A doomed referendum to dismantle Viktor Orbán’s system

I’m sure that few regular readers of Hungarian Spectrum have forgotten the story of the mad dash to be the first to submit a referendum question to the National Election Committee on the Sunday closing of retail stores. The Orbán government obviously doesn’t want such a referendum and, in my opinion at least, MSZP’s question was good enough that approval by the Kúria would have been forthcoming. That is, if the Election Committee had accepted it. The socialists’ question was rejected twice: once in favor of another question on the same issue formulated by the Új Magyar Köztársaság Egyesület (ÚMKE), a civic group, and the second time for one that didn’t have a chance of ever passing the scrutiny of the Kúria.

The socialists’ question was: “Do you agree that parliament should annul Law CII of 2014 that forbade performing work on Sundays in the retail sector?” While ÚMKE’s read:  “Do you agree that no law should limit the opening times of retail businesses?” At that time I expressed my worry that since ÚMKE had already submitted a number of referendum proposals, of which the National Election Committee had approved four, if the committee approved this proposal, the organizers of the referendum would add the very important question of Sunday closings to the other four. And the other questions are not the kinds that would bring millions out to vote. Therefore I preferred the question submitted by the socialists because, if approved, it would have stood alone as a single referendum question.

Viktor Orbán knows the power of a referendum. After all, it was the 2008 referendum, initiated by Fidesz, on tuition and co-pay that sealed the fate of his adversary, Ferenc Gyurcsány. He wanted to make sure that such a calamity will not befall him. He changed the law on holding referendums. While before 2 million valid votes were enough for passage, he doubled the requirement: now one needs 4 million votes. ÚMKE’s questions would never bring out that size of a crowd. In order to have a valid referendum the opposition would have to come up with one important question that has a chance of gathering very large support. Just for comparison, at the 2008 referendum that truly moved the population, only 3.3 million people showed up to vote. I believed and still believe that the issue of Sunday closing is one that just may have a chance of being a valid referendum and that perhaps could also seal the fate of Viktor Orbán.

How could Fidesz go wrong: no to paying a penny

“Responsible decision” How could Fidesz go wrong? “No” to paying a penny

Why am I returning to this topic? The answer is simple. Although the referendum question on Sunday closing is still in limbo, ÚMKE went ahead and began collecting signatures for their four questions: (1) to raise the compulsory age of school attendance, (2) free lunches for needy children, (3) abolishing compulsory membership in professional associations, and (4) termination of paying pensions to serving members of parliament. These are the questions with which ÚMKE wants to start “dismantling the system” of Viktor Orbán.

The collection of signatures began three weeks ago, and they have managed to collect 46,000 so far. There are still 154,000 to go. Zoltán Vajda, one of the organizers, told Budapest Beacon that all democratic parties, with the exception of the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), pitched in. MSZP managed to collect 16,000, the Magyar Szolidaritás Párt got 9,000, and the Magyar Liberális Párt and the Modern Magyarország Mozgalom (Moma) added a few hundred.

Why did DK keep away? After all, DK has been the most zealous on the question of cooperation with other parties. Ferenc Gyurcsány often expressed his belief that without unity of the democratic parties Fidesz cannot be defeated. I can think of only one possible explanation for why the leadership of DK came to the conclusion that even if ÚMKE’s referendum questions have the support of the necessary 200,000 people, the chance of a successful referendum is practically nil. In fact, if the turnout is low, as I assume it will be, it will actually strengthen the position of Fidesz by showing the weakness of the democratic opposition. There was a reason why the National Election Committee approved these relatively unimportant questions while making every effort to block the question on Sunday closing.

Yes, I think there is a real chance of actually hurting the cause of the anti-Orbán forces by supporting this somewhat amateurish attempt. One cannot “dismantle” the Orbán regime by asking people to vote on issues such as compulsory membership in professional associations. ÚMKE would have been better off sitting down with all the democratic parties and supporting one well-formulated referendum on Sunday closings. I’m sure that all parties would have endorsed such a move. More than 75 percent of Hungarians look upon Sunday store closings as a symbol of Fidesz arrogance and corruption at their expense. What happened here is a perfect example of the mistaken notion widespread in Hungary that civil groups with no political experience can successfully “dismantle” the Orbán regime. Unfortunately, it might serve Fidesz and hurt the democratic side.

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András B. Göllner
August 18, 2015 8:04 pm

The suboptimal performance of the democratic opposition in Hungary is truly tragic. Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” should serve as its anthem. The ineptitude is equally shared between the established political parties and civil-society groups, such as ÚMKE. The political parties are waiting for a messiah and/or big bucks, instead of getting down to the nitty-gritty and working the grass-roots via dedicated volunteers. The civil-society groups, such as ÚMKE, come and go like ships in the fog, captained by fly-by-night wanna-bees, bravely sounding their horns as they quickly disappear from view and relevance This combined approach deserves only the applause and admiration of those who are permanently wedded to an underdog. Barring a miracle, this approach will not break the Fidesz-KDNP-Jobbik stranglehold on political power in 2018. And if it succeeds by miracle, it will quickly implode by its own incompetence and from the mine-fields left behind by its predecessors. Hungarian society has been in need of a reality check for a very long time now. It has not advanced in any noticeable way from the state István Bibó highlighted so masterfully in his memorable 1948 essay “Eltorzult magyar alkat, zsákutcás magyar történelem”

August 19, 2015 9:55 am
Very apt to bring in one of Dylan’s finest works. I’d suggest it sure comes close at times in describing Magyarorszag’s search for ‘meaning’ on many levels in both the country’s pre-war and post war periods. It is interesting to note that Dylan identified himself as a ‘poet in destitute times’. ‘Desolation Row’ indeed is a songful rumination of alienation, tragedy and indifference coursing through Hungarian society today. And to that I’ll add that a sort of creeping desiccation also exists in its arteries sucking the lifeblood of its institutions and population. Arguably the ‘Wasteland’ can be another description for the country. And as for the opposition, it’s almost as if they have ignored famous Bard’s instruction while eating and drinking at table with ‘guests’.. ‘He must have a long spoon that must eat with the devil’ (The Comedy of Errors) Perhaps a bit of space and ‘elbow-room’ while gorging alongside the ‘right’ might give them clarification to assess strengths and weaknesses to proceed. Obviously they need it and maybe a different menu as well. They need to argue perhaps vehemently among themselves as to which ‘dishes’ have to be put in front of the great electorate no doubt waiting… Read more »
August 21, 2015 6:33 am

Totally OT (or not?):
Desolation row is also Sir Bob’s best song for me – we almost managed to see him open air at home in Germany this year but decided otherwise:

Standing in the rain for several hours would have been too much for us oldsters …

August 20, 2015 8:48 pm

@András B. Göllner
August 18, 2015 at 8:04 pm

Bingo. Hits the nail right on the head.

August 18, 2015 9:30 pm

If people only complain incessantly, but don’t make changes, then it still doesn’t hurt them enough!

August 19, 2015 1:21 am

It is so unhelpful to incessently malign the opposition groups, and by constantly doing so simply bolsters Fidesz.

The main problem in terms of a change in government is that so many people don’t bother to vote. This has more relevance than whether or not the opposition is, or is not, competent.

August 19, 2015 2:00 am

Figyelő, a struggling business weekly has been putting out favorable profiles of “controversial” people like detested oligarchs and now of Janos Lazar.

For example according to unnamed sources Lázár’s German friends (ie. Lazar doesn’t speak any foreign languages but apparently he still managed to have so many German friends who adore him for his talents) suggested he should go into business after 2018. So this is certainly an option, a possibility that cannot at all be excluded since Orban is planning to centralize power even more in 2018 and for Lazar (although a good soldier) such centralization may even be too much for him since Lazar is not so undemocratic you see. He is really very talented, perhaps the most talented after Orban and Gyurcsany, so he is a pretty formidable politician and according to his friends this is even acknowledged by his enemies.


the enemy within
the enemy within
August 19, 2015 3:38 am
the presented interpretation of the reality by the respected and informed blogger is false. sadly, in this case DK is selfish. the interpretation of the blogger, that at the end of the day by boycotting the collecting of signatures DK act according to and not against the so called mutual and eternal interest of the opposition movements is based on the double standards implied by the blogger while judging the tactics and strategies of different opposition movements. DK is doing what is presented to us in this post because the majority of the leadership of the party believes that in a year from now all other opposition parties will either disappear or collapse, and DK will be the biggest opposition party, of course behind Jobbik. And this tactical victory (?) is believed to be a game changer by DK’s elit. according to them in this new, future status quo both the presence and perception of the opposition and Ferenc Gyurcsany will change, and a real, effective opposition will born immediately. according to this strategy DK’s interest is to discredit and weaken every other movement and party of the oppositon. they do not support the collection of signatures because that might… Read more »
August 19, 2015 4:13 am
Good, Orban and Lazar can sleep like a baby. While these lefties – as is their reputation – continue to scheme against each other, and debate and argue Orban can look like a real statesman who cares about the issue of the average Joe (“defending Hungary against the black and brown hordes”). Perhaps the leftist should -do- something rather than arguing and just politicking (e.g. Gabor Vona et el are performing a road show volunteering all over Hungary to paint a kindergarten, help old ladies take down their rubbish etc.) Orban plans well beyond 2018 and he apparently has every reason to do so. Unity, decisiveness and leadership qualities are absolutely key for the left if it ever hoped to get to power — though why would they want to do so when they have no vision whatsoever and in any case wouldn’t be able to govern in Orban’s constitutional system? (Note: voters feel in their guts that the leftists have no vision and have no principles so their only ambition is simply to grab power and the money coming with it — but voters are apparently reluctant to make that happen, Jobbik – to most voters – has a… Read more »
August 19, 2015 4:20 am

A mafia Fidesz created, controls, protects and taxes:


August 19, 2015 11:17 am

Unprincipled Opportunism: Canadian- vs. Carpathian-Style

Professor Gollner’s article in Hungarian Free Press today makes excellent points about the night vs day differences — in democracy, constitutionality and rule of law — between Hungary (Orbanistan) and Canada.

Yes, Harper can and will be voted out. There is no “Harpistan.”

But the August 14 New York Times opinion piece by Stephen Marche, The Closing of the Canadian Mind, was right about Harper too. It is impossible to read it without seeing the parallels (in direction, though not in degree), and they are explicable only in part by the fact that both have hired the same scruple-free image-maker. The two share similar personality tendencies (especially unprincipled opportunism), but Harper’s are constrained by the Canadian constitution and electorate, whereas Orban seems to be answerable only to himself.

Hungarian Ambassador Odor (and his able attachés) should be feeling at home in his new post so far; his boss back home and the prime minister of his host country are kindred spirits. The rocky ride starts once the Canadian electorate heaves Harper…

August 19, 2015 6:24 pm

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-august-18-2015-1.3194546/john-ibbitson-stephen-harper-changed-canada-in-irreversible-ways-1.3194554 … audio

Coincidentally, I wrote to a writer friend in Toronto about the parallels between Stephen Harper and Viktor Orbán. NWS the fact that my writer friend wrote (in the past) for the scummy Toronto Sun, he’s on the left side of the fence, which is the right side of the fence.

Yesterday I listened twice to an interview of John Ibbitson, who writes on politics for The Globe and Mail in Toronto. He has recently finished a biography of Stephen Harper that took him three years to complete.

Listening to the 20-minute interview (to which I’ve provided a link) I kept thinking that I was listening to someone talking about Viktor Orbán. The parallels are quite striking. Anybody with any connection to Canada, which could include Éva, should give it a listen.

As for winning a 4th term, Stevan Harnad, I wouldn’t bet on Stephen Harper not getting in in the upcoming election. The election is his to looze, just like 2018 is Orbán’s to looze.


August 19, 2015 1:16 pm

As part of the centennial remembrance of the WWI Viktor Orban originally wanted a Hungarian arc de triomph (yes, that’s right as in The Hungarian Triumph at WWI) in downtown Budapest.

Eventually his minister for human resources or whatever his portfolio is called Zoltan Balog talked him out of this idea.

It would have been at the Deak tér end of the Andrássy út and the plan would have been to hold big military marches up to Hősök tere (Heroes Square).

Something big is now planned into the Népliget in a way that a military parade (yes, that of the Hungarian military) could be held there.

Orban is more deranged then we thought — and the Hungarian left is unable even to get minimally more popular.


August 19, 2015 4:34 pm

Mr. Lajos Olah was an excellent choice for his post, and I was mesmerized by his “presentation” at the first sight. Why? Because he truly represents the quality and style of the Hungarian government abroad. You don’t need to read lengthy analysis about the current situation in Hungary just look at this guy and listen to him carefully. Well done Mr. Szijjarto, we need more futsal players abroad to entertain us outside of the futsal field too.