Tag Archives: compromise

Együtt 2014-PM’s puzzling message

Opposition politicians are busy rallying the troops. Gordon Bajnai and Tímea Szabó (PM) paid a visit to Óbuda to campaign. Yes, to campaign because, although the campaign will start officially sometime in January, unofficially it has already begun in earnest. Yesterday MSZP held a large gathering in Miskolc where Attila Mesterházy addressed an enthusiastic crowd. And this afternoon several thousand DK supporters gathered on the Freedom Bridge in Budapest where Ferenc Gyurcsány, Ágnes Vadai, and László Varju gave speeches.

Neither the MSZP nor the DK rally was especially newsworthy. Mesterházy made a slew of campaign promises and Gyurcsány repeated his pledge never to make compromises with Viktor Orbán. But Gordon Bajnai made news with his speech in Óbuda. He talked mostly about the mistaken economic policies of the Orbán government and the damage they inflicted on the country. Naturally, he promised a reversal of the Matolcsy-Varga line and a return to economic orthodoxy. However, he said something that puzzles practically everybody. Talking about constitutional issues, he said that “if there is not a two-thirds majority … then we will put to the new opposition a proposal that they will be unable to refuse.” He added that at the moment he doesn’t want to reveal more of his plans.

This mysterious offer conjured up nefarious thoughts in my mind, and it seems that I was not alone because someone from the audience inquired whether this offer will resemble similar offers in The Godfather. A day later the question came up again on Egyenes beszéd during a conversation with Viktor Szigetvári, the co-chair of Együtt 2014, who tried to minimize the significance of this sentence. But, if at all possible, he only further confused the issue. In fact, Szigetvári got himself into a jam by at one point advocating negotiations with Fidesz and a few minutes later saying that “with this Fidesz he certainly wouldn’t be willing to negotiate after a lost election.” But then what?

Together for Hungary? E14-PM belies its name

Together for Hungary? E14-PM belies its name

Like everyone else, Olga Kálmán wanted to find out more about Bajnai’s offer that couldn’t be refused by Viktor Orbán and his party. A fairly long-winded explanation followed. If there is no two-thirds majority then the new government must sit down and negotiate with Fidesz and convince Viktor Orbán to lend his support to “constitutional corrections.” When he was further pressed by the reporter, Szigetvári came up with another idea: holding a new election.  With good governance this second early election could achieve an overwhelming two-thirds majority. Thus the government would have a free hand to “make adjustments” in the constitution and in some of the cardinal laws that need a two-thirds majority to change. But in any case, even with a two-thirds majority “consensus” must be achieved, although he did admit that “with this Fidesz” such consensus is unlikely. He added, in my opinion naively, that if Fidesz refuses to come to an understanding, then it must bear “the historical responsibility” for a failure to set the country on the right track. As if Viktor Orbán cared a hoot about their opinion of the “right track.” He thinks that he is the one who will lead the country to Paradise.

Olga Kálmán was skeptical about “Fidesz suddenly being ready to dismantle the edifice that it built in the last four years.” Szigetvári immediately assured his audience that “not everything has to be undone,” but one must make an attempt at an understanding. If that doesn’t work, then comes the next step: early elections in the hope of the two-thirds majority. But what if the new government parties not only fail to get a two-thirds majority but actually lose the early election? It seemed that such an idea hadn’t occurred to him. He was confident that Együtt 2014-MSZP would win a second election in 2014 or 2015. But after further questions on a possible Fidesz victory at the early election, he no longer insisted and said that “this is only one possibility.” He didn’t elaborate on what the others are.

While Bajnai was in Óbuda, Szigetvári gave a speech at a conference organized by the Republikon Institute headed by former SZDSZ politician Gábor Horn. Here he concentrated on the Együtt 2014-MSZP agreement, praising MSZP and claiming that for the breakdown of negotiations between MSZP and DK Ferenc Gyurcsány was solely responsible. Magyar Nemzet naturally was delighted and joyfully announced that “Gyurcsány is at fault,” the phrase the Fidesz propaganda machine invokes anytime the Orbán government faces an economic difficulty. In fact, Szigetvári went so far as to accuse his former boss of betraying his own party and putting his personal interest above the good of the Demokratikus Koalíció. Magyar Nemzet concluded that there seems to be confusion within the leadership of Együtt 2014 because in Óbuda Bajnai talked about the importance of DK and expressed his hope that it will join the coalition of the two democratic parties while Szigetvári fiercely attacked the former prime minister.

The Együtt 2014-PM-MSZP duo needs to start sending a clear, unified message. Voters are not decoders.

Attila Mesterházy and Ferenc Gyurcsány outline their plans for the restoration of Hungarian democracy

It’s time to get back to the present, which is a great deal  less upbeat than the days just before the Hungarian government allowed the East Germans to cross into Austria. Those days were full of hope. The Round Table Negotiations were winding up and within a few days the establishment of the Fourth Republic was declared.

Today the mood of the country is outright gloomy. The economy is languishing and the opposition is in disarray. And yet one must move ahead. One helpful sign: a discussion about how the wounds the Orbán government inflicted upon the democratic institutions of the country can be healed is going on in earnest on the Internet. Zsófia Mihancsik, editor-in-chief of Galamus, was the one who initiated a series of articles on the topic. Up to date eleven pieces have appeared; I will compare the last two. Yesterday Ferenc Gyurcsány wrote and today Attila Mesterházy.

Attila Mesterházy

Attila Mesterházy

My first impression was that their ideas on the restoration of democracy in Hungary run along very similar lines. In my opinion, if it depended only on these two men, MSZP and DK could come to an understanding on practically all the important issues in no time. I don’t know whether Gordon Bajnai will join these two politicians and outline his own ideas on Galamus, but from what I know about E14-PM ‘s view of the future without Viktor Orbán it is quite different from those of Gyurcsány and Mesterházy.

Gyurcsany Ferenc

Ferenc Gyurcsány

So, let’s see what they agree on. Practically everything. Neither of them believes in any kind of compromise with Viktor Orbán’s party. Gyurcsány, as is his wont, puts it in stark terms. He considers the Orbán government illegitimate and illegal. Illegitimate because it didn’t receive a mandate to change the basic democratic structure of the country and lead it toward autocracy. It is illegal because it strives toward the acquisition of exclusive power. He also finds the 2012 Constitution illegal and illegitimate.

Neither Gyurcsány nor Mesterházy thinks that the 2012 Constitution can be left in place, but while Gyurcsány considers a two-thirds majority necessary to write a new constitution, Mesterházy perhaps  a little bit more realistically thinks that some kind of legal possibility exists that might solve the problem. For example, wide societal support for a new constitution that could force a referendum on the issue. That would require some very clever legal finagling given the current restrictive provisions of the Hungarian constitution.

Mesterházy spends some time distinguishing between Fidesz as a party and the Fidesz voters. He is convinced that the majority of those who voted for Fidesz in 2010 did so in the hope that Viktor Orbán would ensure them a better future but that by now they are disappointed in their man and his government. I disagree with his assessment of the current state of affairs. I don’t think that most Fidesz voters are disappointed. Yes, a lot are, but the so-called hard core is unshakable. In my opinion Mesterházy is far too optimistic when he writes about the eventual attrition of Orbán’s followers. Past experience tells us that 1.5 million people will always vote for Fidesz no matter what. Gyurcsány doesn’t address this problem.

Both think that political appointees must be relieved of their jobs because otherwise the new government would be totally powerless to make the changes necessary for the restoration of democracy. Gyurcsány specifically mentions a few crucial appointments in the judicial system such as Fidesz nominated judges to the Constitutional Court, new high-level judges, and the supreme prosecutor. He also thinks that many of the newly appointed civil servants most likely will have to be let go because by now the whole civil service is completely politicized. Unfortunately neither of them tells us how he would be able to accomplish this legally.

Both agree that the illegal concessions, be they land leases or tobacconist shops, must be reevaluated and if necessary revoked. As for the tobacco state monopoly Gyurcsány specifically calls for an immediate abrogation of the law. Let’s open the tobacco market, he says, and let the new Fidesz owners compete on a level playing field.

Gyurcsány is quite specific about which Fidesz changes he would leave alone. He would allow municipalities to choose whether they want to have their schools back or whether they are satisfied with having local schools under centralized state administration. One could even make an argument to leave hospitals in the hands of the state. He would not abolish the new administrative unit, the járás, although one most likely would give them autonomy instead of centralized state oversight.

These two men could easily see eye to eye. EP14-PM is a different matter. Bajnai’s team are ready for a compromise with Fidesz, and they think they could live with the current constitution after a little fiddling with it. On this point both Mesterházy and Gyurcsány are clear: there can be no compromise with Fidesz. This is such a basic disagreement of principle that it will be difficult to resolve. And, by the way, E14-PM again lost a couple of percentage points according to the latest Tárki poll that was released only today. The postponement of the negotiations in the hope of gaining strength didn’t bring the expected results. On the other hand, MSZP gained a couple of percentage points.