While Viktor Orbán is fighting for his cause in Brussels, I think it’s time to pay some attention to domestic politics. The refugee crisis and Viktor Orbán’s popular reaction to it resulted in a spectacular growth of potential Fidesz voters. Jobbik, on the other hand, lost one-third of its support between September and November. These are some of the findings of the latest opinion poll by Nézőpont Intézet, a pro-government think tank. Earlier polls by others show similar trends.
Nézőpont attributes the decline of Jobbik to Gábor Vona’s decision to tone down the anti-Semitic and anti-Roma rhetoric, but I see this development in a different light. To put it simply: former Fidesz voters who abandoned their party during the fall of 2014 and spring of 2015 to join the more radical Jobbik returned to the party after Fidesz’s own radicalization. As support for Fidesz grew, Jobbik’s support decreased. Those who consider this development, allegedly marginalizing the far right, to be a great accomplishment on the part of Viktor Orbán should think twice. A more radical Fidesz is not one whit better than an only slightly more radical Jobbik. In fact, a far-right party in power is a great deal more dangerous than a far-right party in opposition.
There is some movement on the left, where the big loser seems to be MSZP. For example, according to Nézőpont, only 9% would vote for MSZP while 7% would vote for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s DK. Tárki a month earlier reported an even lower number for MSZP and a much lower figure for DK, 7% and 4% respectively.
There are several possible reasons for this loss. The chairman of the party, József Tóbiás, is not at all popular among MSZP supporters, and even in the party’s leadership there are several important people who are dissatisfied with his performance. It is becoming obvious that the young Turks who were put forward by former party chairman Attila Mesterházy are incapable of breathing life into the ailing MSZP. The unfortunate remark of the former chairman of the party, István Hiller, that he doesn’t like the fence “but show me something better,” most likely also cost some support from people who are convinced that there can be no “compromise” with Orbán.
Among the questions Nézőpont Intézet put to the respondents was the following: “According to you, who is the leader of the left opposition?” The possible answers were: (1) Ferenc Gyurcsány (DK), (2) József Tóbiás (MSZP), (3) Attila Mesterházy (MSZP), (4) Someone else, (5) There is no such person, (6) Doesn’t know/doesn’t answer. Gyurcsány came out the winner both in the population as a whole (18% as opposed to 5% for Tóbiás) and among left sympathizers (33% versus 4%). Of course, name recognition was probably a significant factor.
Tóbiás’s position is anything but secure, and many observers predicted that there would be a palace revolt at the MSZP congress held this weekend. The tensions, however, were cleverly dissipated, and all the conflicts remain under the surface. But no one should be fooled by this superficial calm. I have the feeling that this is not the end of the story. Nor, unless something dramatic happens, is it the end of the slide of MSZP toward oblivion.
Most likely these developments in MSZP inspired Ferenc Gyurcsány to announce that “DK is making preparations to form a government as leader of the democratic opposition in 2018 at the latest.” That is a definite departure from DK’s earlier strategy. In the past, Gyurcsány indicated that he would be happy with a 10% share of the votes. DK would be a smallish party, perhaps a junior partner in a coalition government or an opposition party of some weight. But now Gyurcsány thinks that he can seize the initiative and gather the opposition forces around his own person and party.
Right now there is no one else in any of the democratic opposition parties who could take on Viktor Orbán. But whether Gyurcsány could prevail is not so clear. Critics point to his tainted reputation, for which he himself is, at least in part, responsible. There are too many people, they argue, ordinary voters as well as politicians, for whom Gyurcsány is anathema, someone who would in fact be an obstacle to gathering the troops on the left. And there are those who basically like the man but who think that, although he is a good politician, he was a bad prime minister.
In the last two or three years Gyurcsány has been the most vocal proponent of an electoral coalition of sorts since, given the new electoral law, small parties running on their own can only lead to certain defeat for all of them. In the last few months he most likely came to the conclusion that none of the other parties can possibly head such a unified front and therefore he will have to try to gather all the forces on the left. He must think that he can rally MSZP party members and voters behind him.
There are an awful lot of “ifs” here, but I guess one cannot lose much by giving Gyurcsány a chance since there is no viable alternative at the moment. Given the Hungarian people’s political views and frame of mind right now, however, I don’t know how well Gyurcsány’s liberal message would resonate. I have my doubts. But, as we know, public opinion can turn on a dime. In 2008 80% of the people voted against co-payments for doctor and hospital visits. Today almost 80% say they would gladly pay if that would improve the quality of healthcare. The 2008 referendum killed Ferenc Gyurcsány’s reforms and led directly to his resignation a year later. Voters are fickle.