The first phase of the seemingly endless negotiations between MSZP and DK came to an end today. The two parties finally agreed on the division of the 106 electoral districts, but no one should think that this is the end of the story. Both MSZP and DK would still like to negotiate with the smaller parties on the left before the final allocation. And then we still have the huge problem that LMP and, to some extent, Momentum pose to any chance of the opposition winning. At the moment these two parties are unmoved by arguments that their unbending opposition to cooperation will lead to certain Fidesz victory.
Media reaction to the compromise, whether it comes from the left or from the right, is that Ferenc Gyurcsány was the winner of the struggle between MSZP and DK. But if that is the case, I don’t know why the former prime minister and chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció looked so mournful at the press conference that he and Gyula Molnár, chairman of MSZP, gave this afternoon.
To put it in the simplest terms, MSZP will be able to name candidates in 60 districts and DK in 46. In November seven opinion polls were published whose average result showed MSZP at 11% and DK at 7%, though the most reliable pollsters (Medián and Závecz) showed even less of a difference between the two parties. Most commentators, however, believe that Gyurcsány’s real victory was achieving cooperation without agreeing to MSZP’s long-standing demand for a common party list.
As far as common versus individual party lists are concerned, opinion is split on which system is more advantageous to the opposition parties. Gyurcsány naturally believes that individual lists are superior because with this system the voter who might be obliged to vote for the candidate of a party not his own could still express his party preference and therefore would be more ready to go to the polls.
Although divvying up the districts was no easy task, I still cannot help thinking how much better it would have been if these two parties had agreed on the “coordinated” candidacies months ago. Perhaps the greatest drag on progress was the good nine months wasted when László Botka’s candidacy put an end to negotiations between MSZP and the other parties. The Botka period also did great harm to MSZP, whose popularity kept slipping with every passing month. With his resignation Botka retired from national politics, but he is still the strongman in Szeged, where he managed to prevent DK from getting one of the two Szeged districts. MSZP also kept District XVIII in Budapest, where Ágnes Kunhalmi, a last-minute candidate, lost the election in 2014 by only a handful of votes. The complete list of MSZP and DK candidates in all 106 districts can be seen here.
Since negotiations with the smaller parties will apparently continue, some of the districts might have to be given up to candidates of other parties. We know already that Tímea Szabó of Párbeszéd will most likely get one of the Budapest districts from MSZP. A couple of independents might also get districts currently allotted to MSZP. The same is true of DK, which most likely will have to negotiate with Együtt. So, it’s not over till it’s over or, as 168 Óra put it, “they divided and multiplied and at the end with one foot they moved from one to two.”
As opposed to Gyula Molnár, Gyurcsány looked weary and was low-keyed. About the future he said only that “it was better before Orbán and it will be better after Orbán,” which is really a minimalist promise. It looks as if he learned from his experience with unfulfillable promises. On the other hand, he was categorical when it came to the DK list, which he will lead without being a declared candidate for the post of prime minister. Although earlier there was talk about Gergely Karácsony being the candidate of MSZP and DK, Gyurcsány said that “DK doesn’t support a candidate who is on the list of another party.” This refusal, however, didn’t change MSZP’s mind. As of now, Karácsony is heading the MSZP list, though I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on his remaining there.
In response to the news of a partial deal, Fidesz announced that “on the left Gyurcsány is still the real leader,” and everything is moving in a direction that serves only his interest. Origo called the agreement “an alliance of hopelessness and the past.” According to the editorial, the two parties have given up hope of winning against Fidesz in 2018 and simply want to survive and get ready for 2022.
But it would be a mistake to assume that only the government media panned the agreement. HVG, which is a fairly consistent critic of Ferenc Gyurcsány, called the agreement “an understanding to continue to fight between themselves” while “Gergely Karácsony drifts into nothingness.” Nothing will come of this tentative embrace, mostly because of Ferenc Gyurcsány. His short-term aim is to beat MSZP, which he might be able to do, but he cannot win against Fidesz and Jobbik. His real aim is to be the head of the opposition in 2022. Gyurcsány has managed to line up his troops, while the socialists so far have done nothing but give up 46 electoral districts.
These assessments might not be too far from the truth. There is no question that DK has been vying for the voters of MSZP, a party that is losing them fast. It is also clear that Ferenc Gyurcsány hasn’t given up on the idea of becoming Hungary’s prime minister again sometime in the future. In the past he made some contradictory comments about his plans, but as far as I know he has never excluded the possibility of a complete political revival. This time, in answering a question, he pointed out that “there might be a situation” when he could become head of the government because he is “still a very young man who is in good shape.” He wouldn’t like it if the political right managed to get rid of him too early. “Since the Gyurcsánys have been a long-lived lot, I do hope that I can offer a political alternative against everything Fidesz and its prime minister represent for a very long time to come.” And this wasn’t said as a joke.
That kind of talk, unless some miracle happens in April of 2018, indicates that Gyurcsány has pretty well given up hope of the opposition winning the coming election. Yet here and there one gets the impression that he considers the possibility that Fidesz will not get an absolute majority and that the opposition parties will then have to sit down to negotiate a coalition government. But as I’ve said, something very unexpected and dramatic would have to happen between now and the election to be faced with such a currently unlikely situation.