The sorry state of the Hungarian opposition: The Budapest municipal elections

It was around noon in Hungary when I began writing this post on the negotiations among the three democratic parties in preparation for the municipal elections on October 12, and I’m not at all sure that within a few hours, by the time I upload this post, the situation won’t have turned around 180 degrees.

I began collecting material on these negotiations right after the national election on April 6. On April 23 a strange news item appeared in Index according to which the socialists had a magic formula for certain victory in the Budapest municipal election. What if, said Zsolt Molnár who at that time was chairman of the Budapest MSZP, András Schiffer’s LMP, a party known for its refusal to cooperate with any other opposition force, would nominate a person for lord mayor (főpolgármester) whom MSZP, and presumably DK and Együtt-PM, would support? Schiffer’s answer was brief and to the point: “let’s not clown around.”

Well, since then the three parties–MSZP, DK, and Együtt-PM–have been doing nothing else but clowning around although it is critical that they reach an understanding. It is only in Budapest that the democratic opposition has a chance to win the city and perhaps even the post of lord mayor.

Viktor Orbán was well aware of the threat  because the results of both the national and the EP elections indicated that the democratic opposition had a chance of taking the city back from Fidesz. It was at this point that Fidesz decided to change Budapest’s electoral law so that it would be very hard for the opposition to gain a majority on the city council. In the past, positions on the council were determined by the number of votes received on straight party lists. From here on, mayoral winners on the district level (and there are 23 districts in Budapest) will make up the council. Thus, the opposition parties cannot compete individually; they have to agree on common candidates.

The jostling began immediately. It was clear from day one that the three parties must agree on a common candidate for the position of lord mayor. Weeks went by, with a different name circulating every other day. Hungarians call this graceless performance “casting,” using the English word for the phenomenon. Finally, after weeks of searching for someone who would take the job and who was also acceptable to the three parties, the candidate was announced a few days ago: Ferenc Falus, a physician who served as the country’s chief medical officer between 2007 and 2010. He is described by people who know him and worked with him as a good administrator and “almost stupidly honest.” Moreover, he seems to be everything that István Tarlós is not. While Tarlós is an intolerant boor and quite vulgar, he is a mild-mannered, well-spoken gentleman.

At least the three parties agree on Ferenc Falus as candidate for mayor of Budapest

At least the three parties agree on Ferenc Falus as candidate for mayor of Budapest

Although choosing the candidate for the post of lord mayor was not easy and seemed to take forever, the decisions on some 300 posts on the district level were even more difficult. Why such large numbers?  Because for each district the three parties had to agree on not only the person of the mayor but also members of the district councils. And naturally, each party wanted to have as many of their own people as possible.

As the national and EP elections demonstrated in Budapest, DK and Együtt-PM have taken away a fair number of votes from MSZP. Although the strength of the three parties is more or less equally divided, leaders of  MSZP seem to have some difficulty understanding that their party is no longer the “large” party while the other two are the “small” ones.

MSZP’s chief negotiator was Ágnes Kunhalmi, the new chair of the Budapest MSZP. She is young woman who until recently was the face of MSZP only when it came to matters of education. But then, Kunhalmi was thrust into the limelight just before the national elections when in the last minute she was nominated by the party to run instead of the disgraced Gábor Simon in Budapest’s 15th electoral district. She lost to her Fidesz opponent in a very tight race. In fact, the difference was so small, something like 200 votes, that a complete recount would have been in order. Kunhalmi was suddenly a star in the party.

It seemed to me that negotiations went along splendidly as long as Kunhalmi didn’t have to return to party headquarters to get approval of the deal from the chief honchos. But there Kunhalmi ran into difficulty. She asked for a few days to iron things out but said she was sure that in a day or so she will get the okay. The deadline had to be extended because MSZP was unhappy with its lot. Finally, a “firm” deadline was fixed for Friday, but Friday came and Friday went and MSZP was still playing coy. Then they got another extension, to midnight on Monday. But by Tuesday morning there was still no MSZP agreement. It was at this point that Viktor Szigetvári, who seems to be running the show  in Együtt-PM, announced that their patience had been exhausted: they will run their own candidates in districts where MSZP refuses to recognize the tripartite agreement.

The revolt against the agreement apparently came from MSZP politicians who have been in city politics for a long time and who couldn’t understand why they would have to give up their places to inexperienced newcomers. After all, they have the experience that will be necessary in case of an electoral victory.

This may be true, but the electorate will not appreciate MSZP’s arguments. They only see that while the two other parties, especially DK, are eager to cooperate, MSZP stands in the way of an understanding. They are running out of time and the campaign cannot begin. A lot of people, including faithful MSZP voters, are disgusted with the performance of the socialists. At the same time I doubt that Együtt-PM will gain extra votes by their abrupt decision to go it alone. On the contrary, they might lose some because voters will punish them for their impetuous behavior.

DK at the moment is sitting on the sidelines, watching the battle between MSZP and Együtt-PM. Under the circumstances this seems to be the best strategy. In my opinion, the warring parties can only lose with this latest conflict. People are fed up with parties in general and even more fed up with the democratic opposition, whose members seem to be more preoccupied with their personal ambitions than with unseating the current administration in Budapest and elsewhere in the country.

In the last few hours Ágnes Kunhalmi fought back. By mid-afternoon she expressed her astonishment at Együtt-PM’s announcement about the breakdown of  negotiations when only a few seats were still undecided out of the 300. MSZP was supposed to announce its agreement to the nomination of the last three candidates. She accused Szigetvári of personal ambitions to which he is ready to sacrifice the chances of the opposition at the Budapest election. Stop, a portal close to the socialists, thought that the biggest loser in this latest turn of events is Együtt-PM because, after all, the other two parties are in favor of continuing talks and compromise. A few hours later, Kunhalmi decided to use less belligerent language in connection with Együtt-PM’s decision  to withdraw from further negotiations. She expressed her belief that there will be an agreement.

There may be, but the last few weeks of negotiations among the three parties did not enhance their reputations. The voters’ faith in their political acumen has been further eroded as the result of all that wrangling. Trust in their ability to govern either the city or the country may have been shaken in light of their inability to present a united front against a very resolute and ruthless political foe.

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tinshed
Guest
The continued disunity and fractiousness of the Hungarian opposition parties seemingly knows no ends. It is all very disheartening. When the history of 21st century Hungary is written I am sure historians will justly point the finger at the way the opposition dealt with the threat posed by FIDESZ and their almost suicidal self-interest in face of Viktor Orbán. I am reminded of the role of the Hungarian nobility in the decades leading up to the disaster of Mohács. Following the death of Matthias they were solely concerned with strengthening their power and privilege and did all they could to weaken the role and influence of the monarch (and the peasantry of course too!) in pursuit of their self interest. All the while the Turkish threat grew ever more and instead of a united and strong Hungary to face the threat, the Turks were faced with a rabble. The nobility’s selfishness and short-sightedness so weakened Hungary that the result was a 150 years of servitude to the Turks. The impact of those years was felt for centuries. Of course it comes down to leadership. The opposition has no leader, no-one strong and capable of uniting the various factions and parties… Read more »
Member

@tinshed Very well said. I think although this time the treat of Hungary is within. Orban is 21st century “Turkish invasion” of Hungary.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Tinshed: leadership problem? Sure. But what’s the platform?

tinfoil
Guest

I bet many are regretting even their earlier votes for the opposition based on this disaster.

It is almost as if their mission is to prove they are incompetent, unfit and driven solely by the pursuit of their self interest. If something does not change in their behavior, a historic defeat can be expected in the municipal elections.

the lord of pol pot county
Guest
the lord of pol pot county
Jobbik is the clear favorite everywhere. Jobbikniks show unity and resoluteness too. They have extremely strong grass-roots organisation. For any (remaining) left wing supporter the level of organization at Jobbik is unbelievable, and most importantly they have the perfect ideology for the moment. Jobbik’s brand is squeeky clean. Sure, not among the remaining liberals but among the most people in Hungary. This is exactly what they want. Jobbik is the party which has the potential of unseating of Fidesz, though since Jobbbik is partly Fidesz’ creation, a in a way a kind of Sancho the sidekick, it will not be so easy. But the current left wing has not reached rock bottom, it will apparently need this municipal election to finally understand that the game is over for it. Even then I guess the remainders will continue for years because they will just not realize that the world has changed around them (and significantly due to their unbelievable incompetence). Although I can well imagine that Fidesz will somehow keep MSZP alive (as it is probably doing it already) just to make any unity impossible. This is well thought out, the lefties are not up to the game. They just don’t… Read more »
buddy
Guest

Check this out: I just taught an English lesson focusing on cross-cultural miscommunication, and on p.52 of the In Company language textbook, there’s actually a listening activity where a team of British people are talking about their failed attempts to negotiate with a Hungarian team.

There are some prescient quotes in it about the Hungarian negotiating style:

B: “I thought we were just about ready to execute and then, suddenly, it’s like we’re right back to square one.”
A: “I mean, if they had all these objections, why didn’t they raise them before?”

B: “Hm. It looks to me as though they just can’t stick to a decision once it’s made.”

I wonder if they were negotiating with MSZP leaders!

wake up call
Guest

OT:

Gaspar Miklos Tamas wrote a piece about Israel in HVG a liberal weekly. This piece of drivel used sentences such as:

“The present preventative and punitive war by Israel is without minimal signs of concern and decency. The arguments of the Israel apologists are not worthy to debate.”

OR

“Israel builds settlements outside of their own recognized borders under military protection. Settlements that they can maintain only with ruthless terror against the Palestine population. This retroactively justifies their inhumane and aggressive military doctrine.”

http://hvg.hu/velemeny.publicisztika/20140812_TGM_Izrael_es_mi

More could be quoted but you get the point. It is almost a provocation towards Israel and the scary thing is that HVG sinks so low as to print such an outrage.

I think in the face of such attack it is important to stress Israel’s rights to defend itself and their civilian population. Do they read articles before printing at HVG? At minimum they should give an opportunity for a response by the embassy or something.

Member

Totally OT: Tibor Navracsics (Hungary’s MInister of Foreign Affairs) decided to take his foreign affair negotiation wit the EU online. You know how Adler wrote the new constitution between Budapest and Brussels on his iPad? Now Navacsics wrote to the EU on Twitter. I assume he wrote it to the EU as it is in English, not in HUngarian (the only official language of Hungary).
“Sanctions against #Russia cause 80 million € loss a year to the #Hungarian agricultural export. Soon some compensation needed at #EU-level.”
How eloquent, and proper. #Navracsics fits his job as much as most Fidesz politicians. #Fideszpoliticiansinanutshell

SmaragdZaszlo
Guest

Palestinian enemy – their negotiations in Cairo with Israel about ending the Gaza war, are similar to the Hungarian salami tactics.

The Palestinian team is split along 3-4 fault lines. No firm result can be achieved while the greater part of the team has faith only in violence, and loves every rocket launched against Israel.

The smart TGM is explaining us something that he himself hardly understands.

Even progressive and liberal commentators should know something about the subject they are ready to analyze.

Guest
London Calling! buddy! “I thought we were just about ready to execute and then, suddenly, it’s like we’re right back to square one.” A: “I mean, if they had all these objections, why didn’t they raise them before?” When my partner phoned a car breaker somewhere near Gyor he agreed a price on some Mercedes seats. When we phoned a couple of weeks later he still had them and agreed the same price. We agreed to pick them up in a couple of hours and all seemed well. We came from quite a distance – and he knew it – and when we arrived he reneged on the agreement and said he wanted a higher price. Several strongly worded exchanges occurred and we decided to leave and refuse any further dealings with this shark. However seeing the deal was off he offered them at the original price. As we left he begged “just a little more” to my partner ( I don’t have Hungarian) and when she told me what he said I suggested she give him 1000fts more – just to shut him up! Yes foolishly I did! When he opened his hand and looked at the note he… Read more »
Nicky
Guest

Just came across this today: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andras-simonyi/putin-erdogan-and-orban-b_b_5672236.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592
I hope you can access it okay. If not, look for ‘Huffington Post’ / ‘Putin, Erdogan and Orban: Band of Brothers?’

Guest

Oh yes! I even drove a massive fridge-freezer through Europe to the house in Hungary – on the top of a Mercedes A class!

Guest

Nicky a very interesting read indeed!

At least the media outside Hungary know what’s going on – with the tacit approval of the EU to our shame.

Thank you.

D7 Democrat
Guest
the lord of pol pot county (what a tasteless handle) “Jobbik’s brand is squeeky clean. Sure, not among the remaining liberals but among the most people in Hungary” So that makes “most people” in Hungary… anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic, raving loony scumbags? Not very encouraging; let’s hope you are exaggerating OTT, Orban’s Goebbels have been at their work again: he was roundly booed and jeered when he made a speech at the opening of Ferencvaros’ new stadium on Sunday. The regime instead has put on the official youtube video a scene of jubiliant fans jumping with joy as The Chief Shepherd addresses his grateful flock. Great stuff;) Re the topic; the MSZP. Three things strike me about this party: 1. They are not socialist- how many of their reps are working class or have even seen the inside of a panelhouse? More billionaire than blue-collar 2. They have a laughable sense of entitlement, left over from the old system, I guess. We demand your vote because we are not Orban. we will disappear for four years and then demand it again. Also their complete lack of backbone when standing up to the fascist regime. They should have boycotted the last election,… Read more »
buddy
Guest

@Charlie – wow, what a crazy story. I don’t even know what to say, except that people who do business like that are really shooting themselves in the foot as they can’t expect any repeat business afterwards…

OT: Átlátszó is reporting that MVM’s purchases of E.ON’s natural gas divisions last year has resulted in losses of several hundreds of billions(!) of forints so far.

petofi
Guest

@Eva

So, the Russians have profited at the expense of Hungary…..Where have I seen that before?
Oh yes, twice with Malev, and now with MOL…come to mind. I’m sure there’s many more.

By the way, the Hungarian state intends to buy (or nationalize) MKB. Now I ask: will they
nationalize/buy the Russian banks (Sberbank), too? I bet not.

‘Proud Hungarians’–the indentured slaves of Russia.

Feed Hungarians some Nostalgia, some Anti-Semitism, and bushels of Nationalism…it’ll keep the morons happy.

What mindless saps!

petofi
Guest

re GMT and Israel

Here’s what I think happened: after his attack on Orban’s speech, he had a paroxysm of reality–‘oh shit, now Jobbik will target me’. So, to appease Jobbik types he came out with the attack
on Israel. Shameless. And Disgusting.

Hungarians have the Integrity of a gnat; and the bravery to match it.

Guest
Polticians in Hungary really are are a sorry lot – are there no intelligent “Quereinsteiger” i e people who’ve been in a different occupation (no lawyers need apply however …) and decide to move into politics like in other European countries? @CharlieH: Sorry to hear these stories! I must say however that I (or we – including my Hunarian wife …) have been served well. Just a few days ago our lawn mower gave up the ghost. Our neighbour and I had done the usual things, changing oil, cleaning etc but that worked only for a short while so my wife looked in the local advertising and found a phone number which she called. The address was one of a row of garages for some panel building at the outskirts of Keszthely and there were two guys working and serving one customer. So we waited and when it was our turn the guy heard my description of the fault and what we had done already, looked at the machine and said: oh, good – it’s a Briggs&Stratton and after cleaning it with some compressed air immediately started disassembling the carburetor unit and proudly presented me some dirty membrane. After that… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Orban gave a gift of $3 billion to the Russian Gazprom by taking over the Hungarian natural gas business of e.on in 2013.

http://www.atlatszo.hu/2014/08/13/akar-600-milliard-forint-veszteseget-okozhat-az-eon-foldgaz-nagykereskedo-megvasarlasa/

Cocoa
Guest
D7 Democrat: re the lord of pol pot county I guess the name was a pun on Lords of Hazzard County, the 1970’s tv show. In Hungary Bács-Kiskun county was dubbed the “Pol Pot county” as its county level communist party leaders were the most hardliners. Needless to say Bács-Kiskun country is now a fiercely right wing county, voters are done with the communists or liberals. In rural Bács Kiskun nobody utters “left wing” or “MSZP”, there are only communists, not in the sense as the Buda-dwelling fideszniks call the the leftists humorously, but as rural folks who “know better”. They just don’t care. Been there, done that and they didn’t like either of the two. There Fidesz or Jobbik can have a monkey as a candidate, it would win any time against any “communist”. Most Hungarians don’t care about Jobbik’s anti-semitic or lunatic (i.e. anti-freemazon, conspiracy theorist, Secler rovás writing etc.) credentials, but if those are part of the package, then be it. I guess most people share Jobbik’s anti-roma approach, however. Jobbik has been consistently representing the frustrated lower class people and has been “trying to protect Hungarians” and meanwhile it is nationalistic. It looks as though you… Read more »
Rumelai
Guest

@tappanch, buddy:

The bigger question is how much of this HUF 600bn ended up at MET AG and MET Zrt. and their related parties?

And this was just 2013. And as we know the future lasts forever.

Orban’s is a pretty fascinating rags to riches story if one thinks about it.

Member

@tappanch
Maybe Navracsics’ next two tweets will be
“Helping #Russia #Gazprom cost 3.1 million € loss to the #Hungarian taxpayers. Soon some compensation needed from #Fidesz-level.”

“#MOL last year cost 245 million € loss to the #Hungarian taxpayers. Soon some compensation needed from #Orban-level.”

http://pestisracok.hu/mol-60-milliardos-osztalek-77-milliados-veszteseg/

gdfxx
Guest

@petofi, although I completely disagree with TGM on many of his positions, I can assure you that whatever he writes, he writes it because that is what his opinion is. Definitely not to please anyone on the left, right or middle.

Istvan
Guest
Re: post by “the lord of pol pot county” I don’t disagree that the “Jobbik is the clear favorite everywhere” as a political party to potentially replace Fidesz. I personally am not sure that it is based on a perception by the electorate that “Jobbik’s brand is squeaky clean,” or that the Jobbik are unified and organized at the grass roots. I would like to see some serious polling data on this issue, earlier polling data indicates to me Jobbik support was linked to voters who could simply be called national chauvinists and inclined at least to racial stereotyping. (See the past research by András Tóth, at the Political Science Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, also see an article co-authored with István Grajczjár, of Zsigmond Király College in Budapest, on Why Radical Nationalist-Populist Parties Are So Successful at Times of Great Socio-Economic Transformations or Crises.) Eva knows this research I am sure. But since then it’s electorate has expanded and I think additional extensive polling and research needs to be done. I think the Open Society Foundation should consider taking on that task. My great concern after having been in Hungary earlier this year prior to the elections… Read more »
petofi
Guest

@Wolfi

The ordinary people are NOT ok.
I hate to let you in on this but the general mode of behavior here is to ‘charm’ the foreigner in order to create an emotional tie that they can exploit later. Family members, neighbors, strangers–all have done likewise to us.
The people are rapacious to one another and meek lambs before their lords and masters.

petofi
Guest

@gdfxx

This sentence by TGM is indefensible:

“The present preventative and punitive war by Israel is without minimal signs of concern and decency. The arguments of the Israel apologists are not worthy to debate.”

If that’s not toadying to Jobbik/Fidesz, I don’t know what is.

How can TGM write, “without minimal signs of concern and decency…especially when the two ceasefire’s, brokered to give aid to Palestinians, were broken by Hamas?

TGM is a grandstander: he has a Gyurcsany-like desire to be heard, at any cost.

Waldmeister
Guest

This is the funniest part from Peter Uj’s column on nol.hu (Uj, formerly the editor in chief of index.hu, is currently that of 444.hu). Deadpan humor.

“Az összefogás megteremtése nem volt könnyű, hiszen Falus helyett sok baloldali szavazó szívesebben látta volna Láthatatlan Embert főpolgármester-jelöltként, de nagy volt a támogatottsága a Loch Ness-i szörnynek, az Operaház fantomjának, a jetinek és Simicska Lajosnak is, akit különösen sokan támogattak az MSZP vezetéséből, de nem vállalta a jelölést, tartott a jobboldali sajtó támadásaitól.”

“The establishment of the partnership of the leftist parties wasn’t easy because many left-wing voters – instead of Falus – would have much more preferred the Invisible Man as the candidate for the mayorship of Budapest, but each of the Lochness monster, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Yeti had a sizeable support. Lajos Simicska did too, who was especially strongly supported by many in the leadership of MSZP, though he eventually did not accept the candidacy because he feared the attacks of the right wing press”.

http://nol.hu/velemeny/nehez-helyzet-elott-utan-kozben-1479815

D7 Democrats
Guest
“I guess the name was a pun on Lords of Hazzard County, the 1970’s tv show. In Hungary Bács-Kiskun county was dubbed the “Pol Pot county” as its county level communist party leaders were the most hardliners. ” Well, considering the hatred and devastation unleashed by that regime, it is a pun in particularly poor taste. To your more substantial point, when you and others (or perhaps you are the just the same person using a different handle each time) on here sneer at the “leftists” and the “liberals” and declare the general Hungarian public’s hatred of both you an important fact. The general Hungarian public does not sit at home each night comparing and contrasting Das Kapital and Mein Kempf. They haven’t got a clue what true socialism means because it does not and never has existed in Hungary. Fidesz does not need a philosophy beyond “Worship Orban and do what we say” simply because the average voter does not demand one from them. I If they do vote (and an ever-increasing number don’t bother) they will vote for whom they see as “The Big Man” locally. How corrupt, thuggish or thick that “Big Man” may be is completely… Read more »
philos
Guest

It is not fair to blame MSZP for everything bad that is happened.

The Together 2014 party is much more responsible for the problems with the cooperation. This party has such people as Viktor Szigetvari and Peter Juhasz. They are aggressive, only look for their own gain and they hate MSZP very much. Juhasz most of them.

Watch this video by ATV

http://www.atv.hu/videok/video-20140813-egyutt-pm-az-mszp-miatt-nincs-osszefogas

it is a Juhasz interview titled “Because of Juhasz there is no cooperation” in it Juhasz spits hate against MSZP and Jozsef Toth the very successful mayor of district XIII. Who wanted to keep his team alive against aggression.

Juhasz just hates MSZP and spits hate against MSZP every chance it has. Juhasz is a drug abuser who was called “Az ország drogosa” which means “The number 1 illegal drug abuser in the country”

http://www.index.hu/belfold/juhi0326/

he should leave politics before ruining everything.

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