The state of the Hungarian left and Ferenc Gyurcsány

I think it is time to return to the affairs of the opposition parties, which are in bad shape.You may recall that at the European parliamentary election it became clear that the strength of MSZP was nowhere near what the party leaders believed or wanted to believe. But Attila Mesterházy, who is considered to be a less than an inspiring leader, was a skillful negotiator. He managed to negotiate a joint party list for the national election of the three parties–MSZP, DK, and Együtt 2014-PM–that greatly favored MSZP. Currently, MSZP has 28 seats in parliament while the other two parties have only four each when in the EU election MSZP received 10.9% of the votes cast against DK’s 9.75% and Együtt 2014-PM’s 7.25%. Since then, according to Ipsos, MSZP lost a couple more percentage points while DK gained the same amount. Együtt 2014-PM’s support is unchanged.

Attila Mesterházy is gone as party chairman, but in parliament MSZP has a relatively large delegation with a party that currently has only about an 8% share of the electorate. Meanwhile the other two parties are deprived of the minimum number of members that would allow them to have their own parliamentary caucuses. They therefore have very limited opportunities to play an active role in parliament. They cannot have representation on parliamentary committees and their ability to speak or ask questions is greatly restricted. As Ferenc Gyurcsány admitted, DK “was too generous in its negotiations with MSZP.”

It is not only Mesterházy who has more or less disappeared from the political scene. I strongly suspect that Gordon Bajnai, despite his protestations to the contrary, will not be around for long. The party will be headed by a troika–Péter Juhász (Milla), Sándor Székely (Solidarity), and Viktor Szigetvári (Együtt 2014). Nobody from the Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM) seems to be represented. With this leadership, I have the feeling, Együtt 2014 will not be able to develop a large base and, in fact, might not last longer than its name implies.

As for MSZP, the leadership is searching for a new leader, and it looks as if József Tóbiás will be the man to succeed Mesterházy. Tóbiás might be a perfectly capable man, but charismatic he is not. Tabloids often talk about his wife who, as the second-runner-up in the Miss Hungary pageant, is well known, especially since she often makes appearances in soaps on RTL Klub. Maybe Tóbiás has some secret medicine for the ills of MSZP, but I will be most surprised if thanks to his activities the socialists double their popularity any time soon.

That leaves DK and Ferenc Gyurcsány. The party’s success in the EP election surprised everybody, perhaps even its leaders. Of course, before the election Gyurcsány gave the impression of great confidence. He went so far as to announce that if DK does not reach the 5% that would qualify the party to send at least one delegate to Brussels, he would resign. The reaction from the anti-Gyurcsány camp was derision. He? He will never resign. Luckily for him, he did not have to contemplate a move that would have destroyed DK which is, just like Fidesz, a one-man party though without the kind of undemocratic, centralized organization that is characteristic of Viktor Orbán’s party.

DK-logo2Success breeds success, as the saying goes. A couple of weeks after the election DK’s spokesman, Zsolt Gréczy, announced that DK had received applications for membership from over 860 people. MSZP politicians charged that Ferenc Gyurcsány had been phoning local MSZP leaders, trying to entice them to join DK. Gyurcsány’s answer to that was that “they come without asking.” One thing is sure, Gyurcsány has been even more active than he normally is. He is in the middle of organizing an anti-government demonstration. He also made several appearances on ATV and gave two long interviews, one to Origo and another to Index. Both are long and cover a lot of ground. Here I will concentrate on only two themes: the municipal elections and his views on the possible course of Hungarian politics in the future. Both were discussed in the Origo interview.

Although it was obvious that Gyurcsány had struck a bad bargain with MSZP before the national election, he, unlike Együtt-2014, still thinks that the three parties must run again under a common umbrella organization in the municipal elections. Otherwise, they have no chance against Fidesz. It is especially true after the government changed the rules of the game in Budapest. Until now all the inhabitants of the capital city voted for a lord mayor (főpolgármester) while inhabitants of each of the twenty-three districts voted for their own candidates for district mayor. At the same time all voters cast their votes for party lists. The composition of the city council was decided on the basis of the number of votes each party received. Now, there will no longer be party lists. The district mayors will make up the city council. János Áder signed the bill into law, although it is most likely unconstitutional. The population of the districts varies greatly, so it can easily happen that one member of the council will be elected by 90,000 people while another by only 30,000. But János Áder, just like his predecessor, has no problems signing anything his party and his friend, Viktor Orbán, find important. And he did find this bill important because without it there might have been a Fidesz defeat in Budapest. And that cannot be allowed. It is for this reason that Gyurcsány is such a champion of another “unity alliance.”

As for the possibilities for the future. Gyurcsány thinks that the changes on the left will be the result of “a long, organic development with different possible outcomes.” The simplest would be that each party goes its own way and sometime in 2017 they put together an “electoral coalition.” The second possibility is closer cooperation among the three parties. The third, which Gyurcsány described as a “dream,” is that “one day the voters and the party leaders decide that these three parties and perhaps some others should create one large democratic party.” But, he added, for the time being he does not see the slightest chance of such a development; perhaps “one day such an idea might become a reality.”

There is no question that Gyurcsány hopes that a large, powerful party on the left will materialize. Although at the end of the interview he denied the possibility that he would be the one to head such a unity party, one has the feeling that deep down that is exactly what he would like to achieve. And, looking around, I see no one else at the moment who could possibly fill the bill. Of course, someone may show up in the next few years who could have a real chance against Viktor Orbán, especially if he continues his irresponsible economic policies. Yes, I know, lately the GDP numbers look good, but every responsible economist claims that they are not sustainable. Moreover, another 100-150 billion forints are missing from the budget and that means yet another austerity program. A few more stories about János Lázár’s trips to the Riviera and his extravagant hotel bills might change the mood of the electorate. Gyurcsány at least thinks that Orbán might not last until 2018–but then he’s something of a cockeyed optimist.

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Minusio
Guest
Despite the inexplicable hatred he is still facing, Gyurcsány is still the only able politician in Hungary. But he, too, is trying to convince only by his ideas how he might get back in power. I fail to see any big vision for a democratic, cultured Hungary with a solid civic society. However, all electoral arithmetics will lead to nothing as long as Orbán is around – and turn it as you wish: He cannot be unseated by democratic means anymore. The first communal elections in 2010 caused suspicion, the electoral laws and their fine-tuning that followed made it a certainty. My expectation has been from the beginning that with the EU money and the exports and taxes generated by the foreign-owned companies and their employees and every higher consumer taxes Orbán will eventually drive the Hungarian economy against the wall – but that this could take a long time, especially so as under Barroso, the EU was really dragging its feet to invoke any sanctions. Now, a new and interesting constellation might be around the corner. Both Cameron and Orbán oppose Juncker as the next President of the European Commission. As far as I can see, they are the… Read more »
Minusio
Guest
A little OT, but perhaps explaining the dynamics a little. Basically, Cameron is inept. And stupidity is an insurmountable problem [“Gegen Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.” – Friedrich von Schiller]. After painting himself in a corner domestically, he is close to finishing the same job on the EU platform. Although they have little to sell, many Brits (close to half at times) only wanted the free European market bit of the EU, out of some imperial arrogance and – even more so – ignorance of what the EU is about. Britain is not even among the five biggest net payers to the EU per capita. And their cherry-picking attitude is in violation of one of the EU fundamentals: solidarity. I wouldn’t call what is probably going to happen this week (Juncker’s election is all but uncertain, now that the European Socialdemocrats have vowed to vote for him as well) a train wreck, as some journalists do. Cameron isn’t much of a train. It will show him what Switzerland feels like now after the silly vote on “mass immigration” having to beg Brussels for some benevolence in future negotiations – or face the consequence of being a historic figure having broken… Read more »
fugit
Guest

Orban’s supporters can come up with lots of money.
Orban’s position is assured by this money.
Nobody will bring him down, as long as this money can buy positive PR for him and negative PR for the opposition.

buddy
Guest

Sorry Éva, I’m afraid your normally very lucid writing was a bit less clear this time.In the first paragraph, you make it sound like the opposition ran a joint list in the European Parliament election, which of course they did not. And a bit later, you neglected to mention the number of seats DK won in the European Parliamentary elections (3), which was an important factor in their rejoicing. Of course, most readers of your blog already know this, but perhaps some of the less informed ones might not be aware of these facts. Otherwise, I enjoy your analysis of current events!

Guest

DK representatives will join the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament, even though MSZP was against the idea but this is also true for other national Socialist parties who now face competition from new left-wing parties.

Schultz initially hoped to get some kind of Super Vice-president post in the future European Commission, it looks like he might eventually be again presidency of the European Parliament after all.

Max
Guest

@buddy

DK has won 2 seats in the EP, not 3

Nádas
Guest

“There is no question that Gyurcsány hopes that a large, powerful party on the left will materialize. ”

As unfair as it may seem, and despite his continuing popularity with a relatively small core of steadfast supporters, Gyurcsány remains highly controversial. He is unlikely to regain enough personal support to revive the MSzP, and his obstinate and ubiquitous presence in the last election – to say nothing of his forming a splinter party that merely fractured the anti-Fidesz vote – has to be at the top of the “How The Left Blew It” list.

He needs to spend his time in the wilderness reflecting on how he can best serve the country, even if that means taking a less public role – at least until Orbán has become so repellant that even the guy from whose mouth those infamous words came in Öszöd looks good again by comparison.

googly
Guest

fugit,

You wrote: “Orban’s supporters can come up with lots of money.
Orban’s position is assured by this money.
Nobody will bring him down, as long as this money can buy positive PR for him and negative PR for the opposition.”

If that were true, then Fidesz would have done even better at the recent elections, instead of receiving less than a majority of the votes (and that was after a pathetic campaign by MSZP). Money only goes so far, and people are only so gullible. If the economy does badly or Hungary gets punished by the EU (or kicked out of the EU), there won’t be enough money to fool the Hungarian electorate.

demodictor
Guest

Googly wrote at June 23, 2014 at 5:36 am: “If that were true, then Fidesz would have done even better at the recent elections, instead of receiving less than a majority of the votes (and that was after a pathetic campaign by MSZP). ”

Fidesz and Jobbik were able to raise immense funds to get enough votes in a rigged electoral system to win precinct after precinct a governing super majority.

Masses of willing, heavily corrupted citizens voted for fidesz/jobbik in national and local elections.

Sandor Petofi and his friends could only cry, if they had lived now, because more Hungarians betrayed the aspiration for freedom in 2014 than ever.

ralmosd@gmail.com
Guest

Küldve a BlackBerry(R) vezeték nélküli kéziszámítógépről

buddy
Guest

@Eva, Max – yes, sorry, you are correct, DK did win 2 seats, not 3. I guess I shouldn’t be correcting anybody 🙂

googly
Guest

Minusio,

You wrote: “Despite the inexplicable hatred he is still facing, Gyurcsány is still the only able politician in Hungary.”

You’re kidding, right? He allowed himself to be recorded admitting that he lied constantly, yet stayed in the job (during the lying and after the recording was released). I like him, and if anyone reads or listens to the entire speech, it was a bold, necessary thing to say. However, the hatred is completely understandable, and he has made many huge mistakes in his political career after amassing wealth under seemingly dishonorable circumstances. Of course, he is a saint compared to most politicians, especially those in Fidesz, but don’t pretend that you don’t understand why so many people hate him.

The rest of your post seems very astute, although you are too cynical when you say that Orbán cannot be removed democratically. Implication in one major scandal, preferably with a video of him doing or saying something truly offensive to Hungarians, and no amount of dirty tricks will save him and his party.

googly
Guest
demodictor, I don’t see things the way you see them, though I agree that Petőfi Sándor would have been very sad. I believe that most right-wing voters are not corrupt, but they are unhappy with their situation, and are politically naive. Hungarians have only had a generation of democracy, which is not enough time to truly absorb the implications of the political system. If we can reestablish a more democratic system, eventually people will come to realize what the maintenance of such a system entails. Even in countries with a long history of democracy there are anti-democratic tendencies, and the vast majority of voters here were educated by the communist system, which did virtually nothing to prepare them to become thoughtful, diligent, informed voters who understand that without huge reserves of oil or gas, democracy is the only way to achieve stable wealth and social peace with fairness. More specifically to your remarks: if, after 4 years of Fidesz rule, their rigged system can only bring them less than 45% of the vote, there is hope. Any further rigging would result in removal from the EU and certain economic calamity – another 4 years will probably mean an even lower… Read more »
oszoszod
Guest

Googly and the rest of the Hungarians, who walked into the PR trap on the Oszod tapes, you have to be as honest as Gyurcsany was.

His message was crystal clear.

His nation has failed him.

The only guilty party is the lying orban/vona/kover/morvay… junta.

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

I know it is not PC to criticize Gyurcsany on this blog, but I can’t help thinking that it is time for him to retire and allow new, fresh faces to emerge. At this point Gyurcsany is Fidesz’s best vote getter, he is the one that many people love to vote against. 9.75% votes in the EU parliamentary election is hardly a major victory, which shows that he has very little traction with Hungarian voters. Hungary needs a healthy left-of-center opposition party. It’s time to free it from the current set of losers.

D7 Democrat
Guest

“Implication in one major scandal, preferably with a video of him doing or saying something truly offensive to Hungarians, and no amount of dirty tricks will save him and his party.”

It would need to be seen by a majority of the electorate- difficult since the regime has its jackboot on the media’s need. Secondly, even if it were broadcast would a large enough number of people care?

FreedomShip
Guest

Ditto.
Gyurcsany gained his liberalism when he realized the virtues of Imre Nagy.
Gyurcsany is representing a humanism, so rare among the apathetic Hungarians.
Let us find any honesty or humanism in the hidden corners of Orban.
I think we will come up empty handed.
Gyurcsany must turn now to Ferenc Deak, who introduced the reforms with his Liberal Party.
The result was a singular freedom for all Hungarians.
The new freedom will be probably created by a Gyurcsany or somebody similar.
Most of the liberal commentators here, should make a mental effort to restore freedom to the gulash dictatorship.

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

Eva Balogh writes: ” I assume we are all entitled to our opinions.”

Of course you are! Why would you even ask such a question? I was simply voicing my own opinion, like everyone else who comments on your blog.

bela
Guest

“Gy was probably amongst the most clear-sighted and least corrupt politicians Hungary has had in a long time”.

I would say Gyurcsany is perhaps an idealist, but he lost all his credibility when the speak of Oszod leaked out. The left wing has to find new faces. Gyurcsany will never win another election.

Istvan
Guest
Hungary is now in what the IMF calls the German-Central European supply chain (GCESC). Large labor cost differentials together with geographical proximity have led many German firms to shift large parts of their production to central European countries, most notably the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia (CE4) either by directly investing there or by purchasing intermediate products from local firms. On average it is 58% less expensive for a German company to outsource to Hungary than to produce the same component in Germany. The MSZP is fundamentally linked to the GCESC process and the EU. The MSZP help establish this level of dependency when it ruled. While Fidesz is also intimately linked to the GCESA process in Hungary it has created rhetorical nationalist space from the reality of a low wage economy that is driven by the German need for outsourcing, the MSZP has not created such a space. According to the Hungarian Statistics Office based on data released on June 19, 2014 healthcare workers (who are poorest paid group in Hungary) on average make only $7,223 a year in US dollars after taxes. In the US, Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments for individuals too disabled to work… Read more »
bela
Guest

“The survey conducted from June 6 to 13 indicated decreased support for the MSZP showing a decline from 11 to 8 per cent of the voting-age population since the elections. As for support for the MSZP among young people – 20′s and 30′s age groups – it was only 3-4 per cent, but 20 percent of people over 65. The data for other opposition parties was equally dismal. ”

I do not blame the younger generation. The MSZP and SZDSZ had led to country for eight years and we saw the result……..
The majority of Hungarians do not care about politics. The life prospect has been very depressing in Hungary recently. They only want to see a prosperous country. If Orban is able to sustain economic growth in the country he will win the next election in 2018.

Guest
@Istvan re the supply chain: This is a very precarious situation for Hungary because the companies (whether German or not) will continue to search for even cheaper manufacturing facilities. Many of the German clothes makers (Mustang for Jeans, Boss for shirts, another that makes bras – all from my Schwab neighbourhood) have already left Hungary again where they were for maybe ten years – because wages are even lower somewhere else. So this is no long term solution – Hungary must find industries where the special qualifications of Hungarian workers are needed, but where are these? Fidesz is on a path to a Feudal society with a few rich but also a lot of unqualified people who will be treated like slaves even … They don’t (want to) invest money in schooling, universities etc. Our young ones are right now trying to get additional qualifications – but they have to pay for them themselves. Now where would they find the money if they didn’t have us? This is a strange situation similar to the health service: There is a minimal service for everyone – but if you want/need something special you’re on your own and have to pay. My wife… Read more »
bela
Guest

Dear Eva,

They believe it, at the moment. Hungarians do not understand politics, do not care about human rights, liberty of speech etc.. The majority live in an unstable state therefore they are becoming very selfish. If the government decreases the prices of the bills the population will love it. If Orban attacks the EU for the “Hungarian interest” the Hungarians will support him. The population need the illusion of prosperity and the illusion of a chance for better life. It seems Orban’s populist tactics have been successful. Orban’s -internal- communication is excellent. I see the growing number of dissatisfied people (this “dissatisfaction” started in the previous decade IMO) but a substantial part of them simple leave the country (!600 thousands! have already immigrated abroad) and will not participate in the Hungarian elections. If the “left wing” wants to win in 2018 they have to bring new, talented, !charismatic! politicians. Unfortunately populism is working very well in Hungary (similarly to the western countries and USA) therefore I predict a loud populist campaigns in 2018.

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