As I sit here to write about the latest and perhaps the most important political development of 2013, the situation is still far too fluid to be able report on the final outcome of this new round of negotiations among the democratic opposition forces.
Yesterday Gordon Bajnai on ATV and Attila Mesterházy on Magyar Rádió practically simultaneously announced that the negotiations that resulted in the ill-fated bilateral agreement between E14-PM and MSZP proved inadequate to strengthen the anti-Fidesz forces and therefore a renegotiation of the terms is necessary. MSZP has been languishing while E14-PM has been losing support. At the same time Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) has been gaining ground. According to some polls, it has garnered more potential voters than E14-PM which, in its agreement with MSZP, received 31 electoral districts out the available 106 in which the party could name its own candidates. At one point MSZP offered only two losing districts to DK and told the DK negotiating team that several of the party’s top politicians, including the party chairman Ferenc Gyurcsány, were not welcome on the MSZP list. Not surprisingly, DK refused these offers and demands.
In the last couple of months those voters who would like to get rid of Viktor Orbán and his corrupt and incompetent government have become discouraged and dispirited. By mid-December it seemed that at least four democratic opposition parties would run with separate lists and their own candidates, which would make a Fidesz victory in the coming election inevitable. Saner observers pointed out that as long as the anti-Fidesz voters don’t see a united and hence strong opposition, they will not be inspired to either work for the cause or vote for opposition candidates. After all, their efforts and votes would be wasted.
Yet both the Bajnai and the Mesterházy camps remained adamant. They not only refused to listen to “the voice of the people” but also attacked Ferenc Gyurcsány with such vehemence that at one point it looked as if any understanding with DK was impossible. Tibor Szanyi (MSZP), for example, called Gyurcsány “a mentally disturbed Bolshevik billionaire with whom one cannot build a future.” Bajnai accused him of betraying the aspirations of the democratic opposition. László Puch, the powerful MSZP politician who handled the party’s shady finances, said that “Gyurcsány all his life uttered only stupidities.” Gyurcsány stood fast. He has good political instincts and knew that these would not be the final words if events dictate otherwise. Moreover, he claims to be impervious to insults. He considers them part and parcel of politics.
Some people might complain that opposition politicians could have saved themselves a lot of headaches if they had realized the force of Gyurcsány’s opinion on the issue at the very beginning: given the new electoral rules, one can win against Fidesz only if there is a common list and one candidate for the post of prime minister. Mesterházy claimed yesterday with some justification that MSZP’s original idea was indeed to have a common platform, and negotiations to that end even began about a year ago. At that time it was Gordon Bajnai’s team that decided not to attend these meetings. And so the idea withered away.
In fact, E14-PM kept postponing negotiations with MSZP in the hope of making the party stronger and thus having a stronger negotiating position. Mesterházy also indicated yesterday that it was E14-PM that was dead set against the participation of DK and Ferenc Gyurcsány in the negotiations. Apparently, it was not so much Gordon Bajnai who felt so strongly against his former friend and political ally but the few former LMP politicians who had left their party and joined Együtt 2014. This antagonism was understandable because, after all, LMP was a political formation that came into being in direct opposition to Ferenc Gyurcsány and his policies.
But finger pointing doesn’t lead anywhere. It is possible that originally it was E14-PM that was the obstacle to wider cooperation, but MSZP’s Mesterházy and some politicians around him were quick to follow the lead of Bajnai’s party. In fact, in the last few weeks one gained the distinct impression that E14-PM had had a change of heart and instead of the earlier harsh talk against Gyurcsány, E14-PM politicians were carefully leaving the door open for a renegotiation of the terms of the agreement signed by the two parties.
According to yesterday’s Népszava there were a number of influential liberal intellectuals who helped Gordon Bajnai make up his mind. Népszava mentioned by name László Bitó, formerly professor of ocular physiology at Columbia University and writer of fiction since his retirement in Hungary; Ágnes Heller, philosopher; Bálint Magyar, SZDSZ politician and former minister of education; Sándor Radnóti, literary historian; and Iván Fischer, conductor and music director of the renowned Budapest Festival Orchestra. These people have argued passionately for some time that the opposition’s ticket should include all parties and individuals who could contribute to an electoral victory in April.
Gordon Bajnai announced his willingness to abandon the idea of becoming the next prime minister of Hungary. Actually, if the old agreement between E14-PM and MSZP had remained in force, even then it would have been unlikely that Bajnai would have become prime minister given the large difference in size between the two parties.
Mesterházy in theory also showed his willingness to talk about all possible issues, even including giving up his candidacy for the post of prime minister. Lately there has been a lot of talk about both men stepping back and finding a third attractive and inspiring candidate. What we heard this afternoon, however, after a three-hour meeting between the negotiating teams of Bajnai and Mesterházy belies the latter’s openness to giving up his claim to the leading position on the common ticket.
MSZP seems to be rather inflexible in other respects as well. According to some socialist sources, the party doesn’t want to give a place on the common ticket to Ferenc Gyurcsány. We know enough about the membership of DK to realize that neither the membership nor the party’s other leaders would ever agree to his exclusion. I can’t believe that MSZP will be able to maintain that position. People are sick and tired of politicians in general and are especially tired of those politicians whose political ambitions seem to override the needs of the country. Too much insistence on the premiership may backfire. Moreover, Fidesz’s spokesman concentrated her criticism of the announcement on the selfishness of the politicians involved, whose only concern is personal gain.
We don’t know what the final result will be. After three hours of negotiations this afternoon the two teams decided to continue talks this evening. We will see what tomorrow brings. And the next day. And the day after that….