Tag Archives: Bence Tuzson

Gábor Vona and Viktor Orbán: Who will win this political game?

At the end of yesterday’s post I indicated that Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, had just announced his party’s refusal to support the government party’s quest for another round of amendments to the constitution that would introduce a number of changes related to the settlement of foreigners in Hungary. Earlier I wrote an analysis of the notion of constitutional identity, which is the linchpin of the otherwise meaningless constitutional amendments, and published an English translation of the amendments themselves.

The government considers these amendments vital to Viktor Orbán’s impending battle with Brussels over a possibly mandatory distribution of refugees. But changing the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in parliament, which Fidesz-KDNP currently doesn’t have. The government party had been counting on the support of Jobbik, the only opposition party that was wholeheartedly behind the amendments. In fact, it was Jobbik that, from the beginning, championed for constitutional amendments instead of a referendum. Fidesz, however, rejected the proposal and embarked on an expensive, divisive referendum that in the end turned out to be invalid.

What followed was a typical Viktor Orbán move: regardless of the failure of his referendum he decided to go ahead with the amendments to the constitution. But there was a rub. Jobbik demanded a price for its members’ votes, which Gábor Vona set forth early in the game.

For starters, Vona said that he wanted to meet with the prime minister in private. In the last six years, however, it has never happened that the ruler of Hungary sat down alone with an opposition leader. Granting such a privilege to Vona was too demeaning, so Orbán organized a series of “consultations,” starting with Zsolt Semjén of the Christian Democratic Party and his own deputy, which everybody thought was a joke. Then he sent a message to Gyula Molnár, chairman of MSZP, who foolishly accepted the invitation, which he kept secret from the rest of the leading politicians of his party. Once the meeting became known, Molnár tried to explain himself away by saying that the consultation was not about the amendments but about the summit that is taking place at this very moment in Brussels. Since when does Viktor Orbán have consultations with opposition party chiefs about summits?

The long-awaited meeting between Vona and Orbán took place on October 18. In the days leading up to the meeting, Jobbik spokesmen repeatedly indicated that the party would support Orbán and that the Jobbik delegation would cast its votes with Fidesz-KDNP, guaranteeing an easy passage of the amendments. After all, this is what they wanted all along. Yes, but Jobbik was in a perfect position to demand something in exchange for its support of the government party. Vona’s demand was that the government cease selling residency bonds to wealthy Chinese, Russian, and Arab businessmen.

The residency bond sale, which I described as a “colossal swindle,” is the brainchild of Árpád Habony and Antal Rogán. Habony is safely deposited in London. Rogán, on the other hand, has been under incredible pressure, mostly because of Népszabadság’s revelations about his most likely ill-gotten wealth. The residency bond scheme has been severely criticized not only by the opposition but by some higher-up Fidesz leaders as well. In fact, in the last few weeks there were indications that the scheme would be modified. But I very much doubt that Orbán had the total cessation of the program in mind. And this is what Vona demands. If poor immigrants can’t settle in Hungary, rich ones shouldn’t be able to either.

The outcry against the Jobbik demand was not restricted to the government party. Gyula Molnár, chairman of MSZP, also condemned it in almost identical words. Bence Tuzson, one of the many spokesmen of the prime minister’s office, called it “kufárkodás” (profiteering) while Molnár considered it “seftelés” (conducting business in a dishonorable way). The two words are practically synonymous. For good measure Molnár added that Vona’s behavior is “political prostitution” pure and simple.

I am amazed at these reactions. In the world of politics this kind of give and take is perfectly normal. If Viktor Orbán needs the help of Gábor Vona’s party, it is natural that Jobbik will want something in return. After the meeting, Vona talked to the press and announced that Viktor Orbán had rejected his proposal, but a few minutes later Orbán sent a message via Tuzson saying that “he will consider the request of Vona.”

The Hungarian media started speculating about whether Orbán would meet Vona’s demands. Szabolcs Dull of Index simply could not imagine that it will be Viktor Orbán who has to knuckle under. After all, Orbán has convinced the Hungarian public that he is always the one who comes out on top. He is always the winner. In fact, Dull suggested, Orbán wants to get rid of the troublesome residency bonds anyway, and therefore he will readily concede to Vona’s demands. In fact, “he will kill two birds with one stone: he will be able to restructure the residency bond scheme and will receive Jobbik’s endorsement.”

Dull’s theory collapsed less than ten hours later when the government indicated that it has no intention of scrapping the residency bond program. Yesterday, around noon, Lajos Kósa, leader of the Fidesz caucus, announced that in their opinion the two issues, the bonds and the settlement of foreigners, have nothing to do with one another and suggested that Fidesz isn’t counting on the votes of Jobbik. They hope to get the necessary two votes from the “independent” members of parliament. Who these “independent” members would be is not entirely clear, but some Fidesz politicians indicated that they think a few “patriotic” Jobbik members could be found who would turn against Vona. By this afternoon most Hungarian journalists were convinced that Fidesz will put the amendments to a vote on November 8 even if they are not assured of Jobbik’s support.

Antal Rogán, carrying Viktor Orbán's briefcase in Maastricht, October 20, 2016

Antal Rogán, carrying Viktor Orbán’s briefcase in Maastricht today

In trying to win concessions from Orbán, did Vona sow the seeds of his own destruction? Today Magyar Nemzet speculated about why a Fidesz defeat would actually be good for Fidesz and bad for Jobbik. If the amendments are not passed and if Brussels insists on compulsory quotas, Fidesz can blame Jobbik.

Tamás Fábián of Index found this hypothesis compelling, adding that from information he received from people close to Orbán, “Brussels cannot be stopped and within months the compulsory quotas will be forthcoming.” If that is the case, “Jobbik politicians will never be able to get rid of the label of being traitors,” which Lajos Kósa already pinned on them. Fábián is convinced that Vona made a fatal mistake by presenting Orbán with an ultimatum. “He started on a narrow path and will suffer heavy blows along the way.”

Fábián also predicted that the sale of residency bonds will be continued, even if with some adjustments. Although in the last few days Fidesz spokesmen did talk about fundamental changes, two weeks ago Orbán called the program “a successful construction.”

I might add that despite all the dirt that was unearthed about Antal Rogán, he seems to have nothing to fear. Orbán will not let him go. I was astonished to see Rogán in Brussels, walking right behind Orbán. Since when do propaganda ministers go to summits in Brussels? I guess the government is sending a message that he is still under the protection of the prime minister.

October 20, 2016

Is Viktor Orbán’s next project to undo the Treaty of Lisbon?

Today’s big news in Hungary is that Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság learned “from a source close to the government” that, after a valid and successful referendum, Viktor Orbán is planning to move onto the larger stage of the European Union. There he is planning to lead the fight for a modification of the Treaty of Lisbon, the fundamental law of the European Union, also known as the Treaty on European Union (TEU).

For weeks now a guessing game has been going in the media and among opposition politicians about the real purpose of the referendum, which by itself doesn’t seem to serve any purpose. What kind of legislative act will follow a valid and successful referendum? After all, the people are ostensibly empowering the government to do something with the mandate. Will parliament be asked to vote on new amendments to the constitution or will it simply issue “a declaration of independence” of sorts as it did after the Tavares Report in 2013? The government, so the argument goes, will have to do something because otherwise it will become far too obvious that the referendum was not about the compulsory quotas and the Hungarian parliament’s sanctioning them but about something else.

If you ask the politicians of the Demokratikus Koalíció what purpose this referendum serves, they will tell you that it is about the eventual Hungarian exit from the European Union. As soon as no more money is coming from Brussels, Orbán will be only too happy to rid himself of the restraints imposed on him. Although I don’t doubt that there might come a time when Orbán would be inclined to say goodbye to Brussels, for such an eventuality he doesn’t need the results of a referendum today.

Many opposition politicians are inclined to think that the referendum is a kind of “trial election.” If more than half of the eligible voters go to the polls, it will be safe for Fidesz to consider holding elections sometime in early 2017. An added benefit would be that the opposition in 2017 would be even more divided and scattered than it presumably would be in 2018. Talk about Fidesz contemplating an early election is nothing new, though these predictions all turned out to be baseless. But now, people argue, this might become a reality. Jobbik politicians are already busy devising plans for such a possibility. Again, I don’t think that Fidesz needs a referendum to learn about its electoral support. Moreover, the party is politically savvy enough to know that the result of a referendum on the “migrants” cannot be translated into votes at a national election.

Viktor Orbán himself was rather secretive about his post-referendum plans in his September 18 radio interview when the reporter specifically asked him about “the legal [közjogi] consequences of a valid and successful referendum.” He indicated that he knows what the next step will be, but he doesn’t want to divert attention from the task at hand, the campaign for the referendum.

Csuhaj’s source claims that these “legal consequences” are not domestic in nature: “Orbán wants to enter the larger stage of Union politics for good” or, in the original, “Orbán végleg ki akar lépni az uniós politika nagyszínpadjára.” Such a decision, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with “legal consequences” in the accepted meaning of the term. I also don’t know what to do with the word “for good” (végleg). It might simply be an ill-constructed sentence. Perhaps what she actually wanted to say was that “Orbán finally decided to enter the stage of European politics.”

In my reading, the information Csuhaj received about Orbán’s plans to change the fundamental law of the European Union might have been correct a few weeks ago, but I don’t believe that this is what he referred to in his interview when asked about the “legal consequences” of the referendum.

Csuhaj herself admits that there is nothing new about Orbán’s desire to change the TEU to give less weight to the European Parliament and the European Council and to strengthen the European Council of heads of member states. The first time he talked about it was very early in his second term as prime minister. After a summit in Brussels in October 2010 Orbán said at a press conference that with the present constitution post-2008 Europe cannot be governed. For years, however, he made no effort to promote the idea. He only talked about it at home.

The first time it looked as if he was seriously thinking about such a move and that he may even have had preliminary talks about it with David Cameron was in January 2016, at the time of the British prime minister’s visit in Budapest. Bence Tuzson, the government spokesman, gave a long interview to pestisracok.hu in which the reporter said: “If I understand it correctly, Hungary will initiate the modification of the fundamental law of the European Union.” To which Tuzson answered in the affirmative. “Yes, because Hungary has an interest in making sure that these documents and values should be in their proper places.” A couple of days later pestisracok.hu seemed to know that the modification of the TEU might be one of the topics discussed during the Orbán-Cameron exchange.

The official picture after the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon, 2007

The official picture after the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon, 2007

From the interview with Tuzson it is clear that at that point Orbán didn’t feel strong enough to propose such a modification without David Cameron. He emphasized that “we are no lone wolves,” but with the help of Great Britain Hungary was ready to face criticism or even scorn as a result of their upcoming fight. Well, it didn’t work out that way. Came Brexit and the departure of David Cameron, and Orbán had to set aside the project. A few months ago Népszabadság was told by a member of the government that Orbán has no intention of trying to force the issue of treaty modifications because “he so far hasn’t gotten involved in hopeless tasks.”

If Csuhaj’s source is correct, after a valid and successful referendum he would feel empowered to lead the battle for treaty modifications. At least this is what Fidesz stalwarts seem to think. But it is highly unlikely that this meaningless referendum would make such an impression on either Brussels or the other member states that they would be ready to sit down and negotiate with Viktor Orbán.

Csuhaj’s informer heard Orbán talk about this plan “in the past few weeks,” which I assume means before the Bratislava summit. Since for such an ambitious undertaking Orbán would need the solid backing of the Visegrád 4 countries, I wonder whether Orbán is still so sanguine about taking on Brussels anytime soon. The other three Visegrád 4 countries were less than thrilled with Orbán’s disapproving remarks about the Bratislava summit, and by now it seems pretty clear that Orbán doesn’t have the strong support of the group he pinned his hopes on. What he might be looking for is a sharp shift to the far-right in those countries where national elections will be held soon. But that’s a long shot.

In the meantime, we still don’t know what the possible legal consequences will be of a government victory in the referendum.

September 21, 2016

Viktor Orbán drags Ferenc Gyurcsány onto the podium

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.

Anti-government demonstrations

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.”

Patiently waiting for Viktor Orbán in Tapolca / Photo: János Bődey

Patiently waiting for Viktor Orbán in Tapolca / Photo: János Bődey

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.