The Hungarian right: The affairs of Fidesz and Jobbik

This is not exactly brand new news but while I was busy dissecting Jobbik's election program there were a couple of interesting developments within Fidesz. About ten days ago there was a "board meeting" or perhaps better translated a "steering committee meeting" of Fidesz where apparently Viktor Orbán was unduly sharp-tongued and critical. Some people suspect that the reason for his bad mood was that shortly before the meeting he had found out that although there was no change in the polls as far as the chances of Fidesz and MSZP are concerned, Jobbik had become stronger again and that strength came at the expense of Fidesz.

Orbán's ire was directed against the party's youth group, Fidelitas, because the young Turks were openly bragging about all the important positions they would receive in the new administration. One of their leaders, Péter Ágh, actually said that the leadership of Fidelitas would be decimated after the elections. The issue of Fidelitas came up when Orbán was reading the names of those he had picked to run in the 176 individual electoral districts. When he came to the second district of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County he stopped and said that Mrs. Pelcz, née Ildikó Gáll, one of the vice-chairmen of the party and Orbán's great discovery four years ago, would not be the Fidesz candidate in that district. Instead, a young hopeful, Marcell Zsiga, is Orbán's choice. Apparently it is a well known fact in party circles that Mrs. Pelcz "didn't work out" and therefore instead of being a member of parliament she will receive "other important positions" in the party.

Orbán didn't talk about his reasons for dropping Mrs. Pelcz but rather about why he picked the young Zsiga. He explained that Zsiga was chosen not because he has had important positions in Fidelitas but "in spite of it."  He added that the young Turks' attitude toward the "values of the party" is unsatisfactory.

After he finished with Fidelitas he moved on to Fidesz's situation in Csongrád County. According to Orbán Csongrád is the weak link in the Fidesz network. Apparently in Szeged, in-fighting among Fidesz politicians became so petty and distasteful that even right-wing families are supporting MSZP, led by Mayor László Botka. And while he was on the subject of Csongrád, he expressed his dissatisfaction with János Lázár, member of parliament and mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, who has never bothered to show up at these steering committee meetings. "It is unacceptabe," said Orbán that during the past several years not once did Lázár attend, and therefore he wasn't even able to certify his acceptance of his nomination to run in one of the 176 electoral districts. Lázár is obviously not afraid of the boss. When Index, the internet paper, got in touch with him about the matter, Lázár announced that he "didn't attend, doesn't attend, and has no intention of ever attending the steering committee meetings." He doesn't get involved in national politics.

So, Orbán was already nervous some ten days ago about Jobbik and with good reason. Jobbik is furiously campaigning. Where do they get their campaign funds? The party is supposed to give a yearly account of their finances to the National Accounting Office but for years nothing was submitted. Eventually the Office threatened the party with an investigation by the Prosecutor's Office. Jobbik, realizing that it cannot indefinitely postpone showing its cards, at last came up with some figures. The budget they turned in looks more like fiction than reality. They claim that the party received 2 million 94 thousand forints in 2009 and that "their expenses were only three thousand forints more." Let's convert these figures into U.S. dollars to appreciate their absurdity. They claim that for the whole year they received only $10,919.40 from private donations and they overspent by a mere $15.64! There is the suspicion that Jobbik receives funds from Russia and Iran, but of course one cannot prove anything. Some people suspect rich far-right wingers within the country. For example, Gábor Széles, multi-millionaire and owner of Magyar Hírlap and Echo TV.

In any case, I think Orbán realizes that Jobbik might be a real danger. And now here is this very "unfortunate" slip of Mihály Varga about Fidesz's plans for a self-sufficient pension system. No more 500 billion forints a year from the central budget to supplement the pension fund. Pensioners would get as much as they paid in. This would certainly be good from the point of view of the central government but, given the Hungarian situation, it might mean a 15-20% reduction in benefits for the pensioners. Mihály Varga was sent into "exile" immediately, but not before he outright denied his own words.

Not surprisingly the other side is taking advantage of the situation. Not a day goes by without a reference, press conference, newspaper article, or interview with MSZP politicians about Fidesz's attempt to save money at the expense of the old folks. Fidesz's answer was a letter signed by Pál Schmitt, EP member and head of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, that tried to reassure current and future pensioners. Of course, everybody is asking: why Schmitt? Why not Orbán? Because Orbán doesn't want to commit himself in writing to a promise he has no intention of keeping?

Well, if Fidesz sends out 1,600,000 leaflets asking a number of questions and requesting that respondents sign their names, MSZP cannot do stand by idly. They also sent out questionnaires. I was talking to an MSZP supporter from Hungary today who told me that the questions posed are almost identical as far as she can ascertain and that she was certain that people will be confused.

As for Mihály Varga's future. I wouldn't bet on his being minister of finance again, especially if Fidesz does less well at the elections than was projected before his careless slip.