solidarity movement

Gordon Bajnai blinked: He is ready to accept the thirty-five districts allotted to Együtt 2014

The somewhat surprising developments that occurred on Friday afternoon during the meeting between Attila Mesterházy, chairman of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), and Gordon Bajnai, former prime minister and current co-chairman of Együtt 2014-PM, not unexpectedly created a huge discussion among political commentators. It still hasn’t subsided, despite the fact that Bajnai announced a retreat from his earlier position this morning.

When on Friday the two men got up from the negotiating table and held separate press conferences it looked as if even the partial results achieved over the past few weeks had been lost. Although there had been a tentative agreement on the division of the 106 mandates, Mesterházy made it clear that his party considered it null and void. According to this preliminary agreement, MSZP would be entitled to put up 71 candidates and Együtt 2014 35. These numbers, it seems, were not final. If MSZP insisted on providing the candidate for the premiership, Együtt 2014 wanted more than 35 seats. How many more is unclear. It was at this point that Bajnai introduced his idea of a campaign in which the two candidates would try to convince the electorate of their worth. After such a campaign the decision would be based on a couple of polls. Mesterházy turned the tables on Bajnai and suggested holding primaries.

Of course, each man suggested a course that would best serve his interests. So, let’s see first what the Bajnai group is confronted with. You may recall that sometime in June I wrote about an interview with Endre Hann, CEO of Medián, a polling company. In this conversation we learned that although overall Mesterházy has a 3% lead over Bajnai in the polls, this is due only to Bajnai’s relative unpopularity among Fidesz and Jobbik voters. As I reported, “Bajnai is definitely doing better with the voters of the so-called democratic opposition parties. In all parties he leads over Mesterházy–among sympathizers of Együtt 2014 (89%), of DK (64%), of LMP (56%). Even among MSZP voters 30% think that Bajnai is more qualified for the job of prime minister than MSZP’s chairman. Overall, 51% of the democratic opposition prefer Bajnai over Mesterházy (43%). That is not an unsubstantial difference. Translating it to actual numbers, we are talking about 200,000 voters. Among those who are against the present government but are still undecided as far as their party preference is concerned, 55% would prefer Bajnai over Mesterházy (33%). The difference here is about 100,000.”

Negotiations
In a poll asking supporters of the democratic opposition to choose between the two potential candidates, Bajnai would most likely come out the winner. Or at least this is the situation now. I’m sure that Mesterházy is aware of these figures and that’s why he would prefer a primary which, given the well developed nationwide MSZP organization, would favor him. I myself find a primary not a bad idea in theory, but under the present circumstances it is out of the question. At least for two reasons. First, Hungarian parties don’t have rostrums of their likely voters. If sometime in the future Hungarian politicians decide to introduce primaries, they will need to build databases of the party faithful (or introduce party registration). Second, primaries are held to pick a candidate from contenders within the same party. And Bajnai and Mesterházy are the leaders of two different parties. Primaries in the United States, for instance, are not held to decide whether a Republican or a Democrat will run for the presidency. Sándor Révész, a liberal supporter of Bajnai, in an editorial in Nepszabadság called the suggested primary a not so well hidden fraud.

On the other hand, there are others, for example, Andor Schmuck, chairman of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party, who severely criticized Bajnai for his unacceptable demands. According to him, Bajnai might be more popular than Mesterházy, but he is the co-chairman of a party with a 6% share of the votes. Moreover, Együtt 2014 is not really a party but a coalition of different civic groups with no numbers behind them. He went on to list them: Milla has 50-100 people, Solidarity 250, Haza és Haladás (Homeland and Progress Foundation) 15-20. At the end Schmuck came up with 800 people who are organized behind Bajnai. It took them four months to come up with 90 names, which shows the lack of party organization and support. This holy mess (hercehurca) has been going on for eight months and people who want a change are sick and tired of it. Mesterházy went through four very difficult years when it was not exactly a picnic to be head of MSZP while Bajnai retired only to appear three years later, and now he wants to be the prime minister. As you can see, each side has its own valid arguments.

Mesterházy’s ultimatum also has another consequence that might not be welcome to the MSZP leadership. MSZP, like all parties, is made up of people with different shades of political opinion. Although MSZP has its share of liberals, there is also a fairly strong left-wing group whose ideas are strangely foreign to the ideal of western social democracy. One of the people in that group is Tibor Szanyi who, emboldened by Mesterházy’s rejection of any further negotiations with Bajnai, came out with the kind of demagoguery that makes a lot of people uneasy. On Facebook Szanyi tore into those capitalists whose wealth originates from communist oligarchs–like Péter Medgyessy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gordon Bajnai–who were not fit to lead a socialist party that is supposed to be a party of the working people. Gordon Bajnai might have been their prime minister in 2009-2010, but he is certainly not one of them. He doesn’t represent the working people. After all, he took away the thirteenth month salaries and pensions. If MSZP had been able to decide on its own, the thirteenth month salary wouldn’t have been touched. And I may add that they would have led Hungary into a financial abyss. Mesterházy needs these kinds of socialists like a hole in the head.

On the other hand, the Friday ultimatums prompted László Botka, the socialist mayor of Szeged, to raise his voice. I don’t think that I mentioned László Botka in the past, though perhaps I should have. His name often comes up as a possible candidate either for party chairmanship or even prime minister one day. On Facebook he expressed his surprise at the breakdown of negotiations and reiterated his belief that the most important goal is “the replacement of the Orbán government and anything else is secondary to it.” He asked for “more responsibility, greater magnanimity , and more wisdom.” He added that for those who want Orbán out of office the important question is not whether the prime minister will be Mesterházy or Bajnai. At last a sane voice in MSZP.

 

Dissension in the already weak Hungarian opposition

It is time to talk again about the opposition parties, especially since next week Együtt – A Korszakváltók Pártja (Together-Party of the New Age) will begin negotiations with MSZP. In case you have no idea who on earth is behind this “new party,” this is the same old Együtt 2014-PM Szövetség (Together 2014 Alliance) that was established months ago by Gordon Bajnai, Péter Juhász of Milla, Péter Kónya of the Solidarity Movement, and the former members of LMP who decided to join Együtt 2014.

But what happened to the party’s name? It took the court that was supposed to give its blessing to the name seventy days of deliberation to decide that the name proposed by Bajnai-Juhász-Kónya was unacceptable for at least two reasons. First, a few days before the Együtt people proposed the name of their movement a couple of people had already turned in a request for the name. Second, the court objected to the word “szövetség” (alliance), although Fidesz’s official name is Fidesz Magyar Polgári Szövetség. So, the group around Gordon Bajnai “temporarily” adopted this ridiculous sounding name. The way the registration of this party is proceeding it could easily happen that by the time elections roll around the party will still not be a party. Bajnai of course tries to act as if all these name changes didn’t matter, but of course they do.

While the hassle over the party’s name was going on Péter Juhász, head of the virtual Milla movement, gave a press conference in which he compared Ferenc Gyurcsány to Viktor Orbán as symbols of oppressive regimes and corrupt politics. Juhász went so far as to call the pre-Orbán times part and parcel of “the current mafia-government.”

vadai agnes femina.hu

Ágnes Vadai / femina.hu

Well, this was too much for the fiery Ágnes Vadas (DK), who addressed an open letter to “Dear Gordon” in which she inquired from him whether he approves such statements from his co-chairman. After all, in this case “you must have been a minister of this oppressive regime for three years; you accepted a position in the government of a man who put an end to democracy in Hungary and you served without raising your voice against this corrupt regime that was in the hands of a political mafia.” The letter is politely but strongly worded. Vadai wants to know what Bajnai thinks of Juhász’s attack on Ferenc Gyurcsány. As far as I know, no official letter reached Vadai as of yesterday, but Bajnai tried to explain his own position without completely distancing himself from Juhász.

Juhász has been the target of severe criticism from many quarters, and criticism was also leveled against Gordon Bajnai for getting involved with him. Back in November 2012 a portrait of Juhász appeared in Origo with the title “A good-for-nothing  activist.” Not the best recommendation for an important post at a crucial junction in Hungarian political life.

Since then others have joined Ágnes Vadai in their condemnation of Péter Juhász. Blogger “Pupu” wrote that he considers Juhász an agent of Viktor Orbán. Another popular blogger, Piroslapok, is less harsh; he doesn’t consider him an agent, just a not very smart man who likes to moralize using false postulates.

Others, like Ferenc Krémer, describe him as a dangerous dilettante who stands in the way of unity in the opposition camp. Juhász makes assumptions about “the political usefulness” of certain strategies without knowing much about the intricacies of the present political situation. In the last few months he succeeded only in driving a wedge between the different opposition parties. So, says Krémer, Juhász is serving the interests of Fidesz because the government party wants to have open disagreements in the opposition camp. According to several commentators, the best solution for the opposition would be the removal of Juhász from Együtt 2014. Then he could expound his theories as a private person. These commentators are sure that the right-wing media would welcome him with open arms.

It seems, however, that Gordon Bajnai is not ready to get rid of him. Or at least this is what he said at a meeting of the Budai Liberális Klub where he had a conversation with Zsófia Mihancsik.  But Bajnai ought to realize that the democratic opposition shouldn’t in a servile fashion follow “the narrative of Fidesz,” which also includes Viktor Orbán’s desire to push Ferenc Gyurcsány into the background.

Meanwhile Együtt 2014 or whatever it is called now is languishing  just as MSZP, LMP, and DK are. Why? Not because people are worried about whether Gyurcsány is part of the joint opposition but because they see disunity, confusion, and a struggle for primacy.

Yesterday Együtt 2014’s visits across the country ended in Budapest. Bajnai had earlier refused to negotiate with MSZP because he first wanted to undertake a campaign tour that was supposed bolster his and his party’s popularity. Ipsos’s May poll results don’t show any great change. In fact, the party dropped from the 4% support it had in April to 3%. I doubt that the June figures will be very different. Yet Bajnai is still stalling. Yes, he will start talks “next week” but the conversations will begin only on Friday. What on earth is he waiting for? A miracle? It won’t come, especially if he sticks with Péter Juhász for much longer.