Tag Archives: E14-MP

Rearrangement on the Hungarian left? It looks like it

Although there are many topics we could discuss today, I would like to return to party politics. I’m interested in the analysis of intra-party developments because of my fascination with personalities and their interactions. My other reason for taking up the topic is that in my opinion we will most likely witness major changes within the democratic opposition soon.

I don’t think that I ever hid the fact that I consider the arrangement that was sealed by Attila Mesterházy of MSZP and Gordon Bajnai of Együtt14-PM unsatisfactory. And, it seems, the potential supporters of this “electoral association” feel the same way as I do. Admittedly, how we feel about a certain occurrence is always influenced by our own likes or dislikes, and therefore it is not the best barometer of the effectiveness of a political action. The real problem, however, with the agreement between E14 and MSZP is that it didn’t bring the expected results. That is a fact that is hard to deny. Surely, the signatories hoped that even a loose coalition would rally the anti-Fidesz forces. It didn’t happen. On the contrary, E14 effectively lost about half of its potential voters.

Looking back on the events of the last half year, I’m actually surprised that the politicians of these two parties ever thought that the arrangement that was achieved only with great difficulty would ever work. You may recall that E14 refused to negotiate until they had their nationwide campaign. E14 politicians were obviously hoping to sit down to negotiate with MSZP from a position of strength. You may also recall that this hoped-for outcome didn’t materialize. Between March and October E14 support  hovered between 3 and 5% in the electorate as a whole. No amount of campaigning helped. Mind you, MSZP didn’t fare any better. The party was stuck between 14 and 15% among all eligible voters. Meanwhile valuable months were wasted.

After the debacle of the October 23 opposition rally and the phony Baja video scandal I hate to think what the next opinion polls will tell us about the state of these two parties. One doesn’t have to be a political genius to see that something went terribly wrong. But it seems that neither Bajnai nor Mesterházy has been willing to admit his mistake. They keep sticking to an untenable position: no renegotiation, no compromise. Everything is peachy-pie as is.

At this point, I was just waiting for the palace revolutions. I didn’t have to wait for long. Two days ago Péter Kónya, leader of Solidarity, was the guest of Olga Kálmán where the careful listener could discern deep trouble within E14.

Solidarity is part of E14-PM, but Kónya hasn’t been given much exposure despite Solidarity’s fairly extensive nationwide base. You may recall that it was Kónya who came up with the idea of an Orbán styrofoam statue imitating the Stalin statue that met its maker on the very first day of the October Revolution. Both Bajnai and Mesterházy timidly repudiated the action, which only gave further ammunition to the hypocritical outrage on the right. At this point I tried to imagine myself in Kónya’s shoes, who steadfastly refuses admit his “mistake.” I would have been furious as I believe Kónya was. Right now, he might be facing a charge of disorderly conduct. Yet he refuses to back down and told Kálmán that he was ready to go to jail if necessary.

Changing leaves

Changing leaves

It was at the end of the conversation that the really important piece of information could be heard. Yes, said Kónya, there are internal disputes concerning strategy in E14. Although at the top of the hierarchy the party leaders refuse to negotiate with Ferenc Gyurcsány, on the local level Solidarity activists are working hand in hand with DK members.  Concurrently with this interview Népszabadság ran an article with the title “Solidarity demands greater influence: Sharp criticisms.” From the article it became clear that Kónya wants a closer working relationship with the Demokratikus Koalíció.

And what one cannot read in the newspapers or hear from the politicians themselves: apparently local E14 members have been leaving the party in droves and joining DK. Apparently there are localities where E14 centers no longer exist. Surely, something must be done.

The situation is not much better in MSZP, although we know less about the inner workings of the party. The first inkling that not all’s well at Mesterházy’s headquarters came from Ildikó Lendvai, legendary whip of MSZP and later chair of the party who decided not to run as a candidate. Her decision, as we learned today, was based on her belief that she was considered one of those old timers the new leadership wants to see disappear. Mind you, Lendvai is one of the most sympathetic and smartest politicians in MSZP, and her quick mind and wit made her one of the best leaders of the MSZP parliamentary group. László Kovács, another old timer, was also on his way out. Their places were taken by second-rates.  One such lightweight was interviewed on ATV two days ago. Olga Kálmán managed to make him look like a fool.

In any case, about a week ago Lendvai gave an interview to Heti Válasz from which we could learn that she holds different views on party strategy from those of the chairman. Very diplomatically but clearly, she indicated that given the strengthening of the Demokratikus Koalíció and the weakening of E14 some kind of renegotiation of the terms of the agreement between MSZP and E14 will have to take place. She suggested that one of the problems standing in the way of a mutual understanding between MSZP and DK is that MSZP couldn’t decide on its attitude toward the party’s record during the Gyurcsány era. The way I read the abbreviated version of the interview online, Lendvai indicated that MSZP should have proudly embraced some of the accomplishments of the period between 2004 and 2009.

And then came the bungled video case. I’m sure that there were already rebels within the party who were not too pleased that Mesterházy was unable to handle the situation at the October 23 rally. An experienced politician would have been able to respond to those who demanded “unity.” Instead, Mesterházy stubbornly stuck to his prepared text just as now he stubbornly holds to the view that the agreement works splendidly when it is obvious that it doesn’t. The handling of the video was, I think, the last straw. By now it looks as if Mesterházy isn’t the master of his own house.

Yesterday came the news that some MSZP leaders, for example Gergely Bárándy and Zsolt Molnár, tried to deny that Ildikó Lendvai and László Kovács will be “advisers” to Attila Mesterházy. Today Lendvai was interviewed by György Bolgár* where she candidly shared her own views as to what strategy MSZP should pursue for participation in a unified democratic opposition. She added that this is her own private opinion that many people within the party don’t share. Clearly, she stands on the side of those who think that MSZP cannot stick with a mistaken agreement that has led nowhere. It was a mistake at the moment of its signing and since then it has become what looks like a blunder. Somehow the wrong must be righted. Now the question is: will Attila Mesterházy listen to the “oldies”?  I have the feeling he has no choice.

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*For those of you who understand the language I highly recommend listening to the Lendvai interview with György Bolgár available here: http://www.klubradio.hu/klubmp3/klub20131106-155854.mp3 The interview begins at 27:32 in the first part and continues in the second part: http://www.klubradio.hu/klubmp3/klub20131106-162853.mp3

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.