I’m going to cover several intertwined topics today.
Perhaps the most important news of the day was that three members of parliament (two Fidesz, one KDNP) submitted their draft bill on the most recent changes in the new electoral law. This bill, the key provisions of which I’ll outline later on in this post, might act as a catalyst for possible change on the political left and be center stage in Hungarian political life for months to come.
But first let’s step back a bit to last week’s hunger strike by four members of Demokratikus Koalíció, a new party established by former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and several other former members of MSZP. Some leading members of the by now defunct liberal party SZDSZ and the right-of-center MDF have since joined DK.
The media’s initial reaction to the idea of a week-long hunger strike was, as I noted earlier, largely negative. Even in the liberal and socialist media there were scores of critical articles. As time went by, however, people changed their minds. Even those who had been very critical of Ferenc Gyurcsány, primarily because they considered him a traitor to the socialist cause, came to the conclusion that the former prime minister had managed to call a very apathetic country’s attention to the threat of an electoral law that might mean the end of Hungarian democracy, even formally.
Gyurcsány seems to be so eager to form a solid unified opposition that he has gone so far as to officially announce that not only does he have no intention of being a candidate for prime minister but he is ready to endorse anyone chosen by a future united opposition. He initially announced that he is ready to endorse Attila Mesterházy if he is chosen, although Gordon Bajnai’s ideas about the future of Hungary are closer to his own thinking. The next day he went further. He declared that he would even vote for András Schiffer (LMP) if he were the candidate. You may recall that it was András Schiffer who brought charges against Gyurcsány because of his handling of the sale of a tract of land where American and Israeli businessmen were planning to build a casino-wellness complex.
There were faint signs of a positive reaction from MSZP to Gyurcsány’s gesture. Mesterházy immediately announced that MSZP will support the demonstration announced by DK for Saturday afternoon. I spotted Ildikó Lendvai in the crowd, but that didn’t surprise me terribly. After all, Lendvai not long ago wrote an article urging the establishment of a united opposition, and during the hunger strike she visited the striking DK politicians. What, on the other hand, did surprise me was that Tibor Szanyi (MSZP), who said not a few very nasty things about Gyurcsány in the last year or so was also there. Moreover, earlier Szanyi and Ágnes Vadai (DK) had a joint appearance, taking part in a kind of friendly debate about what to do next.
LMP was not moved. The party leadership steadfastly maintains that the Orbán government can be ousted at the next elections, regardless of what kind of electoral law is finally accepted, without a unified opposition emerging before the elections. When LMP politicians face questions about their specific plans, however, they cannot really answer. One of the most pitiful recent examples of such an encounter was an interview yesterday with Benedek Jávor, the whip of the LMP delegation. This morning when Gergely Karácsony, another important LMP politician, was asked whether LMP would join DK in forming a “living chain” around the parliament building, he proudly announced that he and his fellow LMP politicians discuss matters in parliament and not on the streets. This remark is especially amusing because until now it was mostly members of the LMP delegation who liked to chain themselves to objects, only to be removed by the police. Jávor went so far as to claim that Gyurcsány’s hunger strike will have only one result: the Hungarian people will love the idea of registration. Of course, this is colossal nonsense. A recent poll from Nézőpont, a research institute close to Fidesz, indicates that 75% of the people are against Fidesz’s registration scheme.
This is where we stand. So, let’s see what the Orbán government is planning to do.
First, yes, there will definitely be registration. And it’s not a one-shot deal: every four years citizens wishing to vote will have to re-register. Registration will enable the voter to vote in all elections for the next four years: national, local, European, or, for that matter, by-elections. If a person fails to register, he deprives himself from voting for four solid years.
Second, the Fidesz government is not at all sure whether the newly introduced registration procedure will be constitutional. That fine point never bothered them in the last two years. Moreover, their sacred new constitution has already been changed once and will be changed time and again. Right now at least three new constitutional changes are being contemplated: retirement age of judges, limit on the sovereign debt, and now voter registration.
Third, the endorsement tickets (ajánlószelvény) will be replaced by an endorsement sheet (ajánlóív) on which 200 signatures will enable a candidate to run. Since Hungarians will be allowed to endorse more than one candidate in a race, signatures should be very easy to come by.
Fourth, perhaps the most important question cannot be answered yet because there is no word in the proposal about campaign financing. Rumor has it that individual candidates would receive 2-3 million forints from the budget instead of lump sums going to parties based on the party’s size. So, this critical question remains unanswered.
On a somewhat lighter note, one of the members of parliament who submitted this bill was Lajos Kósa. He gave an interview on the subject this morning on MTV. As we know, Kósa talks too much and often says very stupid things. I think it is enough to remember when he briefly shook the entire financial world by announcing in the summer of 2010 that Hungary was close to bankruptcy.
Well, this time he was trying to explain how much better this new electoral law was going to be than the previous one because even “with the endorsement tickets real clowns could be elected.” He immediately gave an example: József Torgyán, chairman of the now defunct Smallholders Party. Who was Torgyán? Once upon a time he was an important man. In 1998 without Torgyán Viktor Orbán wouldn’t have been able to win the elections, and as a result the first Orbán government–often called Orbán-Torgyán government–was actually a coalition government. Orbán wanted to be prime minister so badly that he even promised the presidency to Torgyán. No question, Torgyán was a clown, but Torgyán never had to collect endorsement tickets. At every election from 1990 on, Torgyán was elected from the Smallholders’ party list. Oh well, checking facts really is a colossal nuisance.