party program

The Democratic Coalition’s campaign platform

Considering that yesterday was Sunday, the Hungarian political scene was anything but quiet. First of all, there was the court decision mandating a repeat of the mayoral election in Fót, which was won by the candidate jointly supported by MSZP, Együtt 2014-PM, and DK. The reasons for the decision are flimsy and the alleged misconduct was committed in a district where it couldn’t possibly influence the outcome. But I guess the court figured that if an election won by Fidesz had to be repeated so should one won by the democratic opposition.

I don’t remember whether we discussed the decision of Gábor Fodor, who was the last chairman of SZDSZ and who established a new liberal party, to run a separate candidate in the Fót election. Fodor obviously picked a good candidate, someone who is well known and well liked in the town of 20,000 inhabitants. She received 500 votes, half of what the candidate of the other opposition parties received. Still she ended up last because, in addition to the front runner and herself, there were three other candidates: two independents, one of whom was supported by Fidesz, and a representative of Jobbik.

I was greatly surprised by the liberal candidate’s showing, especially since Fót is apparently a conservative town where I assume the word “liberal” is despised by the majority of the inhabitants. However, I wonder whether given this new turn of events, it wouldn’t be smart for the liberal candidate to support the candidate of MSZP-Együtt 2014-PM-DK in order to increase the chances of the joint candidate of the three parties. After all, Fodor wanted to test the strength of his party. He proved his point.

Sign says: We stand for Freedom, Solidarity, Security

Sign says: We stand for Freedom, Solidarity, Security

The other event of the day was the announcement of the main points of the Democratic Coalition’s campaign platform. Apparently, the final program that will cover about 70 or 80 topics will be ready by next February. Yesterday Ferenc Gyurcsány announced sixteen important points of DK’s program. Here I will briefly summarize these points.

1. European future: We want a European Hungary and we want to pay with euros. By 2018 we will prepare the way to be eligible for the introduction of the euro in Hungary in 2020.

2. Franchise for only those who live here: We will stop granting citizenship to those without an established residence in Hungary because it is unfair that people who don’t have to bear the consequences of their decision can determine the results of an election. Therefore only those will be able to vote who are either born Hungarian citizens or naturalized citizens who have a permanent residence in the country.

3. Separation of church and state: We will abrogate the Concordat with the Vatican and restore the complete separation of church and state in all its aspects. We will abolish the privileges of the churches and terminate subsidies for their strictly religious activities.

4. Elimination of usury: We will establish the Bank of Solidarity that will enable the truly poor to receive quick short-term loans at a reasonable interest rate.

5. Assistance to underdeveloped regions: We will create special economic zones in the most backward regions. We will stimulate the economy in these regions with tax breaks, with the expansion of public transportation, and with government investments.

6. Sustainable agrarian policy: We will re-examine the land leases hitherto granted. We will allow corporations to acquire agricultural land and emphasize animal husbandry, vegetable farming, and viticulture.

7. Tax breaks for small and medium-size companies: Depending on the number of employees, we will decrease the social security contributions of employers, which will considerably lower the burden of small and medium-size companies. It will also help to decrease the number of salaries paid under the table.

8. Fair child support: We will change the current system of tax breaks given to families with dependent children to cash support for every child. This way no children will be discriminated against. As it is now, the government gives more to those who are better off while it gives nothing to very poor families who have no taxable income.

9. New nursery schools and kindergartens: We will start a program aiming at building more nursery schools and kindergartens where payment will be a certain percentage of the family’s income.

10. English bilingual education: We will transform all elementary and high schools to bilingual institutions.  From 2018 on more and more subjects will be taught in a foreign language in all schools.

11. Computers for all students: We will put a computer on every desk. Until 2018 in all schools at least part of all subjects will be taught digitally.

12. Open and accessible higher education: The first year of college or university will be open to all who pass their matriculation examination. We will give generous scholarships to those who do well and who come from financially disadvantaged families. However, everybody will pay reasonable tuition fees. The tuition fees will remain with the institution the student attends.

13. A pension system without coercion: We will abolish the compulsory retirement age and introduce a universal state pension plan based on individual accounts in which we will include the money taken away by the Orbán government from individual private pension plans. Anyone can theoretically retire after the age of 55, but naturally his/her pension will be low. Persons can retire when they think the amount of their pension reaches a point that would satisfy their needs. We will also redress the wrongdoings meted out to the disabled.

14. Modernization of half a million dwellings: We will help with considerable subsidies to all those who would like to invest in heating systems fueled by sun or wind. In addition, we will help homeowners insulate their houses and change their windows and doors. In four years we plan to assist the owners of 500,000 dwellings to change to the most modern energy systems.

15. More opportunities for women: From 2016 on one-third of the top management of state companies and companies listed on the stock exchange must be women. From 2018 on one-third of those placed on the party lists both locally and nationally must be women.

16. Instead of public television, culture: We will stop public television broadcasting. From the billions spent right now on Magyar Televízió we will support good news and cultural programs on commercial stations. Some of that money can also be used for television movies and cultural programs.

I will not comment on the program because I’d rather hear what the readers of Hungarian Spectrum think of it. But I will tell you what the Hungarian right seems to object to most: getting rid of Magyar Televízió. Although there are sixteen points, the headlines in both Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap bemoaned the outrageous idea of getting rid of MTV. Perfectly understandable. It has been for at least ten years the foremost source of Fidesz propaganda. If the present opposition by some miracle wins the next election, MTV would still remain firmly in Fidesz hands. The loss of this propaganda machine would be a serious blow to Fidesz.

And finally, one or two words about the allegations of András Horváth, former tax official, of the massive VAT fraud with the assistance of the  Hungarian Tax and Customs Office. As we discussed, LMP began to collect signatures for the creation of a parliamentary committee to investigate, but MSZP members refused to sign the petition because neo-Nazi Jobbik members also signed it. But without Jobbik members there will not be enough signatures to demand the establishment of such a committee.

Initially DK’s leadership shared MSZP’s view, but then it became evident that the party membership was divided on the issue. DK has about 10,000 active members and several thousands more supporters. It was decided that the membership should vote. The yeas were in the majority and therefore this morning Csaba Molnár, deputy chairman of DK, announced that the ten DK parliamentary members will join LMP and will sign the document. They have only one demand: József Balogh’s signature cannot be on the petition. He is the former Fidesz, now independent, member of parliament who beat his wife and claimed that Terike’s fall was due solely to her unfortunate encounter with a blind komondor. So, it seems that pragmatism triumphed. Anyone who would like to know more about the split within the party on the issue should look at some of the articles that appeared on Galamus in the last three days or so. Especially the two articles by Tamás Bauer, vice chairman of DK, and Mihály Andor’s two contributions. Andor was for joining LMP regardless of Jobbik signatures and Bauer dead against it.

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