The Hungarian opposition shows signs of life

Momentum’s victory

The major news of the day is the overwhelming success of Momentum’s signature drive for a referendum on holding the 2024 Olympic Games in Budapest. They needed 138,000 signatures; they collected 266,151. Although the young leaders of the movement don’t seem to be overly grateful, about 60,000 of these signatures were collected by political parties on the left. LMP and Párbeszéd were especially active.

Momentum’s plan at the moment is to become a self-sufficient party. But I wouldn’t be surprised if closer cooperation among Momentum, Párbeszéd, and LMP would materialize, especially now that Párbeszéd has withdrawn from negotiations with MSZP and DK.

Viktor Orbán, who a few months ago considered hosting the 2024 Olympic Games “a matter of national significance,” a couple of days ago instructed the Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary delegation to refrain from any comment in the event that Momentum gets the necessary number of signatures. His position now is that the central government supported the idea only after the Budapest City Council, including opposition members, voted to submit an application to the IOC.

Budapest mayor István Tarlós, although initially against holding the Olympics in Budapest, now stands by Viktor Orbán. He complains about “the betrayal of the opposition,” which a year and a half ago supported the idea heart and soul and now portrays itself as the defender of the people and the country. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of truth in this charge. Csaba Horváth (MSZP), József Tóth (MSZP), and Gergely Karácsony (Párbeszéd) supported the application. Even Erzsébet Gy. Németh (DK), who verbally disapproved of it, had the courage only to abstain. The sole person to vote against it was Antal Csárdi (LMP). Bravery and consistency are not the strong points of the Hungarian socialists and liberals.

Granted, given government pressure and the general Fidesz enthusiasm for the project, it was guaranteed to sail through the Budapest City Council. Still, those opposition city fathers who have been so loud of late in their disapproval of the project would look a great deal better if they had not bent under pressure and had instead voted their conscience. MSZP is especially hesitant to take a stand when its leaders believe, rightly or wrongly, that its voters might not approve of the party’s actions.

Tarlós indicated that once the final verdict on the number of signatures is announced, he “will think very seriously about withdrawing the application.” Given the enormous number of signatures collected, there is no doubt that the referendum request will be valid. And if the referendum were actually held, the “no’s” would carry the day. Tomorrow Publicus Intézet will publish its latest poll, according to which 76% of the total population would use the money for something much more important. The respondents could pick from several categories and obviously, since the numbers add up to more than 100%, could choose to allocate the saved funds to more than one urgent need. 65% of them opted for healthcare, 32% for education, 16% for the elimination of poverty, 11% for the creation of new jobs, and 8% for better infrastructure.

András Fekete-Győr proudly displaying the fruit of Momentum’s labor

The leaders of Momentum will embark on a two-month tour of the countryside where they plan to establish local party cells. András Fekete-Győr announced a few hours ago that the new party will have candidates in all 120 electoral districts. It intends to compete against the other opposition parties, although we know that fracturing the anti-Orbán forces is political suicide. Under the current electoral law, which is designed for a two-party system, a divided opposition can only lose. Nonetheless, for the time being Momentum is planning to follow in the footsteps of LMP, which doesn’t bode well for either Momentum or Hungarian democracy. László Bartus of Amerikai Magyar Népszava has already written an opinion piece in which he expresses his fears that Momentum is glossing over the distinction between Hungary prior to and after 2010.

László Botka’s program is shaping up

The anti-Orbán forces got some good news yesterday when Republikon Intézet published its poll on the popularity of current candidates for the post of prime minister. Viktor Orbán and László Botka are essentially neck to neck. Botka is only two percentage points behind Viktor Orbán (46% to 44%). What is especially significant is that Botka is by far the more popular candidate among undecided voters, 44% against Orbán’s 29%, a result that didn’t surprise me as much as it seems to have surprised the media. I have been convinced for a long time that if someone could inspire this group to vote, the majority would vote for a candidate on the left.

Many voters who sympathize with the “liberal” democratic parties in Hungary have been impatient with László Botka’s relative inaction since he announced that he intended to throw his hat in the ring. For example, although he promised to visit the chairmen of the smaller parties, he hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Yesterday I read that the first party he will visit will be LMP, an odd choice, I would say, since LMP’s willingness to negotiate with Botka is about zero.

On the other hand, Botka at last came out with an article, published in 168 Óra, in which he spells out at least part of his program. He embraces the idea of introducing a guaranteed basic income on an experimental basis in the most underdeveloped and poorest regions of the country. I assume that would be the northeastern corner and the County of Baranya along the Croatian-Hungarian border, both with large Roma populations. He also envisages introducing a supplement to pensions that do not provide enough income for survival. He would like to alleviate the difficulties younger people have in gaining access to affordable housing. He proposes that municipalities build apartment complexes, with apartments to be rented out at reasonable prices. He wants to change the flat tax system introduced by the second Orbán government to a progressive one. Moreover, he wants to introduce a property tax on high-priced real estate and luxury cars. In addition, Botka emphasized that education and health will his government’s priority.

I am curiously awaiting the reaction of the media and the general public. I’m sure that most of these goals will meet the expectations of the majority, although I don’t know how people will feel about the idea of a guaranteed basic income. I assume that MSZP will fully support these goals, but they will also have to be approved by those parties that are ready to stand behind Botka. The way things are going, very soon it will be only DK that Botka will have to negotiate with.

We already know the reaction of the government media to Republikon Intézet’s poll on Botka’s popularity. Here are some headlines: “Few people support László Botka on the left,” “Botka is not supported even on the left,” “László Botka is not popular.” The source of this information? Fidesz’s own pollster, Századvég.

February 17, 2017
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Melvin Mark Morrison
Guest

I lived in Budapest. There is no way the existing infrastructure can handle the Olympics. They have no interstate highways that pass through the center city north/south east/west. And Hungary does not have the amount of money or time to solve this problem.

wrfree
Guest

Re: earmarking 95% of money toward healthcare and
education

Probably the greatest decision the electorate can make in 21st century Magyarorszag. It too is a ‘matter of national significance’. Compared to the Olympics, the ROI (return on ‘investment’) would be incredible for all Magyars now and in the future. And it would set them on the road towards life, liberty and happiness. It would be wonderful to set priorities straight.

Member

I found a video of an interesting gathering with the László Botka and some experts in different fields. The gathering was in the town of Szeged, there he is mayor. The whole video is in four parts. In the first part,which is the most interesting we can hear Botka, László Lengyel and György Surányi, a well renowned econom and banking expert. I recommend warmly to listen to their analysis. Som important things are said for the first time. All in hungarian.

https://youtu.be/v3aqDhDbfyg

Guest

Eva is a critical scholar. What are you?

Member
Ferenc
Guest

suggestion: he’s a St.Petersburg weatherman

Balazs Varadi
Guest

I wonder if you have more reasons to expect an LMP-Párbeszéd-Momentum cooperation than the fact that the first too parties (also:Együtt) were quick to join the collection of signatures. Based on the little we know about Momentum’s policy goals and ideology, they don’t seem to match either the anti-market green goals of LMP or the hard-left basic income mantra of Párbeszéd. Then again, the Hungarian electoral system, as is, forces small parties to work together. But will Momentum still be a small party, come next spring?

Balazs Varadi
Guest

Edit: too -> two

pappp
Guest
The unexpected number of signatures makes it clear that if an opposition force has a principled stand on a controversial issue it can score political points. The ability to collect 266k signatures underscore the contention that MSZP and DK are lazy and prone to flip-flopping on any political issues. Voters sense this instinctively and this is why even the leftist voters are unenthusiastic about their party. Voters surmise (as I do) that no wonder that MSZP and DK didn’t oppose the Olympics they were probably promised a cut from the construction biz just like in the case of the similarly insane and corrupt Paks2 deal. If MSZP/DK undertake to remain numb, mute and impotent they can get some crumbs from the big dough. And this is what really incentivizes the lefties who otherwise believe in nothing. They have no vision, ideas, let alone principles. People know that for such politicians the only reward is the financial reward, that is our tax money. The laziness and corruption of the Hungarian left-wing became all the more obvious because the OLAF Metro line 4 project report says that about 150bn forints were stolen or paid out unnecessarily (150bn just in this project, untold… Read more »
pappp
Guest
I don’t think guaranteed basic income is workable. In fact anybody who seriously thinks this could work in Hungary is delusional. The entire közmunka (fostered work) program in rural Hungary was introduced exactly because rural, working white Hungarian simply couldn’t stand the fact that their neighbours (often gypsies with disruptive lifestyles) received more or less the same amount of money without the obligation to do anything in return (entitlement programs). The fostered work program is of course 90% bullshit, unnecessary, useless in economic terms etc. but it does show to white voters that nobody gets free money without some obligation to behave or to do something in return. The same people (poor people) get the same money but now they are expected to do something for it (at least to stand at attention ie. haptákban állni), to be under some disciplinary control. The basic income is communism: if my lazy neighbor gets the same amount of salary (and steals from the factory etc.) as me then why would I work hard? There’s just no incentive. (It also doesn’t take into account the fact that costs can be lower in rural areas and higher in Budapest, so the same nominal amount… Read more »
webber
Guest

Workfare exists in some states in the US. It does seem to give some of the people involved a sense of worth – that they are not getting something for nothing, and that they are productive members of society. But it’s vital to have them do something concrete that feels worthwhile to get that sense. Even picking up trash by the side of the highway is something of worth, even if the results don’t add directly to GDP.

But wherever workfare exists in the US, the participants are still statistically counted as unemployed – just not in Hungary!

Roderick Beck
Guest

Workfare is not real work. It is not the solution. And yes, the Hungarian government does include its workfare recipients as employed.

Member

The basic monthly aftertax income for a kozmunkas is HUF 51,000. You get slightly more if you have certain qualifications.

HUF 51,000 is far below the minimum wage is not enough to get by, even in the countryside. The only way this makes ethical sense is (1) if the kozmunka program has a job-skills component, so that the particpants can graduate to a “real job” in either the private or public sector (2) if the government simultaneously encourages job creation. Otherwise, kozmunka is essentially slave labor.

Fidesz’s program has neither of these two components.

aida
Guest

What you write is beyond belief. I do not mean I do not believe you. What you are saying is that those working for the state are paid less than the statutory minimum wage. Has no one challenged this in Parliament or in the courts?

Guest

Afaik what you get as a közmunkas corresponds to what you would get if you’re out of work – not (much) more!

PS:
Many pensioners get about the same amount of money – as wesay in German:

Too much to die on but not enough to live on …

Observer
Guest

aida

Believe it or not, these public/fostered workers
– work no more than 8 months a year, on average less, but are counted as employed in the stats,
– they do not receive many of the benefits due to real workers, and
– the most awful feature of this scheme is that while unemployment and related benefits were due under certain conditions by law, the fostered work is given/or not at the discretion of the local mayors turning the scheme into a brutal control tool.
Welcome to Orbanistan.

Roderick Beck
Guest

The tax rates on Hungarians getting a job and hence losing their government benefits is very high. This is why the appetite to work is so low in Hungary. To go from not working to working is not attractive under a system where implicit tax rates exceed 50%.

Member
Momentum linking up with LMP and the other dwarf parties makes sense from a certain point of view: They know that the MSZP is a spent entity and doubt that the party can get its act together by 2018, even with Botka at the helm. I’ve long argued that a powerful new “left” force needs to subsume the MSZP & Co., similar to the way that Fidesz subsumed the MDF, FKGP and KDNP in the 1990s. Could Momentum be that force? Answer: Maybe, but probably not in 2018. Momentum says it is going to the countryside to set up regional/local cells. That’s the right idea. Good for them. Now, if I’m a thirthysomething bricklayer in Nyirbator, why do I want to join – especially when I am going to incur the wrath of all the Fidesz guys at the sorozo? What is Momentum’s position on a progressive tax? What is their position on foreign ownership of farmland? Agriculture policy? Infrastructure? Education? Health insurance? Migrants? Presenting well-considered positions on issues is very important for building up a grassroots movement. It is not enough to win an election. Momentum has got to create an emotional bond with voters. Personal popularity is not… Read more »
Guest

Alex, you nailed it!
There is no real chance for the opposition in 2018 – unless something really crazy happens.
Just to get together a party program and an infrastructure for any of those “splinter groups” seems impossible right now – and MSZP is a lost cause which would do everybody (except Fidesz) a favour if they just disappeared down some drain …

PS and rather OT:

I’m in Germany right now and from afar Hungary looks so irrelevant – a small Balkan country with a lot of crazies …

pappp
Guest
Guest

Totally OT – but pleasant:

The Hungarian movie “Teströl és lélekröl” won the Golden Bear in Berlin as best film – congratulations!

The German magazine SPIEGEL describes this as a romantic love film from the Budapest slaughterhouse.

Roderick Beck
Guest

None of you understand the ideas underlying a basic income. Obviously it cannot make a country richer as a whole. The average person is not better than before. But it does reduce the administrative costs by eliminating unemployment insurance and poverty benefits and replacing them with an unconditional lump sum grant. Is long as the basic income is not too high, it improves the incentive to work since there is no loss of benefits in the transition from not working to working.

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