The strength of the Hungarian far-right

All those "political scientists" who have mighty little to do with "science" are busily trying to predict what will happen on April 11 and after. The latest is that they are predicting on the basis of current polls that don't include about 40% of those who are still undecided that there is a possibility that Jobbik will do better than MSZP. And therefore they suggest that the two established parties should pay attention to the strides Jobbik is making instead of worrying about each other.

I'm not saying that Jobbik is not a threat. I only consider such speculations premature. Some of these assumptions are based on hearsay. For example, in the last few weeks the Hungarian media were full of a story about "five hundred well trained Fidesz activisits who left the party and joined the forces of Jobbik." This most likely baseless story was created by combining two bits of news. In the first Előd Novák (Jobbik) claimed that at least five hundred former Fidesz party members had joined Jobbik; in the second László Kövér (Fidesz) admitted that some activists and their assistants had left for Jobbik. Thus some journalists arrived at the conclusion that all five hundred people were well trained activists. Even István Nyakó, MSZP spokesman, fell for this gossip and related it as fact at a press conference. However, by the time the written transcript of his speech appeared on MSZP's website this particular sentence was missing from the text.

What do we know to be fact? I managed to find in www.delmagyar.hu, a provincial paper serving Szeged and environs, that Jobbik collected enough endorsements (kopogtató cédulák) in the County of Csongrád that Jobbik candidates can be on the ballot in all seven electoral districts. When one hears about the difficulties that MDF and LMP are encountering in trying to collect these endorsements, one realizes that even in the southern parts of the country Jobbik must have substantial support. By the way, Jobbik is following Fidesz's example; its activists continue collecting over and above the necessary number. (Fidesz apparently is over 1.5 million. This can serve two purposes. First, to show strength, and second, to create a usable database.) In the city of Szeged Jobbik seems to have 150 activists while Fidesz has 500. MSZP keeps the number of activists secret. Perhaps because they are embarrassingly few. MSZP is not noted for its organizational talents. On the other hand, Ildikó Lendvai reported yesterday that in Budapest the collection of endorsements is proceeding well, adding that it seems that their supporters' worry over Fidesz's plans must have grown lately. Especially since Viktor Orbán's speech at Kötcse became public.

Here I would like to share with you Hírszerző's speculations about the prospects of the three parties: Fidesz, MSZP, and Jobbik. I might mention that Hírszerző is closely connected to Political Capital, the think-tank that  was giving political advice to Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF). Hírszerző claims to know that Fidesz ordered a poll for its own use according to which Jobbik has gained enormous strength in northern Hungary where in many places the far-right party will end up second and the socialists only third. According to their informants from the two parties, both in Fidesz and in MSZP politicians began to worry about the growth of Jobbik. Until now the common wisdom was that Jobbik did well at the European Parliamentary elections only because electoral participation was low. Nowadays the analysts think that even with higher participation Jobbik might receive 15 percent if not more of the votes. The same analysts think that even in some counties in the lowland regions (Alföld) and in a couple of Transdanubian counties Jobbik might get very impressive results.

Hírszerző''s conclusion is that with the growth of Jobbik, Fidesz may not get the much desired two-thirds majority. Yet in spite of all this Fidesz is still preoccupied with Ferenc Gyurcsány, while MSZP is demonizing Viktor Orbán. As the article, the joint effort of three journalists, puts it: "There is no plan, only worry."

As opposed to the journalists of Hírszerző (Gábor Gavra, András Kósa, and Szilvia Nagy) I don't think that MSZP should turn its focus away from Fidesz and toward Jobbik; Jobbik is a much stronger threat to Fidesz. If the passive MSZP voters wake up and go out and vote MSZP might become strong enough that Fidesz not only will have no two-thirds majority but might have to look for a coalition partner. It would be impossible to form a government with Jobbik for political reasons, and in that case even an MSZP-Fidesz coalition, however unholy an alliance, might not be out of the question. In my opinion that might be the best outcome. Perhaps Gordon Bajnai's dream of a grand coalition is not such an impossibility.

But this is just speculation. We know that 250,000 Fidesz voters joined the ranks of the undecided in the last three months. Even Nézőpont (Perspective), a polling company and think-tank indirectly financed by Fidesz, came up with an 8% drop in Fidesz voters as of the middle of February. And that was before Kötcse and before the MSZP Congress where Attila Mesterházy did better than I expected. That might add a sense of urgency within the socialist camp and might change the predictions in the next two months for a less lopsided Fidesz victory. 

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Öcsi
Guest

“The latest is that they are predicting on the basis of current polls that don’t include about 40% of those who are still undecided that there is a possibility that Jobbik will do better than MSZP.”
If 40% are undecided, it is possible to come up with the most fanciful scenario imaginable and it will have credence because anything is possible. An MSZP-Fidesz coalition is possible. So is a Fidesz-Jobbik coalition! It will depend on the numbers. An outright Jobbik victory would be disastrous for Hungary but it could happen.
I don’t know what will motivate the undecideds to choose which party to support, but if they move as a block anything can happen.
In Canada, elections take on a life of their own. Expectations going into an election seldom pan out. Is it different in Hungary? Are there no surprises?
I’ll be in Budapest during the second round of voting. It may be an interesting time…

Coach Handbags
Guest

Great articles and it’s so ahelpful. I want to add your blog into my rrs reader but i can’t find the rrs address. Would you please send your address to my email? Thanks a lot!

Vándorló
Guest
@ESBalogh: “…according to which Jobbik has gained enormous strength in northern Hungary where in many places the far-right party will end up second and the socialists only third.” This is clearly the case in the HVG poll conducted by Medián where Jobbik already stand at 19% and MSZP 16%. Plenty of other interesting data there: http://hvg.hu/hvgfriss/2010.08/201008_partok_es_politikusok_nepszerusege Whilst MSZP continue to try to bribe voters with financial assistance on burial expenses rather than real social and economic issues I would expect no change in this trend. And the hopeless SZDSZ-MDF financial alliance just shows what poison SZDSZ are – I wish they would just disappear and spend their ill-gotten gains on something other than politics. With Lendvai and Gyurcsány pulling MSZP’s strings they haven’t got a hope. Really, what a parlous state Hungarian politics and society is in and pretty much all down to arrogance and greed. @Thrasymachus: You can clearly see that when we last discussed the polling data (December) Jobbik support was indeed only around 10% and this is borne out by all the polling companies. You claimed that at that time the support was greater due to bad statistical methods etc… This of course was nonsense. Support waxes… Read more »
NWO
Guest

In the II and XII districts of Budapest, Jobbik supporters are out en masse. More than once, they have rung our doorbell. Moreover, on the political literature/adverts they hand out, they publicize multiple campaign events in the area. I have seen no similar effort by FIDESZ this time around. As for MSZP, one would be hard pressed to know if they are even competing in this area (an admittedly, right wing bastion).
Of greater concern, I have heard a number of educated, “professional” [medical doctors, lawyers] people saying they are now seriously entertaining voting for Jobbik (these being probably mainly formerly FIDESZ/MDF type voters), because it is clear that all of the main parties are corrupted, and only a full cleaning of the political system can help Hungary. And yes, a lot of these supposedly educated people really believe that the IMF loans in 2008 were part of a grand Israeli/U.S. plot to take over Hungary. Good Grief!

Vándorló
Guest

@NWO: I’ve had them too. Me and Novák Előd are virtually neighbours. I’ve also been around Moszkva Tér and Blaha where Jobbik are also active. Of all the parties these really do campaign and has often been said by me and others they actually look presentable and electable. Non of that sloppy demeanor and facial hair of the life-long MSZP-SZDSZ couch potatoes.
Corruption, like you say, really is the issue. People are fed up with the Gyurcsány tax hikes that were there simply to pay for their take of the graft. How else can average PPP remain stagnant while GDP continued to grow. The government swallowed it all and borrowed more and more to feed themselves. No wonder people are disgusted.
The underlying trend is also that those that are being encouraged to vote are the younger generations where Jobbik are clearly leading by miles. This is Gyurcsány’s real legacy, he must be really proud of his achievements.
The astonishing thing is that even now MSZP and Fidesz are continuing to act like it’s just about them. Neither are getting any message from the electorate.

Mark
Guest
NWO: ” I have heard a number of educated, “professional” [medical doctors, lawyers] people saying they are now seriously entertaining voting for Jobbik (these being probably mainly formerly FIDESZ/MDF type voters), because it is clear that all of the main parties are corrupted, and only a full cleaning of the political system can help Hungary. And yes, a lot of these supposedly educated people really believe that the IMF loans in 2008 were part of a grand Israeli/U.S. plot to take over Hungary.” None of this is actually very surprising. It is the cumulative consequences of three of the past four Prime Ministers doing disastrous things (Orbán for playing with right-wing populism; Gyurcsány for forcing the political crisis in 2006 which provided the spark for Jobbik to grow; and Bajnai for pursuing the economic policies that have fuelled their growth). We know from the 1929-33 period where the current economic policy course is likely to lead – one would think that the fools in the government, and the fools in the EU and the IMF that support them would have read a few History books ….. The one thing that has surprised me is FIDESZ’s stupdity. Don’t get me wrong,… Read more »
Vándorló
Guest
@Mark: Though Jobbik may quickly become the second force. 20% of Fidesz voters are strongly sympathetic to Vona. The momentum of the last two months appears crucial to me. Jobbik rightly started their campaign early with a clearly written, easy to understand manifesto – on this I disagree with both your and Éva’s assessment of it. Couple this with Orbán’s vacuous speech that communicated nothing and Jobbik again come out looking like the party with a clear sense of direction. MSZP are floundering in their past, unable to capitalise on the last 6-8 months because Bajnai isn’t one of them. More than this the cynical move to put Mesterházy as PM candidate now looks laughable – and a typical example of Lendvai’s understanding of what really matters in Hungarian politics. Yesterday we had Gyurcsány going on again about Orbán being afraid of him and Fidesz being to blame for Jobbik. The message just isn’t hitting home is it? I find myself very much on the same page as Paul Lendvai as he writes in Der Standard about the current state of play: http://hvg.hu/vilag/20100225_paul_lendvai_elemzes_magyar_belpolitika And his prognosis of a possible 20% for Jobbik seems almost certain given the trend. I also… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Vándorló: “MSZP are floundering in their past, unable to capitalise on the last 6-8 months because Bajnai isn’t one of them.”
I don’t disagree with much of what you say, but I found this statement a little curious. Are you really sure there is anything to “capitalize” on? While I do agree that the MSZP is campaigning in a way which is close to clueless strategically, I would note that Bajnai’s policies have no public support to speak of. Anyone who wants to vote for his approach, can support the MDF – but they don’t seem to me to be likely to get as much support as the MSZP, and certainly they don’t command the levels of support that would make them a long-term viable policy course in a democracy.
Vándorló: “Well, Fidesz deserve to deal with what they created”
I’m not really too concerned about FIDESZ; I’m more concerned about the apolitical Hungarian population who are going to have to live with the consequences of what has been created. I have a feeling that these consequences aren’t going to be very pleasant.

Vándorló
Guest
@Mark: ‘Are you really sure there is anything to “capitalize” on?’ If I were to bullet point it, then: 1. Avoidance of bickering and petty party politics – this merely enervates society. 2. Putting economy first, not party. 3. Reducing unnecessary spending (see latest report today where the motorbike track is deemed economically risky). Have you ever been into any government office? No shortage of pens, stickits, stationary, fancy gadgets, plush carpets, new furniture etc.. Compare this to the UK that has strict ‘desk/office discipline’ rules to cut down waste. 4. Being serious about cleaning up politics and social life, not just a Gyurcsány committee to provide jobs for some more party lackies. 5. Cutting back on all the useless ‘consultants’. 6. Putting social measures in such as policies for Roma and disadvantaged, but not blowing your own horn about it. 7. Simply being polite and courteous to whoever. A know a lot more people would consider voting for Bajnai than would ever vote for MSZP right now. People aren’t fooled by Fidesz and Orbán, they know they are being sold a pig in a poke, but it’s either him or Jobbik. The MDF would have been an alternative, but… Read more »
John T
Guest

What a sad waste of 20 years. To be honest, based on the current state of affairs, if anyone was to ask me what is the best thing to have come out of Hungary since the fall of communism, my answer would be the Audi TT!

Steve
Guest

When MSZP is asking for the Fidesz programme, it just says “say something so we can turn it against you. Please say something about retirement benefits, so we can scare our voters.”
The MSZP showed what they can do with the country. The last 8 years speak for themselves. So does the 4 before that speak for what Fidesz can do. Right now, Fidesz doesn’t need to tell anything.
As for Jobbik. It is a clear result of what happened in this country for the last years. Gyurcsány had the option to resign, he should have resigned after Öszöd. Everyone was telling him to resign, that for peace’s sake he should resign, but no, he took the “responsibility”, and stayed. So, Jobbik is his responsibility, and that of MSZP. A wise man knows that every action of his will have some kind of reaction. And he is still in MSZP, still campaigning, still spreading lies.
Where lots of jobless gipsies live, there
Jobbik’s support is stronger. This country needs jobs, and jobs for gypsies too. Then, Jobbik’s support will shrink.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Steve: “This country needs jobs, and jobs for gypsies too. Then, Jobbik’s support will shrink.”
Easier said than done.

Vándorló
Guest

@Steve and ESBalogh: There was an interesting discussion on this with privately compiled statistics (as the Government decided to stop collating their stats on their incompetence some time back) on tonight’s edition of Kassza on MTV1, which is hosted by Baló György (Morvai Krisztina’s husband).
It’s still available on the website now: http://www.hirado.hu/ under the link:
Kassza, 2010. február 25. – Romák – nem romák II.rész

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Vándorló: “on tonight’s edition of Kassza on MTV1, which is hosted by Baló György (Morvai Krisztina’s husband).”
I tried to see it but at the time I tried it didn’t work. But I will try again.
As for Baló and Morvai, I have the feeling that they are husband and wife only on paper by now.

Mark
Guest
Vándorló: “A know a lot more people would consider voting for Bajnai than would ever vote for MSZP right now.” Yes, and he is so popular he has decided -like the SZDSZ – not to put himself on the ballot. I’m sorry, but you’ll forgive me for saying that if Bajnai believes that Hungary’s problems are going to be solved by closer attention to the public sector paper-clip budget (I don’t think he does)then he is deluded, and has difficulties focussing on the really important issues. I’m afraid I hold him responsible for pursuing a budgetary restriction which has deepened the recession, and has ensured that it will continue well into this year, which as I think we will see in the next few years has not made Hungary less vulnerable to speculative attack and has made the country a more insecure and unstable place. Party before country? More like the selfish interests of the managers of banks over the interests of the majority who live from wages and salaries. And I thought that democracy was rule by the people, not by the financial markets? But there we are. I also don’t see him as so different to Gyurcsány –… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mark: “I’m afraid I hold him responsible for pursuing a budgetary restriction which has deepened the recession,”
You’re totally unfair. No Hungarian government had any other choice. Do you understand? No one would have given any more money (even if it were available)and the country would have gone bankrupt.
Your idea that the loans should have been renegotiated is, I’m afaid, is a pipe dream. Jobbik has that idea and surely we know that is impossible.

Öcsi
Guest

Mark, I fully agree with your comments to Steve. But how do you attack unemployment when so many of the economic forces are global, not local? Do you have any suggestions. When I think of all the economic interconnectedness I draw a blank.

Vándorló
Guest
@Mark: I don’t know if you are being deliberately naive, but Bajnai stated at the outset that he would not stand. This he has done. The reference to public waste of money in refitting and office supplies was an example of the waste, not a detailed breakdown of the forms of economies that national and local government need to learn. Be facetious all you like, but it is petty and you end up making no point at all. “I’m afraid I hold him responsible for pursuing a budgetary restriction which has deepened the recession” Please outline what you are talking about specifically here. The term ‘deepening the recession’ can have a multitude of interpretations and I wouldn’t want to upset you more than you already are by being accused of falsely hoisting one on you. I would love to know how Hungary could have pulled into from the direction it was heading in more quickly. I’m hoping it’s going to take into account the turn around in market sentiment and perception towards Hungary that has helped it more recently. ” More like the selfish interests of the managers of banks over the interests of the majority who live from wages… Read more »
Mark
Guest
Öcsi: “But how do you attack unemployment when so many of the economic forces are global, not local? Do you have any suggestions.” Yes, I do. And I’m asked this question alot lately, so I have a prepared set of answers. Basically it requires a different set of policies, and the eight points below articulate the logic that lies behind it. Hopefully, Vándorló will be reassured that I’m neither a supporter of Jobbik, nor a paid-up member of the UK’s Militant Tendency, but a social democrat with a greenish tinge: 1. To contain the costs of ageing through long-term reforms to the financing of pensions (I’d personally favour a minimum citizens pension, and some form of compulsory, contribution-based secondary pension), to health (and I think something like the Molnar reform programme of a state-guaranteed insurance system), and to personal social care (and this aspect of welfare-state re-modelling has been barely even talked about in Hungary). 2. Basically these sorts of shifts are only going to work if the pool of contributors is to be increased. I think Hungary needs to centralize the administration of social assistance, and tie it to an active labour market policy, that has an element of… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Eva: “Your idea that the loans should have been renegotiated is, I’m afaid, is a pipe dream. Jobbik has that idea and surely we know that is impossible”
I think it is a shame that no other party has raised the issue of the debt, because when one looks at the debt dynamics caused by population ageing it is going to hang like the sword of Damocles over Hungarian growth in the next decade. It is a shame because it is so clearly going to be an issue, that other more democratic parties have conceded Jobbik an important weapon going forward.

Mark
Guest

Vándorló: “”…who gave Bajnai a government job? Who made him a minister?” You may object, but under Hungary’s constitution, it was all well, constitutional. You know the answers to the questions and you may not like it, but there you are”
Actually I don’t object at all. I was pointing out that Bajnai’s government career post-2006 was a result of the political patronage of Ferenc Gyurcsány.

PassingStranger
Guest

Surely demanding a renegotiation of public debt boils down to an admission of bankruptcy? In the current climate Hungary could possibly ‘do a Greek’ or an ‘Iceland’ and pull it off. Like those two countries European partners are not likely to let a member state go under. But not without demanding heavy concessions. Western European voters do not like to spend their tax money on countries who do not have their act together. Hungary would have to clean up their public spending, and increase taxation. I do not see higher pensions, paternity pay being part of such a scheme.

Mark
Guest
Passing Stranger, just for the record I don’t advocate higher pensions at all. In fact I’m sure that the current system is unaffordable. But there is a problem – over the course of the current decade (and if the pension age is raised quickly) the next thirteen years the generation born in the 1950s will retire, and this will lead to a sharp reduction in the numbers of those of working age, and a large increase in the number of pensioners. What this means is an increase in the costs of pensions overall, health care and personal social care costs just as the pool of contributors declines sharply. This would create huge strains in any society – but in one with a public debt ratio of 80% to GDP (and that’s not counting the household debt, nor the off-balance sheet debt carried in PPP schemes), low growth, with only 55-60% of the working age population active, and quite possibly emigration given the income differences with the western parts of the EU – we are talking about a situation that is potentially catastrophic. It is a shame this problem is not being discussed more openly because Hungary will be forced to… Read more »
Steve
Guest
As i see it, job creation is not something that can be described in a couple of words. Its more of an attitude. What i mean is, there may be some laws which could benefit the number of jobs on a grand scale, but the real way to increase the number of jobs is to examine each area, and make laws which specifically improve that area. There is knowledge of what an industry needs, and how to improve that area specifically. It is simply “good government”, but the truth is, the country is lacking exactly “good government” right now. I have a friend, who has a small production company. He barely can pay the taxes, cause no matter if the production is halted, the taxes must be paid. He cant get a loan, cause he cant pay the taxes on time. So what does he do in a situation like this? After half a year of struggling, he send the workers away, and closes the company. Next day those workers show up at the governments unemployment office asking for aid. Its a double loss. The company is closed, does not provide the pay for the workers, and the jobless workers… Read more »
Guest

This discussion was really worthwhile reading for me – but I wonder: There is much in it that goes for the other Europian countries too and : Most of the problems cited have been known for years – so what did MSZP do to address this ?
I have a hunch, that the answer is: Nothing, they just plodded on … (We call this: Vogel Strauss Politik)
So they’ve had their chance – I think (and hope!) that it will take them more than 8 years to be part of a Hungarian government again. I don’t want them sent to prison (or strung up somewhere (like some Jobbik want to do), but maybe get them to work really hard somehow, somewhere …

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