Today we get to the meat of Ferenc Gyurcsány's message to his party and to the Left in general. Everybody talks about renewal, but how? he asks. A lot of people urge the party to evaluate the last ten, eight, or four years. What one hears less of is that one must take a good, hard look at what happened in the last year.
Gyurcsány describes the reasons for his own resignation as prime minister and as chairman of MSZP in the following way. It was sometime in the spring of 2009 when it became clear that the austerity program introduced in the fall of 2008 wasn't enough. Further, very unpopular moves would be required. But he didn't have the support in the MSZP parliamentary delegation to push through additional spending restrictions. So either he would have to resign or the management of the economic crisis would be shipwrecked. For a whole year prior to that date, thus from the beginning of 2008, there had been a serious "tug-of-war" going on between himself and the party leadership. Gyurcsány realized that the party leadership wanted to see him go.
I might add here that at the time of Gyurcsány's resignation MSZP's support among voters was still 28%, the same as that of Fidesz. The rest fell into the undecided category. But by the beginning of the election campaign the party's support was down to 10%. The reason for this precipitous decline might be explained by several factors, some admittedly conflicting. The additional austerity measures of Gordon Bajnai in his efforts to save the country from default made MSZP more unpopular than before. Second, the new prime minister refused to serve longer than a year and therefore his relative popularity and considerable accomplishments couldn't be used in the MSZP campaign. And finally, although Gyurcsány's popularity didn't seem impressive within the population as a whole because Fidesz supporters despised him, his support among MSZP supporters was very high. Once he was gone the enthusiasm of MSZP voters for the party also waned.
But let's go back to Gyurcsány's pamphlet. Because at the beginning of the election campaign MSZP's support was around 10% and by the end it was almost 20% one can't call the campaign strategy a failure. For example, although a lot of people criticized MSZP's strategy of emphasizing the prevention of a two-thirds majority for Fidesz, Gyurcsány sees no fault with that approach. The problems with the campaign were not "technical" but "political." The politicians couldn't decide how to handle the accomplishments and failures of the past eight years. There was hesitation and a certain amount of cowardice. Each candidate came up with his or her own political message resulting in huge confusion. It is not enough to say that one opposes Jobbik or Fidesz, one must emphasize those things the party can be proud of.
Gyurcsány doesn't think that the party could have won the elections but if that was the case then they shouldn't have made the person of the prime minister the centerpiece of the campaign when they knew full well that Attila Mesterházy will not be prime minister. The messages were not memorable either. Not once could MSZP effectively attack Fidesz. The candidate for prime minister talked about "national reconciliation" when everybody knows that there is no way to come to any reconciliation with Viktor Orbán. Oh, yes, it would be nice to have political peace and perhaps sometime in the future one can even have reconciliation with Viktor Orbán, but it seems a waste of time at the present. How can anyone have an agreement with people who want to throw their opponents into the Danube or with people who wouldn't even sit down to have a conversation with Gordon Bajnai, or who want to annihilate political liberalism and social democracy–asks Gyurcsány. It would be nice if Orbán eventually became the prime minister of the whole nation, but at the moment Gyurcsány sees not the slightest sign of such intentions. Gyurcsány's conclusion is that "Fidesz won, but we defeated ourselves because we engaged in stupid and cowardly politics."
After this general assessment Gyurcsány turns to the specific problems. The party structure is old-fashioned and its functioning cumbersome. About a third or perhaps even half of the party members live off of politics. Paid party functionaries. Most party leaders speak a language that appeals to those over fifty. They don't understand or use the organizational abilities of the Internet. Most of the businessmen who are closer to the Left than to the Right want to gain something from their association with the party instead of helping it out financially. The party is more or less like a rudderless ship. No one can guide it. The leadership of the party is like a bunch of gossipy old ladies who pass inside information to the media. Some of these people, instead of debating their differences behind closed doors, send messages to each other through the media. Often they destroy in order to win. "Some of them are smiling, while from behind they are trying to ruin their opponents." As for the top leadership, it no longer can lead. At best it coordinates.
One of the most important functions of leadership is decision making. To decide what is important and what is less so. When the party chief with the help of his close associates decides on a course of action, he needs the necessary means to accomplish what he has set out to do. For the outsider that seems very simple in the case of Fidesz. Orbán decides and Orbán also has the keys to the vault. Not so in MSZP where the frustrated chairman makes a decision but is unable to proceed because "the treasurer" has the money. Surely Gyurcsány speaks from experience. He says that this practice is at least twenty years old and that he was unable to break the vicious cycle.
Gyurcsány also dwells on the inadequate public financing of political parties which he did try to change but in the last moment Fidesz torpedoed the plan. Obviously Fidesz likes the current arrangement, which basically means getting money from all sorts of illegal sources. I might mention here that some analysts who are very suspicious of Viktor Orbán came up with the idea that once he is in power he will simply put an end to public financing. That would be very popular with the common man and it would give a fantastic advantage to the party in power. They could siphon off billions and billions of public money for party use.
So, what should the immediate task be? The party's political profile must be unambiguous, clear-cut. (1) The party must define itself in the context of "the great political dilemma of today's Hungary." (2) Those leaders, including himself, who have been leading the party in the last eight years "must go." (3) The by-laws of the party must be reworked to make it governable without depriving it of its present democratic nature. (4) The financing of the party must be changed. (5) Because the inner resources of the party are practically gone the rebuilding must rely on the wider segment of society that sympathizes with MSZP and liberalism.
At the moment this plan has many obstacles. Not least that the MSZP parliamentary delegation is made up of those old faces who are associated with the decline of the party. How on earth can they sell a renewal program this way? With two exceptions the members of the caucus will be in parliament because of their high positions on party lists. If we take Gyurcsány's words seriously, all these people should resign and give up their seats to a new set of people. But that doesn't seem to be a live option. Then what?