The last days before the referendum

Yesterday I saw Viktor Orbán briefly as he was being interviewed by a reporter in Este, a half-hour political program on MTV. He happened to be in Pécs and the interview was long distance. This seemed to have made the reporter a little braver than reporters normally are when they have to deal with Viktor Orbán in person. He dared to ask him a few times what he considered to be a "sweeping victory." Answer: If many people go and vote. Question: How many? Answer: Many! Well, the reporter didn’t get very far with this. So he tried the other way around: When would the referendum not be a victory? Answer: If too few people vote. How many? Few! I had the distinct feeling that Mr. Orbán knew something that we didn’t.

This morning I think I got the answer. According to the predictions of Marketing Centrum the referendum will not be valid because there will not be enough "yes" votes. More than 2.5 million people will go and vote, but over 2 million "yes" votes are necessary in order for the referendum questions to pass. According to Marketing Centrum that number will be under 2 million. Of course, this is the result of only one polling company, but Marketing Centrum usually does a good job. In 2002 when all pollsters failed and predicted a large Fidesz victory, Marketing Centrum was the only one whose results were very close to the actual numbers.

Another sign of unease in Fidesz circles is the absolutely hysterical behavior of some of the prominent members of the leadership. István Tarlós, the campaign manager, screamed uncontrollably, called Gábor Horn of the SZDSZ a criminal, and eventually hung up during an exchange about some of Fidesz’s not quite acceptable campaign tactics. During the screaming session he became more and more illogical. His behavior was incredible. Anyone interested in the conversation, if you can call it that, can listen to it on József Orosz’s program Kontra on Klub Rádió’s homepage. Then comes Viktor Orbán who called the prime minister a half wit and is convinced that the contract between Hungary and Russia, available on the internet, is a forgery. He knows. He has experience. He saw many contracts between states. This is not a contract. Or there is one of Orbán’s deputies, Zoltán Pokorni, who got so upset during a discussion about education that he stood up in the middle of the program, tore his necktie off, and on the top of his lungs accused the moderator of bias.

Then there is the case of the phoney public opinion polls. Comes an automated telephone call. The caller announces that this is Tárki, a well known polling company, and they have a few questions. The first question is: "Did you hear that right after March 9th, if the referendum fails, the government will raise the co-payment from 300 to 1,000 Ft?" After this initial question comes the question about how the person is planning to vote on Sunday. One such call apparently costs 70 Ft, so a few hundred thousand such calls cannot be the brainchild of an overzealous campaign activist. In one of the cities, someone plastered old MSZP posters from 2006 when the party slogan was: "Yes, Yes!" (Igen, igen!) These posters were supposed to mislead MSZP voters that even their own party urges them to vote "yes." The streets of Budapest apparently are littered with Fidesz leaflets urging people to vote for all three questions in the affirmative.

Sándor Friderikusz, a star reporter, called some of these unacceptable campaign ruses "mafia tactics." He ventured to say that in Europe there is no other country where the level of politics is as low as in Hungary. He was actually having a conversation about all these unusual campaign tactics with Gábor Bruck, the president of Marketing Centrum. Bruck was more resigned and at the same time more optimistic. These unacceptable tactics were used in 2006 and what happened? The Fidesz lost. They will realize sooner or later that these tactics lead nowhere. He continued that these tactics are used by people who have nothing substantial to say. No concept, no vision. The Orbán-led Fidesz is "intellectually empty." Bruck, perhaps because he already knew the predictions of Marketing Centrum, was optimistic. Until now, he said, Hungary has been marching with Europe into Europe. He hoped that it would continue to do so in the future as well.

And by the way, an incredible thing happened in Pécs yesterday: about twenty people demonstrated against Viktor Orbán. He must have been surprised: this was a first.

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I have read your blog for over two weeks and I really like it. But this latest note by you seems to be biased. I do not think that one can fairly describe opposition campaigning “hysterical” or Friderikusz as “star reporter”. The opposition is campaigning, while the governing side is basically not – the Socialists pursue a cold campaign, while the so-called Liberals are simply imploding.
Friderikusz is over-the-top poodle of Gyurcsany – you might remember his series of interviews some 18 months ago with the Premier for four consecutive nights in which Gyurcsany “explained” his reform steps. Pathetic ‘journalism’.


I have been reading your blog for some time now. I agree with you almost on every point.You are doing great job on bringing the reality of political life in Hungary to non Hungarian speakers. Thank you!


To paraphrase an old saying: From your blog to God’s ears.
I have been getting even “shorter” the HUF in anticipation of an immediate reaction on Monday to a FIDESZ victory. Maybe I need to balance out the position a little bit.


Hi Eva,
Do you actually live in Hungary tight now or still in the US?


Thank you, Eva!
I am a senior adviser on economic and political issues to the British Embassy here, so if you might need any extra info on Hungary, you can contact me at: