Perhaps there is a ray of light: Unity has large reserves

About a week ago I read an interesting article about János Lázár campaigning in Algyő, a large village near Szeged. There seemed to be little interest in Lázár. The room was half empty. Lázár assumed that the older inhabitants of the village of 5,000 were attracted to social democracy and expressed his sorrow that the Hungarian left was unable to create a real social democratic party. Instead, he offered Fidesz as an alternative. He must have had his doubts about the intentions of his audience, however, because he said that they don’t have to vote for Fidesz as long as they vote for him. He even suggested that the people of Algyő might actually split their votes: they can vote for him and still cast their second ballot for the list of Unity. Then he talked about his visit to another village in the district where “when I was talking about Fidesz, people in the audience made faces and held their heads. I told them: I’m telling you straight, don’t vote for Fidesz, vote for me. I don’t like everything Fidesz does.” How low can you go? And why?

This scene, I think, says a lot about how some of the highest ranking members of Fidesz, like Lázár, actually think about their chances at the election. On the surface everything looks just fine. Fidesz leads in all the public opinion polls even as the opposition is languishing. Very few people are sanguine about the chances of Unity winning the election. A lot of readers of Hungarian Spectrum have already buried the opposition and are convinced of Fidesz victory. I agree that the data are for the most part depressing, but perhaps there is a ray of light.

Let me call attention to the more optimistic signals from the last Ipsos poll (February 13). This is the first time that the possible voters of the opposition parties–MSZP, DK, Együtt-2014-PM, and the Liberal Party–were asked whether they would vote for the united opposition. It is true that the numbers didn’t increase, but it did show that the voters followed their party leaders and lined up dutifully behind Unity. So, all the angst over Ferenc Gyurcsány’s presence on the ticket resulting in lost votes seems to have been misdirected.

On the other hand, people now complain that the new agreement among these parties didn’t immediately bring spectacular results. I am not surprised. Until that agreement the party leaders spoke with different voices. They campaigned under their own logos. In fact, there is still no common joint action and no joint campaign slogans. This is what Gábor Kuncze complained about yesterday on Egyenes beszéd. The campaign staff should hand out common campaign slogans to the politicians of Unity. Let’s hope that this will be done soon. In any case, even with better campaign tactics, one can’t expect immediate results. Or at least this is what Tibor Zavecz of Ipsos said in his interview.

Just looking at the numbers, Fidesz indeed leads the way with 30% as opposed to Unity’s 23% among the whole electorate. But, of course, we cannot forget about Jobbik, which has grown from 6% to 9% in a month. And of those who are certain that they will vote on April 6, Fidesz and Jobbik voters are much more gung-ho about voting for their favorite parties. While in the electorate as a whole Fidesz would get only 30% of the votes, among the active participants that number is 51% as opposed to 33% for Unity voters.

One could say that this is truly depressing, but then why did Tibor Zavecz say that “the opposition has tremendous reserves”? Well, 36% of the electorate still remains undecided. Among them are those who will not vote regardless, those who are secretive, and those who are truly undecided. This is a large crowd of about 1 million people and we know from other opinion polls that 52% of the people would like to see Viktor Orbán and Fidesz go. If Unity can inspire these 1 million people to go and vote, the election can be won.

Mind you, the present government is doing everything in its power to make sure that anti-Fidesz votes, especially from abroad, are reduced to practically nothing. Those with a domicile in Hungary have to register to vote at Hungarian embassies or consulates in the country of their current residence. I received several reports that the authorities are throwing back applications because, according to them, the information provided was not complete or was inaccurate. One person was denied registration because he wrote Balmazujváros instead of Balmazújváros as his birthplace. The fact is, believe it or not, that the electoral law specifies that the lack of an acute accent is grounds for a denial of registration. Then in the United States they sent out wrong information about the date of voting while in England the wrong address was specified.

On the other hand, new citizens from neighboring Romania and Serbia are being sought after. Already a sizable amount of money has been spent on government propaganda, including personalized letters sent by the prime minister urging them to vote. And then there is the pressure applied by local Fidesz bosses, which is especially successful with the vulnerable such as people on public work, to vote for Fidesz.

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All in all, Unity has to win big to counterbalance all the advantages of the government party. I saw a very funny picture of a Unity politician campaigning. Since the poor man has no possibility of putting out his campaign literature, he brought a ladder, climbed up on it, and held up a sign. He stayed there for a whole hour in 32 degree weather. Well, one must have imagination in Orbán’s Hungary to overcome obstacles.

Opposition voters demand unity

I still can’t quite collect myself after seeing what happened this afternoon at the large street demonstration that was rather reluctantly organized to include all opposition groups. It was only yesterday that E14-PM and MSZP officially signed their exclusive agreement to jointly represent the united opposition. Originally, they planned to sign the document today, on the anniversary of the October Revolution of 1956, but in the last minute there was a change of plans. Indeed, it would have been jarring if the agreement that excluded the other opposition parties and groups had been signed on the very day that solidarity among all the democratic forces was supposed to be on display.

Admittedly, if it had depended on E14-PM and MSZP, there would have been separate demonstrations once again, but Ferenc Gyurcsány upset the apple cart by writing to Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy suggesting common action. A whole week went by and no answer came. When a reporter asked Gyurcsány whether he had received a response he told him that he hadn’t but that he is a patient man. Eventually the E14-MSZP group obviously felt that they had to say yes. Rebuffing Gyurcsány’s initiative might have had negative consequences.

At this point E14-MSZP tried “to hide Gyurcsány,” as commentators noted, by inviting eight groups in all. Each group’s representative was allotted only five minutes to address the crowd. With such a tight schedule, it was hoped that Gyurcsány wouldn’t have the opportunity to show off his considerable oratorical skills.

Moreover, even though the organizers gave a nod to the notion of inclusiveness, they carefully avoided portraying the opposition parties and groups as one big happy family. For instance, the eight speakers were never together on the stage.

Observers charged that Bajnai and Mesterházy are as afraid of Gyurcsány as they are of Orbán, if not more so. I would describe the situation slightly differently. The MSZP leadership may be afraid of Gyurcsány, but–more critically–they loathe him. One cannot be terribly surprised at their reaction because, after all, it was Gyurcsány who, after failing to “reform” his party, left MSZP and took along with him nine other men and women, including some former ministers and undersecretaries. It was thus that DK came into being.

E14-PM has more reason to be afraid of him because while Bajnai’s party is steadily losing voters, DK is steadily gaining. According to the latest Századvég poll, the two parties are neck to neck, each with a projected 5% of the votes. And while this 5% would be enough for DK to become a parliamentary party, E14-PM is a “party alliance” (pártszövetség) that needs 10% to qualify. A few days ago there was some vague talk about changing their status, with PM joining E14, but in the last moment PM decided that the ideological divide was simply too great. Indeed, PM is a left-wing green party while E14 is trying to move closer to the center.

It was under these circumstances that the mass demonstration took place today. Considering that the opposition parties and groups don’t have the kind of money Fidesz has at its disposal and therefore cannot pay their “supporters” to come from as far as Transylvania and the Voivodina, the crowd was still impressive. There were thousands of red MSZP flags, a few Együtt14-PM signs, and many DK signs. Some people came from the provinces on their own money since there were no buses bringing them to the capital as was the case for the enormous Fidesz crowd that gathered on Heroes’ Square.

And now I will jump ahead a bit and backtrack later. What stunned me was that the crowd almost prevented Attila Mesterházy, the last speaker, from even beginning his speech. Eventually he managed to read his prepared text, but what he said was often difficult to decipher because all through the speech the crowd chanted “Unity! Unity!”–sometimes drowning him out. It was a clear indication that the voters on the left reject the Bajnai-Mesterházy agreement. If I had been Mesterházy, I would have thrown out the speech, called all the leaders of the opposition who were present to the stage, held their hands high and said, “Yes, we understand what you want! Let’s go together. One party list, one candidate for prime minister, and then we will really win. We will work it out.”

But it seems that this is not the course that either Mesterházy or the party leadership is ready to embrace. They blame the opposition leaders, specifically Gábor Kuncze (Szabadelvű Polgári Egyesület, formerly chairman of SZDSZ) , Gábor Fodor (Magyar Liberális Párt, formerly SZDSZ chairman), Lajos Bokros (Magyarország Mozgalom, formerly MDF), and Ferenc Gyurcsány (Magyar Demokratikus Koalíció) for delivering speeches that urged unity. I heard and read comments to the effect that “Ferenc Gyurcsány hacked the demonstration.” As if it was Ferenc Gyurcsány who hired the crowd to silence Mesterházy in the name of unity.

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Source: Népszabadság / Photo by Árpád Kurucz

I’m almost certain that there was no such plan. I happen to receive all the material DK sends out to its members and supporters. Ferenc Gyurcsány urged his followers to come in great numbers, to bring DK signs, and if they come from other parts of the country to bring along signs indicating where they are from. That was all. There were lots of red MSZP flags too, and it looked to me as if many of the people holding them were also demanding unity. It wasn’t an exclusively DK lot that “hacked” Mesterházy’s speech. And if the MSZP leaders want to convince themselves of the opposite they are doing themselves a disfavor.

In the last half hour or so I received the texts of Gábor Kuncze’s and Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speeches, which I will translate tonight and post for you. I also liked Lajos Bokros’s speech very much. Even Gábor Fodor, who wasn’t my favorite in the dying days of SZDSZ, did a good job. The common theme was indeed unity as it should have been. Without unity there really is no hope against Viktor Orbán, who is already working on his “battle array” and whose soldiers stand in readiness, as he indicated in his speech. Note that Gábor Kuncze is ready to join the opposition forces without any precondition. The situation is the same with Lajos Bokros. Ferenc Gyurcsány’s story is different, but he has an ever stronger party behind him who certainly would like to have a piece of the pie.

I really wonder whether, despite all the MSZP protestations to the contrary, cooler heads will eventually prevail and the self-defeating arrangement signed yesterday will be scrapped.