Hungarian election campaign in full swing

As the election campaign heats up there remains the side story of BKV (Budapesti Közlekedési Vállalat), the transit company owned by the City of Budapest, that casts a shadow over politicians from MSZP and SZDSZ. I have written a lot about the sorry state of the company and the incredible debt it has managed to pile up. Although foreigners think highly of Budapest's public transportation, those who live there have a different opinion. It seems that the buses are so old that, according to the latest CEO of the company, all 1,000 of them should be scrapped. Fixing them is a waste of money.

But that is not the only problem. It is becoming quite obvious that the business affairs of the company leave something to be desired. CEO's came, CEO's went, and millions and millions of forints disappeared into the pockets of high-ranking employees or so-called consultants. At the moment several people are in jail while at least one poliltician was already sacrificed. Miklós Hagyó, MSZP deputy-mayor in charge of Budapest's transit, was politely asked to retire from politics. MSZP works differently from Fidesz. Hagyó was asked while László Mádi, who made a very small mistake, was immediately dismissed. A lot of people claim that although MSZP's practice might be nicer and more democratic, by acting late the MSZP Budapest politicians made a mistake. Hagyó should have left months ago. Especially after it turned out that his spokeswoman also had a job with BKV for a tidy sum of money for no work performed.

I can't give any details about this whole mess because it is a cacophony of confusing police reports and speculative media stories. So I am waiting until the air clears a bit. Whatever the truth, the scandal comes at the worst possible moment for MSZP. And by now MSZP is not the only party implicated; an SZDSZ adviser of Gábor Demszky, the SZDSZ mayor, was arrested. I'm always a bit skeptical when the political stars align so perfectly. I'm not saying that there was no corruption, but I'm not at all sure whether the corruption can be laid at the feet of the two political parties. However, if one story is good two must be better. Today we heard that there is another corruption case that involves MÁV (Hungarian State Railroads) and that the police raided certain offices.

Well, enough of the police blotter. Let me move on to the political follies of the two parties. Both seem to be bent on frightening the electorate with the presumed dire consequences of electing the other party. Tonight Tamás László (Fidesz), who seems to be replacement for László Mádi, tried to frighten people with MSZP's resolve to introduce a property tax if they return to power. He talked about this property tax that would involve only about 5% of the taxpayers as a "crime against humanity."  And he invoked one of the new Fidesz mantras: "we will defend the people from…." Presumably they will defend the people not only from MSZP but also from those Fidesz economists and spokesmen who agree in principle with MSZP.

MSZP also conjures up its share of frightening images, often taking advantage of Fidesz openings. For example, this morning Zoltán Pokorni, minister of education in the Orbán government and the party's expert on educational matters, announced that Fidesz would get rid of inferior teachers. This is a dangerous thing to say because teachers might decide to vote for MSZP if they feel threatened. After all, how can anyone decide who is inferior and who is not? I'm certain that by tomorrow MSZP's education experts will announce that they will be the ones to defend teachers from losing their jobs.

MSZP politicians seize every opportunity to emphasize that the retirement age might actually become seventy in certain instances if Fidesz comes to power. There isn't a day that goes by that there isn't a meeting or two with pensioners who listen to MSZP speakers on the pitfalls of the Swedish model. In turn, Fidesz politicians say that it is in fact MSZP that wants to reintroduce a retirement age of seventy and that they, Fidesz, are the ones who are the true defenders of the elderly.

MSZP's reaction to Viktor Orbán's Facebook appearance was swift. Viktor Orbán on Facebook asked his supporters to give him ideas about what he should talk about tomorrow in his "state of the country" speech he introduced during his tenure as prime minister. I might add that this speech was never held in parliament but outside of it in front of a select adoring crowd. The other odd thing about these speeches is that he kept giving them even in opposition. Hence tomorrow's address. Attila Mesterházy got on Facebook himself and gave Orbán a few ideas. What on earth would he and his party do if they win the elections? Would he allow the deficit to reach 7%, would he rewrite the constitution, would he close commercial television stations?

Orbán's Facebook appearance inspired the cartoonist, Gábor Pápai, to draw Orban es Facebookthis cartoon. The caption reads: "This is not bad! Here is an admirer who suggests 'let there be light.'" As far as tomorow's speech is concerned, many independent commentators feel that Fidesz can no longer postpone showing their hand. The longer they refuse to say anything the more place there will be for rumors. I understand that they are reluctant to say anything about their future plans because as soon as anyone says anything they can be attacked. A good example is Mihály Varga's mention of the Swedish model which, by the way, he repeated only two days ago. Or here is the Pokorni statement about the poor teachers and their fate. But saying nothing is dangerous as well. In any case, most people predict that Orbán can't give a speech in which he simply tells how horrible the current government is or that the last eight years has ruined the country and that everybody must be punished.

I must say that I'm curious what he will decide on. I might be too suspicious, but I have the feeling that he will not give a program. As the cynics rightly point out: why should he give a program? He has a huge lead without any program. Tomorrow I will be listening carefully.

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i know this is off topic, i’m trying to get some info from someone who knows what happens in Hungary. it’s about media, Nepszabadsag newspaper in particular. i heard a rumour that is going to close or sell. Please, could you tell me if there is some info ob this issue? I know that the paper is owned by Ringier, the swiss media company.

John T

In terms of the economic and social situation in Hungary at the moment, that old addage “you can’t polish a turd” springs to mind (apologies for the crudeness here), so I’m not surprised the parties resort to criticising the opposition. Negative campaigning seems par for the course everywhere these days. So sad.

John T

As for BKV and MAV, are there no governance procedures in place to stop this kind of abuse?

Erik the Reader

Ringier is restructuring Népszabadság. Rumors say they are not satisfied with the fact that the newspaper it is too much linked with the socialist party which is on a huge landslide now.


Aren’t you a bit light-handed with the ruling parties here ?
There has obviously a lot of corruption at BKV for a long time, everybody knew about it – and nothing at all was done until a few months ago.
So all the responsible politicians looked the other way or what ?
What I hear from my wife and friends is – hte whole city of Budapest is as corrupt as the Mafia-ruled Naples …


thanks for the info.