The two small Hungarian parties: MDF and SZDSZ

I have been watching with a certain amazement the political strategy of these two parties for some time. The MDF, to most people’s total surprise, managed to squeeze into parliament in 2006. Four years earlier they got in on the back of Fidesz: they joined forces. But for one reason or another, Ibolya Dávid, the party’s president, decided to strike an independent course and became increasingly anti-Fidesz. She still claimed that MDF was a right-wing party, but more in the mold of European conservatism. The growing antagonism of the two right-wing parties only weakened MDF. Some of its politicians were more inclined to follow the political strategy of Fidesz. Moreover, when it became clear that the split between Fidesz and MDF was permanent, these people decided to stick with Fidesz. After all, they argued, MDF as an independent party would not be able to cross the magic 5% threshold. More than half of the MDF delegation left what they considered to be a sinking ship. According to Hungarian parliamentary rules, they couldn’t immediately sit with the Fidesz delegation: for half a year they were "independent members" voting with Fidesz every time. And then the miracle happened: MDF managed to garner slightly more than five percent of the votes and thus could send eleven or twelve members to parliament. Meanwhile, of course, the relationship between the two parties became outright acrimonious.

That’s why I can’t understand Ibolya Dávid of late. She keeps saying that MDF will not help to make a prime minister out of either Ferenc Gyurcsány or Viktor Orbán. Her party, she keeps repeating, is totally independent of both. So far so good, but then why is she now insisting on early elections? Surely, early elections would mean a huge victory for Fidesz. It is possible that MDF wouldn’t even get into parliament. And yet, at least verbally, she is trying everything in her power to oust the current government. She tried to convince Gyurcsány to ask for a vote of confidence, but he knew that as head a minority government this would have been a foolish course of action. Once this plan failed she moved on to a new strategy: pressuring SZDSZ to promise that its delegation will not vote for the budget. I simply don’t understand the woman. It is not to her advantage to force an early election. What would happen to MDF if Orbán Viktor became prime minister with a two-thirds majority, I hate to think. One must remember the fate of the Smallholders who, after all, were responsible for making Viktor Orbán prime minister of Hungary. I don’t think that Ibolya Dávid would fare better than József Torgyán.

If I can’t understand Ibolya Dávid, I am totally baffled by SZDSZ. First of all, I couldn’t understand why János Kóka and his friends broke with the socialists and gave up all the privileges of being part of the government. They can’t really make an alliance with Fidesz and work toward the removal of the socialist government. That would mean early elections, and their fate in this case is sealed. The party’s popularity perhaps was never lower: 1-2% according to the last polls. A large number of their supporters don’t agree with the party’s decision to abandon the government and Ferenc Gyurcsány, who is the most liberal socialist anybody could find in Hungary. There is the internal strife between the Kóka and Fodor factions. According to some analysts, Kóka is already a failed politician. His reelection to head the party is slim. The hope of these people is that Fodor would renegotiate the coalition and thus make the Gyurcsány government’s position more secure. However, lately I began to sense that when Gábor Fodor vaguely talks about a change in personnel he is not only talking a personnel change within his own party but that somehow his precondition of a renewed partnership would be a change at the head of the government.

This suspicion of mine was reinforced today when I heard István Szent-Iványi, a leading SZDSZ politician and currently a member of the European Parliament. He didn’t beat around the bush as Fodor usually does. He backs Gábor Fodor, and he claimed that Fodor and his supporters are willing to renegotiate the coalition only if Gyurcsány is removed. In his place a non-politician should be prime minister, someone who is an expert and has a reputation outside the country. MSZP will never succumb to such blackmail; it is a non-starter.

Moreover, I’m not even sure whether Gyurcsány and the MSZP bigwigs would be too eager to renegotiate the coalition agreement. MSZP voters are very angry with SZDSZ, whom they blame for their party’s loss of popularity. Many of these voters are not sure at the moment for whom they would vote in a national election or whether they would vote at all. Some are disenchanted with the party because they consider its policies too liberal, and not socialist enough–and this because of SZDSZ pressure within the coalition. These people were in fact relieved on May 1 when the break-up of the coalition became official. A renegotiated coalition would mean to them the abandonment of the social democratic principles of the party.

Most analysts, even those sympathetic to the right rather than the left, recognize that Gyurcsány’s position in the party became stronger with the reorganization of the government and party structure. Some of the old "fossils" of the party leadership, especially those dealing with finance, were removed and gently moved over to undersecretary posts where they won’t disturb too much water. Although some analysts believe that Ferenc Gyurcsány filled the ministerial positions with "lightweights" because he would find them easy to remove if SZDSZ rejoined the government, I don’t think that this is the case. The independent István Gyenesei’s appointment is very easy to understand. One extra vote for the government when every vote counts. Erika Szűcs, the new minister of labor and social welfare, made a very good impression on me. As opposed to most Hungarian politicians, she has definite and down-to-earth ideas which she manages to express well and to the point. Apparently she is very popular within the parliamentary delegation. Pál Szabó, the new minister of transportation and telecommunication, is less facile when it comes to television conversations, but earlier he managed to transform the Hungarian Postal Service from a money-losing to a money-making company. So here I really think that his business track record was the preeminent consideration. All in all, I really don’t think that MSZP would force the prime minister to resign only to have an internationally known expert lead the government where Gábor Fodor is the piper. Rather I think that it will remain a minority government and that the party leaders will continue to hope for and work toward a turn in fortune. Without SZDSZ or perhaps because of their absence.

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I sometimes think you are unwilling to look at the local politics through totally untinted lenses. On the ground in Hungary, the fact is that the PM is a deeply tarnished and compromised figure. And this statement comes from a very much liberally inclined individual. From David Ibolya’s perspective, her existence can only be justified by creating a niche between FIDESZ (the radical populists) and the left wing. To keep credible, this requires her to be equally hard on both Orban and Gyurcsany the two fundamentally polarizing figures in Hungarian society. If she appears to be moving out of the middle and a point of equal hostility, she risks losing her thin basis of support. As such, she must continue to attach Gyurcsany and the MSZP. Having said this, I do not consider her tactics as purely cynical. I suspect her party rank and file actually detest the PM, while at some level perhaps respecting the efforts he and Veres have made in reducing the deficit. Nevertheless, MSZP’s ideology is antithetical to any type of small government conservatism that she espouses. As for SzDSz, they had to brake from the PM in order to keep any shred of credibility and… Read more »

this bit baffles me:
“What would happen to MDF if Orbán Viktor became prime minister with a two-thirds majority, I hate to think. One must remember the fate of the Smallholders who, after all, were responsible for making Viktor Orbán prime minister of Hungary. I don’t think that Ibolya Dávid would fare better than József Torgyán.”
First, if Orbán got in with a 2/3rds majority he certainly wouldn’t need the MDF to form a government.
Second, Orbán used the “give them enough rope, and they’ll hang themselves” strategy on Torgyán. Is there any way reason to believe Dávid is potentially as corrupt as Torgyán, apart from the fact that she is Hungarian politician of course.
What do you think could happen to the MDF under a Fidesz government?

New World Order
Eva- Two points. First. My point on Gy is not so much what I personally think of him, but trying to extrapolate from current polling data and talking to people across the political spectrum. The fact is that almost all data now points to the conclusion that the PM is damaged goods with little credibility among the population. It is another matter if he deserves this fate (or should instead be lauded for what he has tried to do) and whether he might be able to reverse it and be able to compete for another election cycle on the back of an improving economy and disarray among the opposition? On the latter, I personally do not see that happening, largely because I (1) see very high negatives associated with the PM, (2) expect there to be only a modest (rather weak) economic recovery over the next couple of years, and certainly not a strong enough reversal on the economy to really boost the PM’s fortunes and (3) like George Bush currently and Tony Blair at the end of his term, I do not believe that Gy has a sufficient store of support and good-will among the MSzP movers and shakers… Read more »

Eva, are you making this Orbán/FIDESZ paranoia thingy up?
“I just meant that Orbán and his friends will find a way to ruin MDF. I’m not sure how, but they will find a way.”
Ye, and I heard he iced some of his old classmates from the time they cheated him out of a turorudi, too. After all, “Orbán doesn’t forget easily.”
By your own logic MDF will be marginalizing themselves and their position further, so what really does he have to do to them that they don’t do to themselves? So if your predictions are right you are wrong logically and if you are wrong factually (when we see the results) you are just wrong.


Attila: wait a while.