia State, edited by Bálint Magyar, in which dozens of political scientists, economists, sociologists, and media experts published articles that presented for the first time a comprehensive picture of the institutionalized corruption which is the hallmark of the Fidesz regime. Fairly quickly the terms “mafia state” and “mafia government” became part of everyday vocabulary, and the government’s dealings came to be understood within the context of The Godfather. The sinister nature of the enterprise was slowly grasped.

A second reason for the optimism and activism was the success of the first two mass demonstrations against the “internet tax.” Viktor Orbán had to retreat. If he retreated once, more demonstrations might force him to reverse earlier decisions. The success of the first demonstrations gave impetus to the others.

Last but not least was the Hungarian government’s own stupidity when it decided to leak the news about American dissatisfaction with the National Tax Authority and the corrupt officials who tried extract kickbacks from at least one American company. Hungarians expected their politicians to be corrupt, but the news that high officials at the Hungarian Tax Authority were also on the take was too much for them. Moreover, they felt that they now have an ally, the United States of America.

According to most observers, U.S.-Hungarian relations are at their lowest point since the post-1956 period. U.S. policy toward Hungary seems to me at least to be finely calibrated. At the beginning we were told about the six unnamed people who were barred from entering the United States. A few days later we learned that the president of the Tax Authority was definitely on the list. A few more days and we were told that the president is not the only person on the list, there are a couple more. Another week went by and André Goodfriend, U.S. chargé d’affaires, indicated that there might be more Hungarians who would face the same fate as the six already on the list. Another few days and we learned from the American chargé that he had given the Hungarian government all the information necessary for investigating the cases. And it was not the “useless scrap of paper” Viktor Orbán pointed to. In plain language, we found out once again that the Hungarian government lies. And yesterday we learned from an interview with Goodfriend that the sin of Tax Office Chief Ildikó Vida goes beyond not investigating obvious corruption cases within her office; she herself was an active participant in the corruption scheme at her office. Of course, Vida is outraged, but she cannot do more than write an open letter to Goodfriend claiming innocence. As time goes by the Hungarian government is increasingly embroiled in a web of lies and Orbán’s regime comes to resemble ever more closely the government of a third-rate banana republic.

The good old days: George W. Bush in Budapest, June 22, 2006

The good old days: George W. Bush in Budapest, June 22, 2006

While the State Department is using the corruption cases as a club, Senator John McCain is pursuing his own individual crusade. The senator, who is no friend of Putin, has been keeping an eye on Viktor Orbán’s illiberal state and found it to be troubling. What we saw two days ago was his frustration that Hungary will again have a political appointee as an ambassador. As he emphasized over and over, Hungary is a very important country that deserves a professional diplomat. His outburst about Orbán as a “neo-fascist dictator” was a bit strong, although Orbán’s system does have features in common with some of the fascist regimes of the past. But the Hungarian charge that McCain is ignorant of the Hungarian political situation is entirely baseless. Once he calmed down, he put it into writing what he finds objectionable about Orbán’s illiberal state. At the time of the release of his statement on Hungary he wrote a brief tweet saying, “Deeply concerned by PM Orban eroding democracy, rule of law, civil society & free press in Hungary.”

Below I republish Senator McCain’s statement on Hungary because I find it important and because it proves that, regardless of what the Hungarian government says, McCain (undoubtedly with the help of his staff) knows what he is talking about.

Since Prime Minister Viktor Orban came to power in 2010, antidemocratic constitutional changes have been enacted, the independence of Hungary’s courts have been restricted, nongovernmental organizations raided and civil society prosecuted, the freedom of the press curtailed, and much more. These actions threaten the principles of institutional independence and checks and balances that are the hallmark of democratic governance and have left me deeply concerned about the erosion of democratic norms in Hungary.

These concerns are shared by many. A ruling by the Venice Commission in 2013 found that Prime Minister Orban’s constitutional changes threaten democracy and rule of law in Hungary, stating that the amendments ‘contradict principles of the Fundamental Law and European standards,’ and ‘leads to a risk that it may negatively affect all three pillars of the Council of Europe: the separation of powers as an essential tenet of democracy, the protection of human rights and the rule of law.’

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Committee to Protect Journalists have condemned Hungary’s media laws, saying that they create a climate of fear and media self-censorship, even after critical changes were made to account for previous complaints from the European Commission. ‘The changes to the Hungarian media law only add to the existing concerns over the curbing of critical or differing views in the country,’ said Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE’s representative on Freedom of the Media.

The European Central Bank has repeatedly warned that Prime Minister Orban’s government is encroaching on the independence of its central bank, calling for him to respect the independence of monetary policymakers and condemning attempts by the government to threaten central bankers with dismissal if they oppose government policy.

And just last month, six Hungarians were banned from entering the United States over alleged corruption. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend reportedly called the ban a warning to reverse policies that threaten democratic values, citing ‘negative disappointing trends’ in Hungary and a ‘weakening of rule of law, attacks on civil society, [and] a lack of transparency.’

Democracy without respect for rule of law, separation of powers, and the protection of economic, civil, and religious liberties is not only inadequate, it is dangerous. It brings with it the erosion of liberty, the abuse of power, ethnic divisions, and economic restrictions – all of which we have witnessed in Hungary since Prime Minister Orban took power. Prime Minister Orban has justified his actions by calling for a new state model based on ‘illiberal democracy,’ but his vision defies the core values of the European Union and NATO. These alliances are founded not only on the principle of democracy, but also rule of law and the protection of individual liberty and fundamental freedoms. All members must remain committed to these values.

Meanwhile both Hungarian and foreign newspapers are full of stories about the demonstrations and about McCain’s characterization of Orbán as a “neo-fascist dictator.” As the Hungarian prime minister continues to come under attack, both from within and from without, it’s unclear how he will fight back and how effective his counterattack will be. If the proposed Sunday store closings are any indication of the government’s new game plan, the counterattack will be a colossal failure.

The state of the Hungarian left and Ferenc Gyurcsány

I think it is time to return to the affairs of the opposition parties, which are in bad shape.You may recall that at the European parliamentary election it became clear that the strength of MSZP was nowhere near what the party leaders believed or wanted to believe. But Attila Mesterházy, who is considered to be a less than an inspiring leader, was a skillful negotiator. He managed to negotiate a joint party list for the national election of the three parties–MSZP, DK, and Együtt 2014-PM–that greatly favored MSZP. Currently, MSZP has 28 seats in parliament while the other two parties have only four each when in the EU election MSZP received 10.9% of the votes cast against DK’s 9.75% and Együtt 2014-PM’s 7.25%. Since then, according to Ipsos, MSZP lost a couple more percentage points while DK gained the same amount. Együtt 2014-PM’s support is unchanged.

Attila Mesterházy is gone as party chairman, but in parliament MSZP has a relatively large delegation with a party that currently has only about an 8% share of the electorate. Meanwhile the other two parties are deprived of the minimum number of members that would allow them to have their own parliamentary caucuses. They therefore have very limited opportunities to play an active role in parliament. They cannot have representation on parliamentary committees and their ability to speak or ask questions is greatly restricted. As Ferenc Gyurcsány admitted, DK “was too generous in its negotiations with MSZP.”

It is not only Mesterházy who has more or less disappeared from the political scene. I strongly suspect that Gordon Bajnai, despite his protestations to the contrary, will not be around for long. The party will be headed by a troika–Péter Juhász (Milla), Sándor Székely (Solidarity), and Viktor Szigetvári (Együtt 2014). Nobody from the Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM) seems to be represented. With this leadership, I have the feeling, Együtt 2014 will not be able to develop a large base and, in fact, might not last longer than its name implies.

As for MSZP, the leadership is searching for a new leader, and it looks as if József Tóbiás will be the man to succeed Mesterházy. Tóbiás might be a perfectly capable man, but charismatic he is not. Tabloids often talk about his wife who, as the second-runner-up in the Miss Hungary pageant, is well known, especially since she often makes appearances in soaps on RTL Klub. Maybe Tóbiás has some secret medicine for the ills of MSZP, but I will be most surprised if thanks to his activities the socialists double their popularity any time soon.

That leaves DK and Ferenc Gyurcsány. The party’s success in the EP election surprised everybody, perhaps even its leaders. Of course, before the election Gyurcsány gave the impression of great confidence. He went so far as to announce that if DK does not reach the 5% that would qualify the party to send at least one delegate to Brussels, he would resign. The reaction from the anti-Gyurcsány camp was derision. He? He will never resign. Luckily for him, he did not have to contemplate a move that would have destroyed DK which is, just like Fidesz, a one-man party though without the kind of undemocratic, centralized organization that is characteristic of Viktor Orbán’s party.

DK-logo2Success breeds success, as the saying goes. A couple of weeks after the election DK’s spokesman, Zsolt Gréczy, announced that DK had received applications for membership from over 860 people. MSZP politicians charged that Ferenc Gyurcsány had been phoning local MSZP leaders, trying to entice them to join DK. Gyurcsány’s answer to that was that “they come without asking.” One thing is sure, Gyurcsány has been even more active than he normally is. He is in the middle of organizing an anti-government demonstration. He also made several appearances on ATV and gave two long interviews, one to Origo and another to Index. Both are long and cover a lot of ground. Here I will concentrate on only two themes: the municipal elections and his views on the possible course of Hungarian politics in the future. Both were discussed in the Origo interview.

Although it was obvious that Gyurcsány had struck a bad bargain with MSZP before the national election, he, unlike Együtt-2014, still thinks that the three parties must run again under a common umbrella organization in the municipal elections. Otherwise, they have no chance against Fidesz. It is especially true after the government changed the rules of the game in Budapest. Until now all the inhabitants of the capital city voted for a lord mayor (főpolgármester) while inhabitants of each of the twenty-three districts voted for their own candidates for district mayor. At the same time all voters cast their votes for party lists. The composition of the city council was decided on the basis of the number of votes each party received. Now, there will no longer be party lists. The district mayors will make up the city council. János Áder signed the bill into law, although it is most likely unconstitutional. The population of the districts varies greatly, so it can easily happen that one member of the council will be elected by 90,000 people while another by only 30,000. But János Áder, just like his predecessor, has no problems signing anything his party and his friend, Viktor Orbán, find important. And he did find this bill important because without it there might have been a Fidesz defeat in Budapest. And that cannot be allowed. It is for this reason that Gyurcsány is such a champion of another “unity alliance.”

As for the possibilities for the future. Gyurcsány thinks that the changes on the left will be the result of “a long, organic development with different possible outcomes.” The simplest would be that each party goes its own way and sometime in 2017 they put together an “electoral coalition.” The second possibility is closer cooperation among the three parties. The third, which Gyurcsány described as a “dream,” is that “one day the voters and the party leaders decide that these three parties and perhaps some others should create one large democratic party.” But, he added, for the time being he does not see the slightest chance of such a development; perhaps “one day such an idea might become a reality.”

There is no question that Gyurcsány hopes that a large, powerful party on the left will materialize. Although at the end of the interview he denied the possibility that he would be the one to head such a unity party, one has the feeling that deep down that is exactly what he would like to achieve. And, looking around, I see no one else at the moment who could possibly fill the bill. Of course, someone may show up in the next few years who could have a real chance against Viktor Orbán, especially if he continues his irresponsible economic policies. Yes, I know, lately the GDP numbers look good, but every responsible economist claims that they are not sustainable. Moreover, another 100-150 billion forints are missing from the budget and that means yet another austerity program. A few more stories about János Lázár’s trips to the Riviera and his extravagant hotel bills might change the mood of the electorate. Gyurcsány at least thinks that Orbán might not last until 2018–but then he’s something of a cockeyed optimist.

Viktor Szigetvári’s mistaken notions about current Hungarian politics

Heti Válasz discovered me. As it is clear from the article, the journalists of the magazine know who I am, but only as someone who formerly contributed to Galamus and who appeared a few times on Klubrádió. Both were years ago. For example, the last regular article I wrote for Galamus was in May 2011.

This is the first time my name appeared in Heti Válasz. Once before Tamás Fricz, someone who calls himself a political scientist, mentioned me in Magyar Hírlap in connection with his attack on Professor Kim Lane Scheppele of Princeton. The Heti Válasz piece is a variation on this theme.

I rarely look at Twitter. I simply don’t have time to follow thousands of tweets. When there is a crisis somewhere I may follow the comments of journalists on the spot, but otherwise I ignore the little bird. Therefore it was unlikely that I would have discovered Viktor Szigetvári’s pearls of wisdom that he finds time to dispense on Twitter. But Twitter decided that I had been neglecting them and sent me an e-mail listing some of the topics I might be interested in. The very first item on the list was a comment by Szigetvári from March 12. It read: “jogilag és tartalmilag kim lane scheppele-nél pontosabb és mégis visszafogott értékelés plankó és herczeg uraktól” (in legal terms as well as in content a more precise and more moderate analysis than that of Kim Lane Scheppele from Messrs Pankó and Herczeg). And he gave the link to an article in 444.

I could hardly believe my eyes. Not because Viktor Szigetvári the private person thinks that Messrs Pankó and Herczeg are better legal scholars than one of the most prominent experts on Hungarian constitutional law but because I found it astonishing that a politician could be so unskilled that he would make his criticism public. A politician should never turn against supporters of his cause. And Scheppele’s views more or less coincide with the opinions of the Hungarian opposition. They, like Scheppele, find many of the changes introduced by the Orbán government unconstitutional, undemocratic, and therefore unacceptable.

I’m trying to imagine a situation in which one of Viktor Orbán’s politicians would openly criticize a leading conservative theoretician who just wrote a glowing report on the Orbán government. I wonder how long this man or woman would remain part of the team. Not a minute, I’m sure. And I wouldn’t blame Viktor Orbán for getting rid of the person. In politics, party loyalty is important. If someone cannot adhere to this basic rule of the game he or she should get out of politics. This is a price you pay when you decide to become a politician. And this loyalty extends to supporters as well. A politician doesn’t weaken his party’s case by calling an argument supportive of that case imprecise and inferior.

confusion3

It was for this reason that I decided to engage in a dialogue with Viktor Szigetvári. If he had decided to admit his mistake I would have left it at that. But he insisted that his open criticism of Scheppele was a most normal and acceptable way of talking about one’s supporters. After all, he has the right to express his opinion. He is mistaken. He as a politician doesn’t have this privilege. He might tell his friends what he thinks, though even that might not be a smart move. In no time it can become common knowledge that X has a low opinion of Y or that X doesn’t agree with the party’s strategy. Soon we may hear from friends and acquaintances that there are huge political differences among the top leaders of the party or coalition. In fact, this kind of talk reached me from many quarters over the last few months.

One could retort that I’m advocating a  monolithic and therefore undemocratic party structure like that of Fidesz. But that would be a misunderstanding. I encourage broad debate, but only inside the party. Every time the opposition parties are accused of not having a unified voice, as is often the case, a pious explanation comes about the virtues of diversity. But that is no more than self-delusion. Especially when the stakes are so high and one’s opponent is a truly monolithic party. Under such circumstances one cannot afford the luxury of speaking in many tongues or criticizing one another in public. That’s why I said that Viktor Szigetvári shouldn’t entertain political ambitions. Unfortunately, as co-chair of Együtt 2014, he does.

From our exchange I came to the conclusion that Szigetvári’s main problem with Kim Scheppele is that she is too harsh on the Orbán government. It seems that Szigetvári still clings to the notion that one can come to some kind of understanding with Orbán’s Fidesz. It is time to wake up. One cannot make a deal with the Fidesz of today. I suspect that Szigetvári is one of the proponents of this mistaken notion just as he most likely had a hand in Együtt 2014’s mad search for the nonexistent “moderate conservative middle.”

Why should we be more moderate in our criticism of the Orbán regime? Why is the more moderate analysis of the electoral law preferable to the harsher criticism of Kim Scheppele? Whom is Szigetvári defending? Viktor Orbán? What is he defending? Orbán’s dictatorship? It looks like it. Szigetvári’s analysis is fundamentally wrong and can lead only to defeat. That’s why I decided to take him on in public.

The factious Hungarian opposition

Yesterday by 11 a.m. it became clear that there was no chance of an electoral alliance between the socialists and the representatives of the Demokratikus Koalíció. Perhaps there never was because, although Attila Mesterházy only a few hours before this final meeting gave a 50-50 chance of reaching an understanding, I suspect that the decision had already been reached to reject the DK proposals.

Shortly before the meeting Mesterházy claimed that his party hadn’t formulated its position on Ferenc Gyurcsány’s participation in the campaign and his advocacy of a common party list. However, most of the DK demands eventually put forth had been known for at least a week, and I assume that the socialist leadership was fully aware that Gyurcsány’s person would be on the agenda in one way or the other.

As it turned out, DK had seven demands: (1) there should be joint MSZP-DK candidates; (2) the number of districts should be based on the principle of proportionality; (3) DK should receive nine districts, three of which should be winnable, three hopeless, and three uncertain; (4) on the list a DK candidate should occupy every eighth place, again on the basis of proportionality; (5) the person of the candidate should be decided by each party; (6) MSZP should receive the first and DK the second place on the list although if MSZP doesn’t accept this DK is ready to consider their counter-proposal;  (7) DK’s top place on the list should go to the chairman of DK. So, DK was not adamant about the second place but certainly wanted Gyurcsány to be on the best DK place whichever that would be.

MSZP wasn’t in a negotiating mood. Their demands reminded me of Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia in 1914, which was formulated in such a way that the Monarchy knew that there was no way Serbia could accept it. MSZP offered four districts to DK, none of which was winnable. Instead of every eighth place on the list, MSZP was only willing to place a DK candidate in every twenty-fifth. According to electoral mathematics, the largest number of seats the opposition can win from the list is fifty, which would mean that only one or two DK candidates would receive mandates. In addition, DK couldn’t represent its own political ideas and would have to follow the MSZP-Együtt14 line. MSZP didn’t want anything to do with Gyurcsány and, when pressed, it turned out that they also didn’t want to see Ágnes Vadai, Csaba Molnár, or László Varju anywhere near the campaign. (In addition to Gyurcsány these three people represent DK in the Hungarian media.) MSZP would have veto power over any candidate put forth by DK but DK wouldn’t have the same veto power over the MSZP candidates. This was unacceptable to the DK negotiating team.

If you recall, MSZP in January was the prime proponent of joint action with all democratic parties and groups while Együtt 2014 was stepping back from close cooperation with MSZP. They were undoubtedly afraid that Attila Mesterházy was planning to seize the opportunity to lead the future coalition. E14 decided to postpone further negotiations in the hope of gathering more support. Precious months were wasted in what turned out to be a futile effort. So, came the compromise agreement of no common list but common candidates. Some politically savvy people consider the agreement a very good idea while others view it as a failure and an indication of weakness and discord.

Együtt 2014 with its 6% of the electorate came out the real winner with 31 districts. MSZP didn’t fare as well (75 districts), especially since it was the socialists’ burden to reach an understanding with the other smaller parties. Of the three parties only DK has measurable support. We are talking about 100,000-150,000 voters for DK while MSZP has about 1.2 million. If we look only at these numbers DK’s demands sound reasonable. The real aim of the opposition, however, is to convince the large block of undecided voters. We don’t know the party preferences of about 40% of the electorate. The opposition parties’ real goal is to attract this large group to their ranks.

And here the socialists and E14 are convinced that if they embrace Ferenc Gyurcsány and DK they will attract fewer people from the ranks of the undecided. József Tóbiás in an interview yesterday disclosed that the party had conducted a poll that was designed to measure the effect of cooperation between MSZP and DK. The poll revealed to the party leadership that they would lose more votes with Gyurcsány than they would gain. This finding lay behind their decision. If this poll correctly measures the effect of a joint MSZP-DK ticket, then MSZP’s decision was logical. Of course, we know how a wrongly formulated question can distort the results.

Naturally this poll reflects only the current situation. One doesn’t know how MSZP’s rather abrupt negative attitude toward the other parties and groups will affect MSZP’s standing or the electorate’s attitude toward DK. It is possible that they will consider MSZP too high-handed and uncompromising and DK an underdog. They may think that MSZP is not serious about unity, not resolute enough in its determination to unseat Viktor Orbán and Fidesz.

opinion pollOne could also ask MSZP whether the poll inquired about those possible voters who under no circumstances would vote for MSZP, because apparently they are also numerous. What about those who think of E14 as a party with no well defined political agenda? Only yesterday Szabolcs Kerék Bárczy, the last spokesman of Ibolya Dávid’s MDF, complained about Együtt 2014’s lack of political coherence. He pointed out that although E14’s avowed aim is to attract liberal conservatives, there is not one conservative in its ranks. Moreover, how can these people be attracted to a group whose members often applaud Orbán’s nationalization or who make statements against free markets and competition? Kerék Bárczy is thinking here of some people in the PM group with their decidedly leftist views of the world. Liberal conservatives, he says, will not vote for either E14 or MSZP. Because it looks as if MSZP is going to make a sharp turn to the left since some party leaders claim that MSZP’s failure stemmed from its move toward liberalism under Ferenc Gyurcsány’s chairmanship.

Kerék Bárczy doesn’t understand why MSZP nine months before the elections suddenly stiffened its attitude and refused to negotiate with anyone. He puts forward the question: what will happen if the poll numbers change as a result of these failed negotiations and a serious attempt by DK to attract more followers? What will E14 and MSZP do? Renegotiate their agreement? It will be difficult to change course without losing face.

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.

Hungarian domestic attitudes toward voting rights of outsiders

The forthcoming election will be a hot topic in the next few months, and the voting rights of the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries will be a continuing subtext. So today let’s look at how the citizens of Hungary feel about non-residents by the tens of thousands voting and perhaps deciding the outcome of the election.

We can safely say that the overwhelming majority of the electorate disapproves of the idea, and that even includes a large portion of Fidesz voters. And, as we will see later, people’s negative sentiments have not changed in the last two years.

The politically naive might ask why on earth Fidesz-KDNP insisted on granting voting rights to dual citizens. The answer is simple. Party strategists consider the pro-Fidesz votes coming from abroad, especially from Romania, important, perhaps even vital, to the party’s success in the 2014 elections. At the same time they most likely ascertained through their own polls that Fidesz supporters won’t defect over the voting rights issue.

In light of these findings it is more difficult to understand Együtt-MP’s opposition to abolishing the voting rights of dual citizens without domicile and steady employment in Hungary in the event they are victorious in 2014. One would think that Gordon Bajnai’s party would take advantage of their potential supporters’ strong dislike of the Fidesz-introduced piece of legislation that serves only Fidesz’s political interests.

In any event, let’s see the results of three polls measuring the electorate’s attitude toward voting rights. All three were conducted by Medián. The first was conducted between May 7 and 11, 2010, that is before the enactment of the electoral law.  The next Medián poll was done in July 2012 and the third in November 2012. I’m very much hoping that Medián will follow up with another poll after Hungarians hear more about the possibility of electoral fraud as a result of a (perhaps intentionally) sloppily written law. But given the results of the past three polls it is unlikely that Hungarians’ enthusiasm for the voting rights of non-residents would suddenly soar.

In May 2010 19% of Fidesz voters disapproved of granting both citizenship and voting rights to Hungarians in the neighboring countries and only 30% approved of both. The rest, 46%, supported dual citizenship but without voting rights. So, 65% of Fidesz voters surveyed were against granting voting rights to Hungarians outside the borders. 62% of MSZP voters opposed both citizenship and voting rights and only 5% approved of the Fidesz plan. Jobbik voters were split on the issue: 35% of them wouldn’t grant outsiders anything but 35% of them were happy with Fidesz’s plan. Those without party preference also overwhelmingly opposed voting rights. Only 13% supported the government’s plan. All in all, 71% of the adult population were against granting voting rights and 33% even opposed granting citizenship. Only 23% supported the proposed law that included both.

The July 2012 poll inquired about other aspects of Hungary’s relations with the neighboring countries, especially the Hungarian government’s involvement with party politics in countries in the Carpathian Basin. As soon as Fidesz won the elections the government unabashedly supported certain Hungarian minority parties and ignored or actively worked against others. This particular poll concentrated on Romanian-Hungarian affairs and specifically the Hungarian government’s support of small parties that are politically closer to Fidesz than the largest Hungarian Party, Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (RMDSZ) or in Romanian Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România (UDMR). Medián wanted to know what Hungarians think of direct Hungarian involvement in political campaigns outside of Hungary’s borders. In addition, Medián inquired about people’s opinion of the government’s support of insignificant political groups in Romania as opposed to the largest Hungarian party, RMDSZ. And while Medián was at it, they included a question testing whether their May 2010 findings about Hungarians’ opinion on the voting rights of people of foreign domicile had changed at all.

The overwhelming majority (78%) disapproved of the government’s involvement in the politics of its neighbors. As for Fidesz’s support of smaller Romanian-Hungarian parties that are closer to the Fidesz leadership’s heart, even Fidesz voters were split on the issue, with 50% supporting the Fidesz strategy but 37% disapproving. In the population as a whole only 24% thought that supporting small political groupings was a capital idea while 52% thought such a strategy was self-defeating. A rather large number of those surveyed (24%) had no opinion.

As to the issue of citizenship and voting rights, more than two years went by and nothing really changed. In May 2010 71% disapproved and only 23% approved, in July 2012 70% still disliked the idea but the supporters went up a bit, from 23% to 26%. Not really significant.

In November 2012 Medián conducted another poll. The overwhelming majority of MSZP, LMP, DK, MSZP, Együtt 2014, and undecided voters rejected that section of the electoral law that grants voting rights to dual citizens. Although a relative majority of Fidesz (55%) and Jobbik (53%) voters supported it, in the population as a whole those who opposed it were still slightly over 70%.

The November 2012 Medián poll on the issue of voting of outsiders on national elections

The November 2012 Medián poll on the issue of voting by outsiders in national elections
blue = approval, red = disapproval, gray = doesn’t know

DK is the only party that openly declares its opposition to voting rights. MSZP’s program indicates that they sympathize with DK’s position. But Együtt 2014-PM insists that they will not touch the status quo created by Fidesz for its own political gain. I fear that this issue might be one of the thorniest between MSZP and Együtt 2014-MP during the negotiations.

Given public opinion in Hungary, I think it would be an unnecessary gesture to leave this part of the law on citizenship intact. Moreover, flying in the face of overwhelming public opinion against this legislation might irritate some of Együtt 2014’s supporters who by the largest margin (87%) among any of the parties rejected the idea of voting rights.

A day in Hungary: From a small village to the meeting of ambassadors

Today I would like to cover three topics. First, it is D-Day for smokers since as of today only tobacconist shops can sell cigarettes. Second, we have the results of the latest opinion poll on the standing of the parties and politicians. And third, Viktor Orbán gave a speech to Hungary’s ambassadors this morning.

Why do I start with the tobacconist shops? Because I have been convinced for some time that the government’s decision to restrict the number of outlets where tobacco products can be purchased will turn a sizable portion of the population against the government. The adverse effects of the decision will be especially pronounced in those rural areas where Fidesz has traditionally been strong.

Until now one could buy cigarettes in 40,000 shops, from department stores to corner groceries. As of today there are a mere 5,000 outlets. This “downsizing” will create dislocations and inconvenience for smokers. Then, just think of the 4,000 small boroughs where no cigarettes at all will be available.

Until today Hungary’s smokers didn’t feel the brunt of the new system of tobacco distribution because the old outlets were given a two-week grace period during which they could sell down their inventory. But all this ended at midnight. From here on there is no mercy. And for many no cigarettes either.

The first report on the mood of the villagers who have to go as far as twelve kilometers for cigarettes came from Zsolt Kácsor, the Debrecen stringer for Népszabadság. He visited three villages in the County of Bihar where passions are running high against the government. In one of these places the owner of the pub (kocsma) described her customers’s reaction as one of “rage.” The mayor of another village (population 600) delivered the following little speech: “No one ever f..cked the poor people over as much as Orbán and his friends are doing. Write it down word for word. I don’t even care if they hang me. Write it down that I haven’t witnessed such f…ing screwing of the people in 78 years. He even prescribes from which angle I should watch the stork’s nest.” And the public workers around him were nodding in agreement. So, it is not only the lack of cigarettes that bothers the old gentleman but also, or perhaps even more, the government regulations that intrude into his personal sphere. He feels that his personal freedom is being violated.

The mayor doesn't want to watch the stork's nest from the same angle with Viktor  Orbán

The mayor doesn’t want to watch the stork’s nest from the same angle as Viktor Orbán

The reporter visited two other villages in the area that have no cigarette shop. In one of them he talked to guests at the local pub. They are all outraged. It turns out that the closest shop is only three kilometers away, but there the local Fidesz mayor got the concession to run the tobacconist shop. One of the customers swears that he will not buy cigarettes from him. He may not need to since he easily manages to find smuggled Ukrainian cigarettes, which are cheap. He pays 450 forints for a pack; the Hungarian price is about double that.

I think that the Orbán government’s decision to make 5,000 party faithful rich will cost a lot in votes next year. And that takes me to the latest poll by Ipsos, although the numbers are not at all interesting. They are practically the same as last month and the month before. There is, however, a handy Ipsos graph that gives figures for both party preferences and politicians for the past few years that readers of Hungarian Spectrum might find informative.

These latest results certainly don’t deserve the ovation with which Magyar Nemzet greeted them. Their headline reads: “Fidesz devastates its opponents, Bajnai is nowhere.” There is no reason for such exuberance, especially since still only 28% of the adult population want this government to continue in office. But the opposition cannot rejoice either since 62% are dissatisfied with the opposition. So, unless there is some dramatic change in the strategy of Együtt 2014 and MSZP it could easily happen that although the majority of the people wish Viktor Orbán and his government straight to hell, Fidesz-KDNP will still win the elections. Although the Bajnai and Mesterházy teams met today, they seem to be in no hurry to create a viable opposition.

And finally, I would like to focus on a couple of sentences that Viktor Orbán uttered today. He gave a speech to the Hungarian ambassadors who once a year gather in Budapest to hear the prime minister’s words of wisdom on foreign policy. I assume that the complete text of the speech will be available on the prime minister’s website soon enough; a shorter version is already available on orbanviktor.hu. The sentences I’m interested in were not part of the speech itself, which Orbán always reads word for word. Instead, they came as an answer to a question from the audience.

According to Orbán, for the European Union to remain competitive it must find an accommodation with Russia. This is a difficult proposition because Russia is not a democratic country. “However, we must understand that for Russia it is not democracy that is the most important consideration but rather how the country can be kept intact.” Moreover, an alliance between the European Union and Russia is not an easy proposition for the countries of Central Europe because “if one reads about a rapprochement between the European Union led by Germany and Russia then one will go to the window to see whether the children are still playing in the backyard.”  I don’t think I need to add anything here, except to ask why this constant needling of Germany is necessary. Sooner or later German patience will run out.