Katalin Lévai

LMP’s rebels left the party: Who will be the winner of this game?

A fair number of commentators have compared the current situation in LMP to what happened in Fidesz in 1993 when Viktor Orbán decided to make a sharp turn toward the right. At that time a number of liberal-minded leaders of Fidesz who objected to Orbán’s change of political orientation and his shift in strategy left the party. The “Dialogue for Hungary” platform is leaving LMP for strikingly similar reasons.

In preparation for writing this post I decided to take a quick look at a 2001 book, Csak a narancs volt (It was only the orange), about the early days of Fidesz. The volume, edited by György Petőcz, includes lengthy interviews with people who in 1992-1993 belonged to Fidesz’s internal opposition. One ought to read and reread this book to better understand Fidesz’s history and Viktor Orbán’s role in shaping it.

The liberal inner opposition left and joined SZDSZ. By the time the election rolled around in 1994 Fidesz had lost its momentum and the party barely had enough support to be represented in parliament. Viktor Orbán’s gamble paid off in the long run, however; four years later he became the prime minister of Hungary.

I doubt that András Schiffer will be able to imitate Viktor Orbán’s gambit. Surely, no one can believe Schiffer’s claim that LMP, currently polling at 3%, can win the elections either in 2014 or in 2018. Most likely he would like LMP to be strong enough by 2014 that in case Fidesz doesn’t have a clear majority, Viktor Orbán would have to turn to him as a coalition partner.  The European Union would frown on Fidesz becoming bedfellows with Jobbik but couldn’t raise any objections to a coalition with a green party.

Although LMP stands for “Lehet Más a Politika” (Politics Can Be Different), Schiffer himself is not a refreshingly different politician. Among other things, he plays fast and loose with numbers.  He confidently announced today that only 10% of the party’s membership is leaving LMP. Well, yes, about 70 people voted for the strategy advocated by the Dialogue for Hungary’s program at the congress. And indeed, there are 700 LMP members. But only about 150 people attended the congress. So about 45% of the attendees voted with the internal opposition. Most likely relying at least in part on this number, the internal opposition claimed that more than half of LMP members will follow them to form another party.

Schiffer ardently disagreed with this assessment, despite his poor short-term predictive track record.Yesterday he was certain that not all eight rebels in the fifteen-member parliamentary delegation were planning to leave the party but only “two or three.” As it turned out, he was wrong. The decision was unanimous. Despite this decision, he repeated several times today that we are not witnessing “the break-up of the party.”

The three young politicians of the rebels in LMP:Benedek Jávor, Tímea Szabó, and Gergely Karácsony

Three young rebel politicians in LMP:
Benedek Jávor, Tímea Szabó, and Gergely Karácsony

Even though he may say that LMP will remain whole, he’s joining Fidesz in advancing a conspiracy theory. Magyar Nemzet obliquely suggested that Gordon Bajnai’s E14 movement is behind this new development. Schiffer and his closest ally, Gábor Vágó, agree: E14 stoked the discontent of the rebels in the party.

One practical question is what will happen to the LMP caucus. House rules state that ten members of parliament can form a parliamentary delegation. With the split-up, LMP will not have enough members to retain its current status, and sitting with the independents allows the members very little opportunity to make an impact in parliament. Most likely LMP and whatever the new party will be called will sit together as a group. An interesting situation, although Benedek Jávor claims that as far as their work in parliament is concerned the two groups get along just fine. The only difference will be that the still No-Name Party will negotiate with E14 and other political parties on the left while the Schiffer faction will not.

Some people argue that such a parliamentary accommodation would be unsavory, especially from a party that considers itself the epitome of decency, honesty, and transparency. In at least partial defense of  the Jávor group, I would note that they announced that they will not claim half of the state subsidies LMP has been receiving since 2010.

As for my own opinion of the rebels, I consider them the “better half” of LMP, but I still have serious objections to some of their political views. Their anti-capitalistic stance is the last thing Hungary needs at the moment or, for that matter, at any time in the foreseeable future. What the country needs today is more capital and more capitalists who are ready to invest in the Hungarian economy. I understand their ecological concerns, but I can’t support a policy that would prevent Hungarians from shopping in large supermarkets where the selection is greater and the prices lower.

I was also outraged by Tímea Szabó’s behavior when she was a member of a sub-committee investigating Ferenc Gyurcsány’s and the police department’s handling of the “unfortunate events” of September-October 2006. She was siding with members of Jobbik.

The man I like best in this group is Gergely Karácsony, but even he behaved dishonorably when he first agreed to support Katalin Lévai (independent with MSZP backing) in the by-elections in District II in Budapest if Lévai received more votes than he did after the first round of voting and then went back on his word. I wrote about this sorry affair on November 14, 2011. I suspect that he was pressured to do so by Schiffer, but still…. I also found it unfortunate that Karácsony at one point suggested a “technical alliance” with Jobbik in order to dislodge Fidesz, after which they would hold new elections. The idea was dropped, but it just shows the ideological confusion that exists within the party.