Tag Archives: E14-PM

Two polls, two different results, and disappointing opposition politicians

In the last couple of days the results of two new public opinion polls on party preferences appeared: Ipsos on November 18 and Medián today. According to Ipsos, Fidesz-KDNP and LMP gained and the left lost, both by an inconsequential 1%. Medián’s survey, by contrast, found more substantial shifts, and in the opposite direction. Fidesz-KDNP lost 4% of its support in one month and Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party, DK, became as strong as E14-PM.

Let us examine these results a little more closely. According to Ipsos, Fidesz-KDNP’s support among the electorate as a whole is 27% while MSZP’s is 15%. As for the other parties, 7% of the eligible voters support Jobbik, 3% Együtt-PM, and only 2% LMP and DK.

As for voter commitment, according to Ipsos only 36% of the electorate is certain that they would cast a vote rain or shine. And that is very low. In this group Fidesz-KDNP leads by a mile: they would receive 51% percent of the votes against MSZP’s 26%. Jobbik voters are also deeply committed to their cause and therefore show good results in this category.

Somewhat larger changes occurred in the last month or so among the 42% of the voters who call themselves undecided. Within that group the size of “the completely passive voters” decreased by 3% while the number of those who have a preference but refuse to divulge what it is grew from 8% to 11%.

And let’s pause a bit to expand on these last figures. According to Tibor Závecz, the man in charge of the monthly Ipsos polls, the pool of “secretive voters” is large, about 900,000. Although these people might not want the pollsters to know their political views, the poll takers ask indirect questions that can be quite revealing. Based on answers to these indirect questions, Závecz claims that at  least two-thirds or even three-quarters of the secretive voters actually sympathize with the left.

Moving on to Medián, I’ll compare the still very sketchy outlines of this month’s results to Medián’s October figures. What we must keep in mind is that the October results reflect the situation before the October 23 mass meeting and the public demand there for unity among the forces on the left. The attendees wanted to broaden the arrangement Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy worked out to the exclusion of other parties and groupings. At that time Fidesz had a 36% share in the electorate as a whole and 52% among those who would definitely vote at the next elections as opposed to MSZP’s 14% and 21%. Együtt2014-PM still polled relatively well: 5% in the electorate as a whole and 7% among committed voters. DK at this point was weaker than E14-PM: 3% among all voters and 4% among committed voters.

red = the whole electorate;
black = those with a party preference;
orange = will definitely vote

And what is the situation today, after the mass demonstration?  Fidesz has a 34% share among all eligible voters and among the sure voters only 48%. That is a 2%/4% loss in one month. MSZP ticked up 2% in the electorate at large and remained unchanged among committed voters. E14-PM’s support eroded by 1%: last month’s 5% and 7% are 4% and 6% today. DK, on the other hand, as many people predicted, inched up and now matches Együtt2014-PM’s levels of support: 4% and 6%. If these numbers are more than a one-off, Gordon Bajnai who just the other day referred to those who were left out of the election agreement as small parties as opposed to his own might have to revise his estimate of the situation.

And this brings me to a couple of interviews György Bolgár conducted yesterday and today. Bolgár’s program lasts two hours and consists of a mixture of interviews and listener comments. Yesterday the whole first hour was devoted to a interview with Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy. Their performances were disappointing. My own feelings were exactly the same as those of Zsófia Mihancsik and Ferenc Krémer in today’s Galamus. Mihancsik’s article was entitled “This way there is no hope,” and Krémer called his “Sadness.” Shall I say more?

Attila Mesterházy took an unyielding position, standing by the arrangement that E14-PM and MSZP worked out. All other parties, including DK that is by now as strong as E14, should be satisfied with their sorry lot and support the two of them. I wonder what Mesterházy will do if in a couple of months it turns out that E14’s support has eroded further while DK has again gained.

I strongly suggest that those who can handle Hungarian listen not only to the interviews but also to the comments that followed. It is strange that these opposition politicians refuse to heed the voice of the electorate. They didn’t believe that the demonstration for unity was genuine and now surely they will say that all listeners of Klubrádió are DK supporters. How long can that fiction be maintained?

The MSZP argument for excluding DK is their conviction that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s presence on the ticket would take away more votes than it would bring in. However, a September survey, also by Medián, indicates that this is not the case. I wrote about this poll at length back in September. It is hard to figure out why Mesterházy clings to that, in my opinion, mistaken notion.

Today György Bolgár had a shorter interview with Klára Ungár, chairman of Szabad Emberek Magyarországért Liberális Párt or SZEMA, one of the three liberal groups. SZEMA’s support is immeasurably small.

I personally like Klára Ungár, but this interview highlighted the dysfunctions that pervaded SZDSZ (Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége). The party fell apart because of internal squabbling, political differences, and personal animosities. Things haven’t changed since. It was clear from Ungár’s interview that she would refuse any cooperation with the other liberals, that is with Gábor Kuncze’s group and Gábor Fodor’s new liberal party. Ungár, who hasn’t been active in politics since 1998, feels very virtuous and insists that other SZDSZ politicians should not only admit responsibility for Viktor Orbán’s rise to power but should simply disappear from political life.

So, this is the situation at the moment. A change of strategy is desperately needed as soon as possible. But after listening to Bajnai and Mesterházy I see no possibility of such a change in the near future. Meanwhile time is running out.

Feminism in Hungary

The Central Statistical Office made a surprising announcement today. As a result of car production, a good harvest, and an uptick in the construction industry the Hungarian GDP grew by 1.7% in the third quarter of the year. On the basis of this data the government predicts continuous, sustained growth; a few others expressed fear that the upsurge signals only a short-term improvement. Since I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on this unexpected news, I’ll turn to a totally different topic–feminism.

Let’s start with the fallout from the domestic violence case against József Balogh, a Fidesz member of parliament. Once his immunity from prosecution was lifted at the urging of the prosecutors, he admitted that it wasn’t the poor blind komondor who was responsible for his partner’s broken cheekbones. Consequently, Balogh was ousted from the Fidesz caucus and also lost his membership in the party. However, he didn’t lose his right to remain a member of parliament as an independent.

Demokratikus Koalíció’s female members, Ágnes Vadai and Erika Szűcs, were not satisfied and protested in parliament. The result? László Kövér, president of the House, fined the two the maximum 130,000 forints or $587. The two women are outraged. For anti-Semitic remarks Kövér fined a Jobbik member only 50,000 forints in the first instance and 60,000 in the second. Moreover, the drunk István Pálffy, who disturbed the work of parliament more than they did, wasn’t fined at all. As far as I know, only opposition members were ever fined by Kövér.

But that was not all. The fine had to be sanctioned by the members of parliament. Fidesz members were united. Even the 20 women in the Fidesz caucus voted for Kövér’s very stiff fine. If you recall, a year ago when another Fidesz member of parliament, István Varga, made an outrageous remark about the link between the number of babies in the family and domestic violence, Antal Rogán and Gabriella Selmeczi expressed their strong opposition to the ideas expressed by Varga. Then the women members of the Fidesz caucus still showed solidarity with the female victims of domestic violence. By now this solidarity has vanished: they now follow the lead of the party which, it seems to me, feels somewhat threatened by the women’s issue. The party, especially lately, has acquired the unsavory reputation of being anti-woman. One must also add that József Balogh voted for the stiff fine of the two women!

The accusation leveled against Fidesz is not exactly groundless. Here are a few examples from pro-government sources. A journalist who writes extensively in right-leaning publications finds the worlds of Ágnes Vadai and József Balogh on a par. He is sick and tired of all that talk about women being the victims of domestic violence when a study by a Hungarian female criminologist shows that 40% of the victims are actually male. Moreover, women are the ones, more than men, who physically punish their children, and they are especially harsh on their male offspring. He also accuses the female activists of rendering “the lives of abused women, children and men more difficult.” Men who are being systematically humiliated in this hysterical campaign will “feel a kind of solidarity with those who beat women.” They will think that they are innocent and they were only slandered. He ends his piece by saying that “the whole country would have been better off if Vadai and other amazons of the Demokratikus Koalíció had stayed in the kitchen.”

Let me add here that in the U.S., according to most studies, women account for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence, men for approximately 15%. I doubt that Hungarian men are meeker and more defenseless than their American counterparts, and therefore the 40% figure the Hungarian female criminologist came up sounds unlikely. Admittedly, it is possible that the number of cases of abuse against males is higher than reported due to men’s reluctance to admit being beaten up by a woman.

Or here is an article in Magyar Nemzet about a women’s congress that was organized by the Magyar Női Érdekérvényesítő Szövetség (Hungarian Women’s Interest Group). The author is a woman, Ágnes Győr, yet she is absolutely gleeful that fewer people showed up at the conference than expected and therefore, according to her, the organizers had to ask people to sit closer together in order for the crowd to look bigger. She pointed out that the audience came from the same circle of people, intimating the heavily liberal nature of the gathering. Therefore, she “forgets” to mention participants who didn’t come from this “charmed circle.” Actually, all parties were represented. For instance, Ildikó Gáll, neé Pelcz, Fidesz EP member, was also there.

Although she mentions the name of Danuta Hübner, who sent a video message to the conference, she was reluctant to reveal that Hübner is a member of the European People’s Party’s caucus in Strasbourg, the same caucus to which Fidesz belongs. She emphasizes, on the other hand, that Hübner is the “prime minister of the Polish female shadow government.” Let’s make her look ridiculous, I guess.

On the other hand, she did have a few good words to say about the guest of honor, Eve Ensler, the American playwright and activist, author of The Vagina Monologues. Lately Ensler created “One Billion Rising,” a global protest campaign to end violence and promote justice and gender equality for women. Hungary joined the One Billion Rising movement, but as the reporter of Magyar Nemzet put it, “here because the organizers were locals, the verve and vitality disappeared, only the trite messages of liberals remained.”

Naturally, an Internet site called Nőkorszak (Age of Women) had a different take on the gathering. They claim that the congress opened to an audience of 1,000.

Photo: www.facebook.com/IttVagyunkNokongresszus

Photo: www.facebook.com/IttVagyunkNokongresszus

A reporter from 444.hu admitted that he had never seen so many women, and only women, in one place. He also noted that it must be terrible to be a woman in Hungary, “especially if she has some ambitions.” He admitted that he wouldn’t want to be a woman in Hungary.

Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), Együtt14, Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM), and Lehet Más a Politika (LMP) would like to see more women in parliament, and therefore they suggested setting up quotas. They believe that without such quotas nothing will change, because the current male-dominated parties will never of their own volition put up a sufficient number of female candidates to have a more gender-balanced parliament. Most likely they are right. The number of women in parliament has actually decreased in the last 23 years. Naturally, Fidesz is dead set against the idea. Although MSZP, which by the way was represented by a man, was less forthcoming on the issue, one got the distinct impression that the socialists are against the idea of strict quotas.

On the other hand E14-PM, which received the right to name candidates in 35 electoral districts, picked 10 women candidates. They announced their resolve to establish a 30% quota for women. DK came out with 106 names, out of which I found 13 women. LMP currently has 4 women members out of the seven-member delegation. As for Fidesz-KDNP, I would be surprised if in the next parliament the party would have more female representatives than it does this year.

Hungarian women, even those who are active supporters of women’s rights, can sometimes seem almost apologetic about their views. Márta Mészáros, a Hungarian scriptwriter and film director who was one of the principal speakers at the congress, told her audience that on the way to the congress the taxi driver, when he heard where she was heading, asked her whether the participants will all be feminists. To which she proudly answered: “I don’t know, but I’m not a feminist. I only fight for the equality of women.” I guess she never bothered to look up the meaning of the word feminism. Any dictionary could tell her that it means “belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”

In praise of Fidesz’s Machiavellian talents

Here is a good example of what I’m talking about. The electoral law that was originally submitted in September 2012 was immediately amended and in the following weeks the bill was changed several times. The process is not over. The Orbán government at the moment is planning to add another amendment to the already accepted text, and this may still not be the end of the fiddling with its provisions. It depends on what steps are deemed necessary to secure Fidesz’s advantage in the race.

Without going into all of the details of the law that naturally favors Fidesz-KDNP, here I will call attention to one new aspect of it. It is the generous campaign financing of any hitherto unknown or newly created party. This subsidy is different from the one million forints that will be given to every candidate of the established parties on debit cards issued by the treasury where recipients will have to give an account of their spending. The money that the government will give to these new parties, which Hungarians have already nicknamed “kamupártok,” meaning phony parties, will be in cold hard cash. The parties can just pocket the money. It seems that the government doesn’t care where these millions will go as long as a lot of people take advantage of a very enticing proposition.

Machiavelli2What does one have to do to become a party leader? One must have at least twenty-six good friends or, better put, business partners who are willing to declare themselves candidates in a given electoral district. Each candidate need collect only 500 signatures. That certainly shouldn’t be difficult. Once it has 27 candidates, the new “Swindlers’ Party” can have a party list, and from there on it will receive money that it can spend on anything it wishes, no receipts required.

Clearly this rather odd arrangement was devised by the Fidesz think-tank to benefit their own party. With this ploy they can splinter the opposition: there will be so many lines on the ballot in April 2014 that the already confused voters will be utterly lost. And some voters may feel that they should vote for their underdog friends. Thus, Political Capital and Transparency International suggested an amendment: money would be transferred to these new, possibly phony parties on debit cards and, just like more established parties, they would have to give an account of their expenditures.

The Orbán government, which usually ignores suggestions, especially those coming from NGOs, suddenly became interested. The Machiavellian campaign strategists saw an opportunity and decided to purposefully misunderstand the suggestion of Transparency International and Political Capital. Gergely Gulyás, the man who usually handles legal matters in the party, came to the conclusion that “it is worth considering an amendment that would regulate campaign financing in such a way that state subsidies will be issued not to those who present themselves as candidates but to those who actually finish the campaign.” Any candidate who doesn’t finish the campaign would have to return the money he received from the budget.

So, one could ask, what is so Machiavellian in this? Anyone who is following the party struggles on the liberal-socialist side should immediately realize why Fidesz is so eager to tighten up the rules. Although Ferenc Gyurcsány has been talking about designating candidates in all 107 districts, he hopes that by the end the democratic parties will be able withdraw candidates to maximize their chances. This amendment would mean that DK, MSZP, and E14 candidates would have to pay back millions of forints they received to finance their campaigns. The  money naturally would already have been spent and these parties, especially DK and E14, have meager funds with which to repay the government.

The innocent babes of Political Capital and Transparency International were flabbergasted but only remarked politely that “the politicians of Fidesz misunderstood” their suggestion. The planned amendment as described by Gulyás doesn’t solve the real problem. They also objected that their suggestions are being used “for measures that didn’t originate with them.” Surely, they don’t want to be responsible for an amendment that makes the opposition’s electoral chances even worse than they are now. The problems they originally called attention to are still there: these quasi-parties will receive their campaign financing in cash which, depending on the number of candidates, might be as high as 600 million forints. These “parties” will still not have to account for their expenditures. And naturally, these proposed measures don’t remedy the problem that while individual candidates will have to repay monies received from the government if they withdraw in favor of another candidate, these quasi-parties will be able to keep their money even if they don’t receive one single vote. In the rest of their communiqué they repeat their original suggestions.

Of course, crafty Gulyás and his ilk know exactly what they are doing. They weighed matters anew in light of Ferenc Gyurcsány ideas for a single list and acted accordingly. Their original scheme to  weaken the opposition by encouraging phony parties to enter the race will reap only modest benefits. But discouraging MSZP-E14-DK from cooperating by threatening them with the loss of millions and millions of campaign funds may be a real game changer.

Growing troubles in opposition circles

It was only a few days ago that the democratic opposition’s mass rally ended with a protest from the crowd itself–a demand for unity and the resultant quasi demonstration against Attila Mesterházy, chairman of MSZP.

What followed was almost inevitable. The two parties that had signed an exclusive political arrangement which effectively shut out the other opposition parties and groups placed the blame for the protest on Ferenc Gyurcsány, former prime minister and head of DK, a party with sizable support. It didn’t seem to matter that the other speakers’ message was the same as Gyurcsány’s; he was the only one who was accused of flaunting an alleged agreement that speakers would in no way criticize the deal between MSZP and E14-PM. Opposition leaders deny the existence of any such agreement.

Then came the accusation that it was actually Ferenc Gyurcsány himself who organized the demonstration against Mesterházy. His people were the only ones who kept demanding “unity.” I looked at several videos of the event taken from different angles, and in my opinion just as many people holding MSZP red flags shouted slogans that for a while kept Mesterházy from speaking. Some overzealous MSZP politicians like Tibor Szanyi claimed to have seen Ferenc Gyurcsány leaving the gathering in a great hurry even before Mesterházy finished his speech. The implication naturally being that after he created the disturbance Gyurcsány quickly left the scene of the crime. Szanyi turned out to be wrong. Gyurcsány, his wife, and Ágnes Vadai were present to the very end of Mesterházy’s speech. According to Gyurcsány, he even applauded Mesterházy.

Gordon Bajnai joined the MSZP politicians in forcefully asserting that the deal that was signed will in no way ever be changed. This is the best arrangement even if all the other speakers and it seems the overwhelming majority of the voters on the left don’t think so. Of course, politicians can ignore popular demand, except they do so at their own peril. My hunch is that this unbending attitude cannot be maintained for long.

mistakesBut that was not the only problem the opposition had to face. Péter Juhász, who represents Milla, a group formed on Facebook, has caused a lot of trouble in the past, and he struck again. Juhász is not a politician. He worked as an activist even before 2010 and by and large has a devastating opinion of both politicians and parties, left or right. Therefore he often talks about the “past eight years” exactly the way Fidesz politicians do. I assume that within E14-PM his colleagues try to temper his outbursts, but it seems that he cannot help himself. Shortly after the October 23 gathering Juhász was the guest of Olga Kálmán on ATV where he announced that he would never want to stand on the same platform with Gábor Kuncze or Ferenc Gyurcsány. Moreover, he claimed that Kuncze wasn’t invited to participate. I guess Kuncze just appeared on the scene. Crashed the party, so to speak.

These unfortunate remarks were not without consequence. A number of well-known people, like Attila Ara-Kovács, László C. Kálmán, Mária Ludassy, and Ádám Csillag withdrew their support for E14. Most of them added that this Juhász incident was just the last straw. They had had their problems with E14 even before. Gordon Bajnai seems to be adrift, without a firm idea of his party’s goals. And E14’s floundering is reflected in its poll numbers. A year ago support for E14 was about 12%; now it hovers around 5%.

But that wasn’t the only blow to the democratic side. Shortly before he retired from politics Gábor Kuncze was asked by Klubrádió to be the moderator of a political show once a week. Although Kuncze’s program was popular, the owner of Klubrádió, András Arató, decided that since Kuncze agreed to make a speech at the opposition rally he should be dismissed. The result? A fair number of loyal listeners who have been generously contributing toward the maintenance of Klubrádió are angry. Some have gone so far as to stop contributing to the station, which is strapped for money due to the Orbán government’s illegal manipulation of the air waves. They argue that Klubrádió knew about Kuncze’s plans to attend and that Arató should have warned him about the possible consequences. These people figure that the speedy and unexpected dismissal was due to a “friendly” telephone call from MSZP headquarters. The station denies that they have ever yielded to political pressure and claim that no such call came.

Finally, there is the case of a sympathy demonstration organized in Budapest demanding territorial autonomy for the Hungarian-speaking Szeklers who live in a solid mass in three counties in the middle of Transylvania. Since I’m planning to write something about the autonomy question, I’m not going into the details here. It’s enough to say that the views of the Hungarian political leaders in these parts are close to Jobbik. The most important Hungarian party in Romania is a center-right party called RMDSZ, but Fidesz feels more comfortable with the Szeklers.

The sympathy demonstration was organized by CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum), the Szekler National Council (Székely Nemzeti Tanács), and Fidesz. CÖF is the “civic” forum, actually financed by the government, that organized the two peace marches against the “colonizers” and that was also responsible for gathering the supporters of Fidesz for the mass rally on October 23. Well-known anti-Semites like Zsolt Bayer, Gábor Széles (owner of Magyar Hírlap and Echo TV), and András Bencsik have prominent roles in CÖF. The Goy Bikers also made an appearance at this demonstration.

Both MSZP and E14-PM decided to support the march as well as Szekler autonomy. They argued that after all RMDSZ also gave its cautious approval to the march that concurrently took place in Romania. RMDSZ’s position, of course, is very different from that of MSZP and E14. After all, RMDSZ needs the Szeklers’ vote; MSZP and E14 don’t. Or, more accurately, supporting their demands will not prompt the Szeklers to vote for these two leftist parties at the next election. Those who vote will vote for Fidesz.

MSZP was satisfied with verbal support, but E14 politicians actually marched along with all the right-wingers and Goy Bikers! And with that move E14 lost even more supporters.

If the opposition is to stand any chance at the next election it can’t keep alienating potential voters. And it shouldn’t act like an exclusive club open only to the MSZP-E14 “founding members.” Politics is a numbers game, and numbers rise with inclusiveness. And with unity.