Yesterday the prime minister called a marathon meeting of the cabinet. The members of the government were closeted in all day, with only a short break for lunch. In preparation for this meeting, the executive board of Fidesz most likely worked out a plan to revive the reputation of the party and the government. The remedy seems to be massive new infrastructure investment on European Union money. The M4 highway construction project has been abandoned, but we are now being told that 600 billion forints will be spent in the next two and a half years on road construction other than M4. Whether a new package of promises will turn around the negative political trend of the last year is hard to tell. Perhaps voters who have abandoned Fidesz will eventually return to the fold, but “eventually” probably won’t be in time for Sunday’s Tapolca-Ajka-Sümeg election.
Viktor Orbán’s magic touch?
In the past a personal appearance by Viktor Orbán in an electoral district could work miracles. In 2002, when after the first round of voting Fidesz was languishing, the prime minister visited 22 electoral districts where MSZP was leading. He managed to reverse the results in 14 of them. The question is whether Viktor Orbán still has that magic touch. Perhaps not. First of all, he is so afraid of anti-government demonstrations that his schedule is kept secret until the last minute. His itineraries are also secret, and therefore supportive crowds can’t be organized, even if fans were eager to meet and cheer him. Moreover, the old fire seems to have gone out. The reporter for 168 Óra thought that “the prime minister was a shadow of his former self [whose] words were hollow, short of ideas, and spiritless.” He came to the conclusion that Orbán’s presence, instead of helping the Fidesz candidate, worked against him.
The first town Viktor Orbán visited was Ajka, a socialist stronghold where the MSZP-DK candidate, Ferenc Pad, will most likely win. According to the reporter for Magyar Nemzet, only Pad’s posters are still intact. Even Orbán had to admit that Ajka is a “success story” where unemployment is only around 3%, even if the town is governed by a socialist mayor and the majority of council members are also socialists. Of course, the prime minister didn’t dwell on the party preferences of the inhabitants of Ajka. He simply said that his government also has a great deal to do with the relative well-being of the town. Surely, he concluded, people of Ajka cannot have adverse feelings about his government. Media descriptions of the public mood in the city contradict Orbán’s assessment.
From Ajka he moved on to Sümeg, where he promised the completion of the Sümeg Castle, built in the 13th century. Since this town, which lives off of tourism, is pretty solidly behind Fidesz, his stay there was short and to the point.
However short his Sümeg visit, Orbán managed to be two hours late arriving in Tapolca. He still couldn’t avoid a small anti-government demonstration whose members had waited patiently for hours, keeping up their spirits by singing the anthem of the European Union and some protest songs from the 1970s. His speech was less than 10 minutes long and was addressed primarily to those activists whose job it is to rouse the less than enthusiastic Fidesz voters.
Orbán seemed to be bothered by the presence of the demonstrators and even mentioned them in his speech: “There are two kinds of people present. Those who are curious about how they can support the candidate of Fidesz-KDNP and those who came here to ruin our day. There is democracy and freedom, therefore it is their business; ours is that we should not allow that.”
Those cursed demonstrators! There may have been only a few dozen people, but the Fidesz leadership just couldn’t get over their gall. The current spokesman of Fidesz, Bence Tuzson, discovered that the organizer of the demonstration was Csaba Czeglédy, the former lawyer of Ferenc Gyurcsány, who was “a tax criminal of the socialists.” The gathering wasn’t just an ordinary demonstration, according to Tuzson, but a “left-wing provocation,” and they “shouldn’t submit to such aggression.” He called on the left to recall their provocateurs.
Dragging Gyurcsány to the podium
This was not the first reference to Gyurcsány during today’s campaign trip. In Ajka, when Orbán was still in a jolly good mood and kept cracking jokes, he complained that lately he has been the only one “in the limelight” and therefore he has to bear the burden of every wrong decision. He feels so lonely that “soon, [he] will have to drag Gyurcsány to the podium,” he said jokingly, to the audience’s great satisfaction. And in a way, Orbán did drag the former prime minister onto the podium. First, a Nézőpont Intézet study prepared for Magyar Nemzet brought up the possibility that if Ferenc Pad, the MSZP-DK candidate, wins, he may decide to join the four DK members of parliament. That would hand Gyurcsány a parliamentary caucus, which would entitle his party to government funding and a great deal more flexibility in parliament debates.
By today this hypothesis became a perceived threat to the right. According to Gergely Gulyás, a win by Ferenc Pad may “result in the formation of a far-left parliamentary caucus,” which would have a serious effect on the work of the parliament. After all, this new caucus would be led by Ferenc Gyurcsány. Gulyás is not a stupid man. Far from it. He is one of the more intelligent Fidesz leaders, so I can only assume that Fidesz decided it was time for scare tactics. Calling DK a far-left party is, of course, a joke. Some commentators who find the socialist component in Hungarian political thinking practically nonexistent would call DK a neoliberal party, at least as far as its economic policies are concerned. Trying to frighten the electorate with the spectre of Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose party’s support in the population as a whole stands at 6%, seems like an act of desperation. The work of the Hungarian parliament, where Fidesz holds just shy of two-thirds of the seats, will never be disrupted in the event that Ferenc Gyurcsány becomes the leader of a DK caucus.
And that was not the end of “dragging Gyurcsány to the podium.” KEHI (Kormányzati Ellenőrzési Hivatal/Government Control Office) announced that it is pressing charges against Magyar Fejlesztési Bank/Hungarian Development Bank, which in 2005 extended a 17 billion forint loan for the construction of the Győr ETO stadium and ETO Park. As 444.hu jokingly said in the title of its article on the subject: “KEHI presses charges because during the time of the Gyurcsány goverment the Gyurcsányist MFB gave a Gyurcsányist loan to the Gyurcsányist ETO Park.” Soon enough we will have another endless court case that is a crass political ploy without the slightest legal merit.