The result of yesterday’s marathon negotiations is an agreement between Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy to have a common list and to accept Ferenc Gyurcsány and his party, the Demokratikus Koalíció, as part of a new political formation. In addition, the decision was made to have MSZP, as the largest party, name the next prime minister in case of electoral victory.
The news was received with less enthusiasm in democratic opposition circles than I expected. The announcement that MSZP has the right to name the candidate for the post of prime minister was interpreted as a done deal: the candidate will be Attila Mesterházy. After all, he is the leader of the socialist party. That impression was strengthened by Gordon Bajnai who at the joint press conference said that the identity of that person “shouldn’t bring unexpected surprises.” This particular comment shows the relative political inexperience of the former prime minister. If the socialists had wanted to name their candidate for the post, they could have done so on the spot. But, for one reason or another, they decided to be vague.
I think that MSZP’s decision concerning the person of the future prime minister was a wise one because anything can happen in the next few weeks. For example, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Medián, Ipsos, or Tárki immediately began a poll inquiring about the popularity of Mesterházy versus some other possible candidates.
MSZP’s website highlighted Bajnai’s reference to Mesterházy’s candidacy with pleasure. The Bajnai remark prompted the whole Hungarian media to write headlines such as “Mesterházy is the sure candidate for the post of prime minister.” Or, “After all, it is Mesterházy.” Or, “Mesterházy heads the list.” It would have been better to be quiet, especially since the news about Mesterházy’s candidacy didn’t stir much enthusiasm, especially, I suspect, among those who sympathize with Ferenc Gyurcsány and his party or with Gordon Bajnai’s Együtt-2014-PM.
Those who take it for granted that MSZP’s clear choice is Mesterházy object to the decision because of Mesterházy’s inability to rouse the anti-Orbán forces. Why would he be more inspiring in the future, they ask, than he was in the past? Just because Együtt-2014-PM and MSZP are at last willing to negotiate with DK will not change the general mood. One needs a charismatic leader. Someone new.
Those on the left who hate Ferenc Gyurcsány decried the new agreement. László Szily, of the Cink.hu blog, wrote a short post entitled “It hurts, but it’s true: Gyurcsány is the king.” Szily seems to know that Gyurcsány, when he heard the news, “guffawed into the face of Bajnai and Mesterházy.” Why? Because Gyurcsány, who is vacationing abroad with his wife, wrote on Facebook after receiving the news of the decision, “Then I will go home …” Szily’s imagination is truly remarkable.
I assume I don’t have to dwell at length on the reaction in Fidesz and Jobbik circles. I think that Gabriella Selmeczi’s reaction yesterday is typical and unfortunately says a lot about the Fidesz spokeswoman’s intellectual prowess. This is how she described the negotiations between the two parties: “haggling of the bankrupt left”; “the latest comedy of the bankrupt left”; “it is no more than shifty crap, lies on top of lies”; “they talk gibberish and lie all over creation”; “they deny what they said yesterday without batting an eyelash”; “it is not enough that they mislead the people but they stiff their own voters.” These are only a few choice phrases from her elevating speech on the occasion.
The right-wing media specializes in muddying the waters. Magyar Nemzet, in response to some important event on the left, often “leaks” information coming from “reliable sources.” This allegedly inside information usually turns out to be deliberate misinformation which is then picked up by all media outlets, including the liberal dailies and internet sites. A few weeks ago Magyar Nemzet informed its readers that they have Ferenc Gyurcsány’s “complete list” of candidates for the job of prime minister. The eager reporters kept phoning the unsuspecting victims of this particular “joke” of the Fidesz government’s mouthpiece. This time the “well-informed” reporters of Magyar Nemzet threw in another name, Péter Róna, an American educated economist and banker who in the early 1990s returned to Hungary. However, as Zsófia Mihancsik of Galamus pointed out, Róna, who is close to LMP, has fiercely attacked practically all the leading politicians of the present coalition over the last four or five years, and therefore it is unlikely that the Bajnai- Mesterházy-Gyurcsány team would embrace of their fiercest critics.
This alleged “casting” generated by the right certainly doesn’t help the formation of a solid political arrangement on the left. Everybody remembers the painful two or three weeks in March 2009 when Ferenc Gyurcsány unexpectedly resigned without making certain that there was someone in his party who could take over the post of prime minister. What came afterward was a disgraceful scramble and did a lot of damage to MSZP. No wonder that the current actors want to avoid a repeat performance. But, naturally, it is in Fidesz’s interest to give the impression of total chaos. This morning the lead article in Magyar Nemzet bore the title: “Chaotic negotiations.” In fact, this time exactly the opposite was true: The talks were short, no leaks, and perceptible results.
Jobbik naturally went quite a bit further than that. Jobbik’s spokesman, Dóra Dúró, the notorous anti-Semitic Előd Novák’s wife and MP, called the Mesterházy-Bajnai-Gyurcsány team “a gang of criminals.”
As for Viktor Orbán’s reaction. We heard nothing from him directly, but his minister of interior, Sándor Pintér, didn’t even wait for the final results to be announced today. Already last night on HírTV he announced in the course of an interview that it is now time to release some of the documents collected by the secret service on Gyurcsány’s speech at Balatonőszöd right after the election of 2006 whose partial release was used so effectively by the Fidesz propaganda machine. The reason, he added, for not releasing all the material was the data protection rights of the people involved. I have no doubt that Pintér acted under orders from Viktor Orbán who is not at all happy about the recent developments and is trying to derail the negotiations. Gyurcsány’s answer was that he would be glad to release all the documents concerning the case, although he rejects the idea of making available only selected pieces of evidence that most likely serve only the interests of the present government
I left to last the reaction of András Schiffer of LMP. His party was invited to join the trio on the left, which he immediately declined. What he had to say sounded like a combination of the Fidesz-Jobbik messages. “The sparrows of 2010 that had taken flight joined by a cuckoo are now sitting on the same electric wire.” According to him, that “pseudo-left ruined the country and made it dependent on foreigners…. This melodrama that has been arranged by the prominent actors of the Bajnai-Gyurcsány era for the entertainment of the Hungarian voters is only playing into the hands of Viktor Orbán.” He, by contrast, will continue fighting both political elites, the right as well as this phony left.
I might add that yesterday LMP had five MPs but now has only four because Gábor Vágó quit the party and will sit with the independents for the rest of the current parliamentary session. And one of the remaining four, Katalin Ertsey, already announced that she is leaving politics behind altogether. So, I wish András Schiffer lots of luck in his future endeavors.