The agony of MDF (Hungarian Democratic Forum)

If you are a regular reader of Hungarian Spectrum you may recall that a couple of weeks ago I reported on a conversation that took place on the television show, A tét, the Hungarian equivalent of PBS's Washington Week in Review. Most of the participants when asked who was the "winner of the week" named Ibolya Dávid. She managed to get the better of Kornél Almássy, her young adversary, who tried to wrest the chairmanship of MDF from her in not exactly the most forthright manner. Almássy suffered incredible humiliation after Ibolya Dávid divulged that behind Almássy were important figures close to Fidesz who were supporting the young upstart in order to remove Dávid from the helm. Almássy within two weeks lost his place in the MDF caucus and was forced to join the two independent members of parliament. With his departure the MDF caucus shrank to ten, the minimum number necessary to form a caucus. If a party doesn't have a caucus, its weight in parliament is greatly diminished. It cannot name members to committees, for instance, and therefore has very little legislative influence.

Newspapermen kept asking Károly Herényi, head of MDF caucus, and Ibolya Dávid, the chairman, whether they were not worried that another member of the MDF caucus might leave the party and therefore MDF would not have enough members to satisfy the requirements to form a caucus. Oh, no, they said. That couldn't happen. Well, it has.

And it happened in the following way. In 2006 MDF accepted the help of a group called Tisztelet Társasága (Assembly of Honored Ones). I understand that this is a civic organization of senior citizens; at least on paper it has a large membership of about 150,000. It also seems that this organization is led by well-off businessmen and, if that is the case, this organization undoubtedly gave MDF some financial support that the party badly needed. The organization's leadership, according to reports, is close to MSZP. Almássy's chief objection to Ibolya Dávid was her association with Tisztelet Társasága. He wanted to break all ties between the party and the organization. The deal between MDF and Tisztelet Társasága included the proviso that if MDF gets into parliament, one of the parliamentary members will come from the organization. And indeed, MDF managed to reach the magic 5% of the votes and out of the eleven members one was from Tisztelet Társasága–János Vas, who a few months later actually joined the party. But suddenly a day ago Tisztelet Társasága for one reason or another had enough of MDF and Ibolya Dávid. It instructed Vas to leave the MDF caucus and join the independent members. Absolute panic in MDF. The most important party in 1990 for the first time doesn't even have a parliamentary caucus.

So now what? By Monday MDF will have to come up with a solution. One possibility would be to convince one of the two independents (both originally from Fidesz) to join MDF's caucus, but apparently neither is game. The other possibility is that Almássy simply gives up his mandate, leaving the door open to pick another MDF politico to fill his place. But this wouldn't be to his advantage. He could offer to return, contingent on MDF's repeating the election for head of the party. But since his membership in the MDF caucus is no longer valid, his return to MDF could occur only in six months time. Therefore it is unlikely that negotiating with Almássy is a real option to solve the current crisis.

I don't know how seriously one should take the rumor circulating in Budapest that Sándor Csányi of OTP is behind Tisztelet Társasága's decision to withdraw János Vas from the MDF caucus. According to this theory, this is his way of paying back Ibolya Dávid for making public the telephone conversation between him and one of the men at UD Zrt. in which they discussed the idea of finding dirt on Ibolya Dávid.

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I’m very open to this kind of proposition. It can lead us to a better place.