Századvég

The Orbán government presses on

Some stories simply refuse to die. Although I have spent more time than usual on the corruption case involving the Hungarian tax authority (NAV), the American corporation Bunge (the complainant), and a Fidesz-established foundation called Századvég, which one of its former associates called a front for money laundering, I think I ought to say a few more words about the latest developments.

Today a new list of possible subjects of the U.S. ban was published by NépszabadságIn addition to Ildikó Vida, chair of NAV, three deputy chairpersons are on the list. All three are women: Mrs. Dezső Csillag, Marianna Dávida, and Katalin Somos. The fifth person is most likely Péter Heim, president of Századvég. The sixth person’s identity is still not known, but he is presumed to be an influential businessman. Right after the news broke about the American decision to ban six Hungarians from entering the United States, “an unnamed businessman” rushed to ATV to share the bad news he received from the U.S. embassy. Although hypothetical lists appeared earlier, none of them sounded plausible to me. This one rings true. Now we just have to find out who the influential businessman is.

The opposition parties keep demanding Ildikó Vida’s resignation, and there has been talk about organizing demonstrations to the same end. In my opinion, such demonstrations would be a waste of time and effort. Fidesz functionaries don’t resign under pressure from the opposition. Moreover, most likely Viktor Orbán doesn’t want her to depart right now because that would be a sign of weakness when he just decided to tough it out. At the moment he might be very angry at her for revealing that she told the government about the U.S. decision, but he needs her to keep the tax office working to enrich Fidesz.

I might add here that I’m becoming more and more convinced that APEH/NAV was an instrument of Fidesz’s money collecting scheme even between 2002 and 2010 when the party was in opposition. Of course, since then the financial opportunities have become much greater. Now not only pressure on businesses yields kickbacks but also huge amounts of public money from government sources land at Századvég and from there go God knows where. The Eötvös Károly Intézet, a legal think tank, wanted to review the “studies” ordered by the Ministry of National Development from Századvég. Unfortunately, they were unable to get hold of the studies, but they managed to learn the exact amount of money Századvég received from the ministry between January 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012. According to the information, the ministry paid out 939,632,750 Ft. and still owed 5,936,845 Ft. Given the personnel and the capacity of Századvég, EKInt figured that the ministry paid 470,000 Ft. (almost $1900) per page for studies ordered by the ministry. Századvég’s answer was that they also provided other kinds of services to the ministry. Of course.

"Good morning my sunshine!" Source: veranus.blog.hu

“Good morning my sunshine!”
Source: veranus.blog.hu

It is equally useless for the opposition to turn to the chief prosecutor for remedies as two Együtt-PM members of parliament tried to do today. They were politely called in for a personal meeting with Péter Polt, who explained to them that his office cannot do a thing as long as they don’t know the exact charges. He wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney general and, if he reveals the details, they will certainly act. Of course, Polt knows perfectly well that the U.S. attorney general can’t release the details. So, that argument is pretty safe. Polt also reassured them that investigations have been going on for some time at NAV and that Ildikó Vida is in no way involved with the cases under investigation. So, this is yet another dead end.

Corruption may not move massive crowds, but internet users may yet have reason to take to the streets. If my reading of the bits and pieces of information that are being released about internet usage is correct, something might be in the offing that is much worse than a steep usage tax. I read with some suspicion that László L. Simon, undersecretary in charge of culture, would like “to improve” the quality of the internet. He also drew attention to the dangers lurking online and called on young people to leave cyberspace and join real-world groups. The fact that Tamás Deutsch is still entrusted with a “national consultation” on the issue of the internet also points in that direction.

Besides the internet, potential protesters should keep an eye on the the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP)’s harebrained idea to close larger chains on Sundays. I’m hoping that the government will not fall for this proposal because of its adverse economic consequences, but anything is possible from this crew. I bet a lot of people would gather for a demonstration against closing the plazas and the malls on Sundays.

Another suggestion to keep pressure on the government is a large demonstration against closing half of the gymnasiums and forcing students into inferior trade schools. Parents, students, and teachers would make a hefty crowd.

There are no governmental checks to Orbán’s drive to create a national illiberal democracy where freedoms are being compromised and increasing numbers of people are living in poverty. Parliament is under firm Fidesz control, and the constitutional court has been packed with Fidesz judges. Only the people can speak against this regime, but they must pick their causes wisely for maximum effectiveness.

János Zuschlag and the bogus parties: What is Fidesz doing?

As you know, I did not want to talk about the infamous Zuschlag case because I consider this man a pathological liar and a first-rate crook. But in light of new evidence, I changed my mind. It seems that János Zuschlag, a former socialist member of parliament, not only approached Fidesz and offered to write his “tell-all” book but was involved in other schemes as well.

Fidesz did everything to promote the forthcoming book and the dirt it contained. For instance, two well-known associates of Századvég, the think-tank with Fidesz roots, held a pre-publication interview with this crook in Napi Gazdaság, a publication recently purchased by Századvég. But Fidesz leaders should have been more circumspect. Zuschlag seems to be linked to a blossoming electoral fraud case involving bogus parties.

Let me explain. Zuschlag, it seems, wasn’t satisfied with profiting from book sales and the advance he most likely received from Fidesz. Since he is a born crook, he noticed sometime last year that there was an opportunity to get millions thanks to the Fidesz electoral law that allows newly created parties to compete in the forthcoming election. The law naturally was written with a view to weakening the opposition by taking votes away from the bona fide opposition parties.

Zuschlag has a long history of shady affairs. Already during his career in MSZP. In 2002-2203 Zuschlag was caught “enlarging” the county cells of MSZP and its youth organization, the Fiatal Baloldal–Ifjú Szocialisták (FIBISZ). He filled the county cells with bogus members. He started with his own district in Kiskunhalas and also enlisted like-minded friends in Vas County, near the Austrian border. When the MSZP leadership discovered the fraudulently enlarged cells, they closed them. One person who was involved in this fraud in Vas County was Péter Táncsics, whose real passion in life is to play cards.

"Watch out, business parties!

“Watch out, business parties!

Investigative journalists now suspect that the two most suspicious “business parties,” Új Dimenzió and Új Magyarország, are connected to János Zuschlag and Péter Táncsics. These two bogus parties are definitely linked to one another through the person of Péter Táncsics. Both parties are registered at Táncsics’s Kőszeg address. Originally Táncsics and his accomplices planned to organize three parties, but they had no luck with the third, Mindenki Pártja (Everybody’s Party). The other two parties, however, managed to get plenty of signatures, most of which are fraudulent. It is also clear that these two “parties” exchanged signatures and as a result they collected the necessary number of endorsements even before Fidesz did. Most importantly, these two “business parties” will receive 1.2 billion forints from taxpayer money.

The Fidesz leadership must have known about Zuschlag’s involvement with these “business parties” since Heti Válasz reported on it in its February 28 issue. But in that case why did they decide to promote Zuschlag’s book in Napi Gazdaság? Did they hope to accuse MSZP of being engaged in electoral fraud? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. To my mind Zuschlag’s involvement with these two new parties only shows that he is a first-rate crook and that most likely his “confessions” are a pack of lies. And that certainly doesn’t reflect well on Fidesz.

As for the pack of lies. Although I had no opportunity to read Zuschlag’s book, the few details I gleaned from reviews simply don’t add up. For those who are not familiar with the story, Zuschlag claims that he received 50 million forints from Ildikó Lendvai, leader of the MSZP parliamentary delegation, to “persuade” him not to run as an MSZP candidate in the 2006 election. Lendvai rightly pointed out that one didn’t have to pay anything to Zuschlag or anyone else not to run. Parties can simply withhold endorsements. Period.

Zuschlag in his book also claims that Ferenc Gyurcsány “earlier offered him money” to resign his seat after he cracked a tasteless joke about the victims of the Holocaust which was overheard by the crew of HírTV. I do believe that Gyurcsány wanted to get rid of him, but much earlier than the 2004 incident that resulted in Zuschlag’s resignation. Gyurcsány, who headed the Ministry of Youth and Sports between May 2003 and September 2004, had a very low opinion of his undersecretary whom he inherited from his predecessor, György Jánosi (MSZP). Why didn’t he get rid of Zuschlag? I can only guess: most likely because Zuschlag had some patrons within the party who argued that he was an important asset in attracting young members to the party.

What is Fidesz doing with Zuschlag? It is hard to fathom. Perhaps someone was asleep at the switch. I don’t know. We always think that Fidesz’s communication and political strategy is faultless, but perhaps here Zuschlag got the better of them.

Political accord at home and Russian-Hungarian understanding abroad

How wrong journalists can be when they start second guessing the details of delicate negotiations that politicians managed to keep under wraps. Commentators were certain that the most important difficulty facing the negotiators was the person of Ferenc Gyurcsány. The stories revolved around him: will he or won’t he be on the list? And if yes, in which position? There were stories about the negotiators wanting to “hide” him in the number six slot because in this case his name would not appear on the official list the voters see. I must say that I decided early in the game that I would pay not attention to all the chatter. I was certain that the necessity for immediate action had such force that the negotiations would not be sidetracked by such petty squabbles.

This media concentration on the person on Ferenc Gyurcsány was most likely encouraged by Fidesz, whose politicians immediately announced that his presence on the ticket will boost their own chances of winning the election. I didn’t expect them to say anything else, but it is telling that Századvég, Fidesz’s favorite political think tank, released this morning, only a few hours before the joint press conference of the chief negotiators, their latest poll according to which 72% of the voters wouldn’t vote for a common list because of the presence of Ferenc Gyurcsány. The timing of the release of this rather dubious poll suggests what the real feelings are in Fidesz circles about the new agreement. It doesn’t matter what Antal Rogán, Lajos Kósa, or Gabriella Selmeczi says about the fantastic advantage this new formation offers to Fidesz and the Orbán government, the fact is that it is not a welcome piece of news for the right.

The desired common ticket and a single candidate for the post of prime minister has been achieved. Attila Mesterházy (MSZP) will head the ticket, followed by Gordon Bajnai (Együtt-2014), Ferenc Gyurcsány (DK), Gábor Fodor (Magyar Liberális Part/MLP), and Tímea Szabó (PM). As for the individual candidates, each district will have only one common candidate. MSZP will field candidates in 71 districts, Együtt-2014 in 22, DK in 13. One of DK’s candidates will be Gábor Kuncze, former chairman of SZDSZ. Gábor Fodor’s liberal party received 3 positions on the common list.

Attila Mesterházy, Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gábor Fodor / www.parameter.sk

Attila Mesterházy, Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gábor Fodor http://www.parameter.sk

All in all, I think the present setup is the best one could have achieved under the circumstances. The cooperation among the parties and their leaders seems to be close, and they are trying to reassure their voters that there will be no dissension and rivalry because they want to win. I was surprised to hear Gyurcsány profusely praise Attila Mesterházy’s skills as a politician; according to him, it was Mesterházy who was largely responsible for the success of the negotiations. He also indicated that he will follow the lead of Mesterházy. I”m less certain about full cooperation from the PM politicians, who still don’t seem to be entirely reconciled to the idea of sitting in the same boat with Gyurcsány, whom they consider to be the embodiment of all that was wrong with Hungary prior to 2010.

The other important event of the day was the signing of a bilateral agreement between Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán that put an end to speculation about the future enlargement of the Paks nuclear power plant. We don’t know too much about the details, but we do know that it will be the biggest investment Hungary has ever made. It will cost at least 10 billion euros; usually by the time these power plants actually get built the cost overruns are enormous. The work will begin soon on two new reactors, the first of which will be able to produce energy by 2023. Russia will provide the money necessary to build the reactors, apparently at a relatively low interest rate, to be paid back over the next thirty years. According to Fidesz sources, the interest rate is “way below 5%.” Fidesz sources also claim that the arrangement has the blessing of the European Union, which apparently allowed Hungary to chose Rosatom, a Russian state company, without a competitive bid. In any case, this Paks job will be the first for Rosatom in an EU country. I have the feeling that we will hear more about this particular aspect of the deal.

Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin apparently get along very well, about which I’m not surprised. Politicians, if circumstances dictate, can forget quickly, and therefore I assume that Putin no longer remembers (or cares) what Viktor Orbán had to say about him and his country in the past. Perhaps one day I will collect a few choice adjectives that will show that Viktor Orbán is capable of a complete turnaround and can say something and its exact opposite with the same conviction.

This was an important day indeed. The agreement among the parties will set the course of political events for the next three months or so. Whether they will be able to win over former Fidesz voters is of paramount importance for Hungarian democracy. Commentators are certain that if Fidesz stays in power for another four years the country’s democratic structure will be even more shaken than it is now and the damage will be incalculable. As for the Russian-Hungarian agreement, it may determine Hungary’s geopolitical position for some time to come. Unfortunately, the two events are interconnected. Will Hungary chose the European Union and democracy or will it increasingly resemble Putin’s Russia, which Viktor Orbán considers to be a strategic economic partner?

The latest opinion polls and the popularity of leading Hungarian politicians

Medián, one of the most reliable polling firms in Hungary, decided to expand its monthly survey on party preferences. In March its questionnaire also included questions on people’s choices for the next prime minister of Hungary. But before we get to preferences for prime minister, let’s look at the March results in general. I will compare the results of Medián, Ipsos, Tárki, and Századvég.

I would like to emphasize that under the present circumstances I don’t give much credence to the results because of the large number of people who either don’t know for whom they will vote or refuse to answer the question. Moreover, a comparison of the results shows that they are all over the map. I will give a few figures for the population as a whole because, so far ahead of the actual election, these are the most reliable or, perhaps better put, the least unreliable data.

Medián found that Fidesz, which stood at 26% in February, moved up one percentage point to 27% while MSZP showed a 3% gain during the same period, to 15%. Jobbik is at 11% while Együtt 2014-PM is at 6%, down 2% in one month. DK and LMP are each supported by 2% of the population. From these results one would predict a large Fidesz lead, but one must keep in mind that 55% of the people would like see a change of government in 2014. And 80% of the people think that Hungary is heading in the wrong direction. So the situation is less rosy for Fidesz than one might think.  In Medián’s sample 37% claimed no party preference.

Ipsos’s figures for Fidesz and MSZP were similar to those of Medián (Fidesz 24% and MSZP 16%). Jobbik has the support of 8% and Együtt 2014 5%. DK has 1% and LMP 2%. According to Ipsos, Fidesz is doing extremely well. In one month they added about half a million new supporters (a 5% gain).

Tárki came up with the most startling results. In their sample Fidesz didn’t gain at all. In fact, the party lost a few thousand votes. But the real surprise was that, according to Tárki, MSZP’s share is only 9% in the population as a whole. In just one month the party lost 3% of its voters. The rest of the parties didn’t do well either: Jobbik stands at 8%, LMP at 1%. Együtt 2014 gained voters (from 5% to 6%).

And finally here are Századvég’s results. I ought to mention that Századvég is not only a pollster but also a Fidesz political and economic think tank. Fidesz, as in the other polls, leads with 24% while MSZP is at 14%. Both Jobbik and LMP lost in comparison to the February data (Jobbik 8%, LMP 2%). Együtt 2014 has a 6% share and DK has 1%.

Illuminati Owl / flickr

by Illuminati Owl / flickr

And now let’s turn to Medián’s analysis of voter attitudes toward the leading politicians, the ones who are most often mentioned as possible candidates for the premiership. Medián was especially curious about the chances of opposition leaders against Fidesz’s candidate, who surely will be Viktor Orbán.

Medián inquired about the viability of candidates in two different questions. The first listed the following potential candidates: Viktor Orbán, Gordon Bajnai, Attila Mesterházy, Vona Gábor, and Ferenc Gyurcsány. Viktor Orbán is being supported by practically all Fidesz voters, which translates into a support of 29% among Hungarian adults over the age of 18. He was followed by Gordon Bajnai with 16% and Mesterházy and Vona, each with 9%. Ferenc Gyurcsány received 4%. However, when Medián left out Jobbik from the opposition parties the results were entirely different. Viktor Orbán would receive only 1% from voters of the democratic opposition parties, Vona received no support, but 41% of these voters found Gordon Bajnai suitable and Mesterházy was supported by only 28%. Gyurcsány received 13%.

Medián also posed another question concerning candidates’ suitability for premiership. Here the choice was only between Orbán and Bajnai on the one hand, and Orbán and Mesterházy on the other. In both cases Viktor Orbán would win, but while he would win against Bajnai with a small margin (32:28), he would do much better against Mesterházy (34:23). These figures, I should repeat, apply to adults of voting age.

If we move on to those who claim that they will definitely cast their votes at the next election, the result is even more striking. Among these people Gordon Bajnai is the clear winner; he would win over Orbán by 26:19. On the other hand, if Mesterházy were the candidate for the post, 21% would vote for Orbán and only 15% for Mesterházy. So, if we were close to the election there is no question that the democratic opposition would fare much better with Gordon Bajnai as its joint candidate than with Attila Mesterházy. This is a finding MSZP should take seriously.

For the MSZP leadership there is another warning sign from the Medián poll. Among MSZP voters only every second one (47%) finds Mesterházy the most suitable candidate to be the next prime minister of Hungary while 26% would like to see Bajnai and 14% Gyurcsány at the top of the ticket. All in all, although support for Együtt 2014 is small in comparison to that of MSZP, Bajnai’s popularity is greater than Mesterházy’s.