Tag Archives: Ferenc Gyurcsány

MSZP and DK at the negotiating table

Although most people would consider a Fidesz win at the next national election preordained, several political analysts consider the situation not that straightforward. There are several reasons to believe that Fidesz’s road to victory might be more difficult than it would seem at first glance. First of all, Fidesz voters at the moment appear to be complacent. Four years ago Fidesz was very effective in getting out the vote. But in several recent by-elections relatively few Fidesz voters bothered to go to the polls. Second, we know that the majority of voters would like to see a change of government. Only the sorry state of the opposition is responsible for the enormous Fidesz lead. Third, although opinion polls show an unstoppable Fidesz, support for the government party is usually overestimated in polls. Fourth, although few analysts pay enough attention to it, dramatic changes are taking place on the left that might change the political landscape. Here I am referring to the slow but steady disintegration of MSZP. Fifth, there is still an untapped pool of 1.5 million men and women who tell pollsters that they will definitely vote but at the moment are still undecided about their party preferences. These conditions, I believe, provide a level of political fluidity that may result in a closer election than most people expect.

Today I will concentrate on party politics, primarily the battle between MSZP and DK. Ever since László Botka decided to throw in the towel, both DK and MSZP politicians have been telling us that they are furiously and effectively negotiating. The winner of these protracted negotiations seems to be the Demokratikus Koalíció. According to the latest public opinion polls by Závecz Research and Medián, the difference between MSZP and DK is only 2%, in favor of MSZP, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if in the November polls DK would surpass MSZP.

Why? DK just launched its election campaign with an impressive program, whose highlight was an hour-long speech by Ferenc Gyurcsány. We know from past experience that Gyurcsány is an effective campaigner. Also helping DK is its campaign against the voting rights of dual citizens which, I understand, is going well. With this issue DK is reaching people across the political spectrum because we know that a great majority of the Hungarian electorate opposes voting rights for those who don’t bear the burden of their decisions at the ballot box. DK obviously finds this approach to be of such importance that the party is investing in robocalls, to take place this week. With all this effort, I expect a surge in DK support. Of course, the question is whether DK will be able to appeal to any of those 1.5 million unaffiliated voters or will only siphon off disenchanted MSZP voters.

First, a few words about the gala opening of DK’s campaign. Judging from the video, it was a glitzy affair with lots of enthusiasm for the party’s chairman. The occasion  reminded Gábor Török, a political analyst, of American political rallies. In Török’s opinion, Gyurcsány is an oddity of sorts in Hungarian politics because he knows what his political interests are and he works resolutely on achieving his goals. On Olga Kálmán’s program on Hír TV Török called him “a potent politician.”

If there is agreement on the 106 electoral districts, which means only one opposition politician against the Fidesz candidate, Gyurcsány said he is “absolutely optimistic about the election.” At the moment, he believes that his support is 12-13%, as opposed to the 10% reported by Medián and Závecz, and he hopes that by election time DK might reach 15%. This is probably too optimistic an assessment of the chances of the opposition at the forthcoming election, especially since there are serious obstacles to DK and MSZP agreeing on those 106 electoral districts. At one point negotiations broke down, and a few days ago MSZP announced that, in addition to István Haller and Bertalan Tóth, two former chairmen, Attila Mesterházy and József Tóbiás, will join the MSZP negotiating team.

Apparently, in at least two districts there was a serious rift between the two parties over whose candidate will be the Fidesz challenger. One was the electoral district in Újpest; the other, one of the two seats in the city of Szeged. Let’s start with Újpest because its fate has already been decided. MSZP caved. László Varju (DK) will replace Imre Horváth (MSZP). In response, Horváth left the party, although he will sit with the MSZP delegation between now and the end of the current parliamentary session. This is a sad turn of events because in November 2014 Horváth, against all odds, won a by-election after the death of Péter Kiss. It was a tremendous victory. Péter Kiss in the spring had received 40.7% of the votes while the Fidesz candidate got 35.2%. In November Horváth got 50.6% of the votes and his opponent only 30.6%. No wonder that now, three years later, Horváth feels that his party has thrown him to the dogs, allowing DK to take over a traditionally socialist district. According to rumor, Horváth either will run as an independent or perhaps he will be LMP’s candidate, running, of course, in the same district against Varju.

Another bone of contention is one of the two Szeged districts that the local MSZP people refuse to hand over to DK. László Botka, the mayor of Szeged and former MSZP candidate for prime minister, is still strong enough to defend his territory against the MSZP negotiating team. István Ujhelyi, a member of the European Parliament and a strong Botka supporter, gave a press conference in Brussels, of all places, where he said that the local MSZP leadership has no intention of replacing a “winning team,” a claim that is only partially true. It is correct to say that Sándor Szabó (MSZP-Együtt-DK-PM) won one of the two Szeged districts, but the other went to László B. Nagy (Fidesz). The local MSZP’s candidate for the second district is Márton Joób, a MSZP-DK-Együtt-PM member of the city council and a close associate of Botka. Given the very loose party discipline in MSZP, it is not exactly easy to negotiate with the socialists. The center might make decisions that the national leadership finds important for the party as a whole, but the local party leadership can rebel, citing its own priorities.

All of this is hellishly complicated. The electoral law devised by Fidesz counted on just these kinds of situations that occur in each and every electoral district when it comes to dividing the political terrain among several parties. On the other side, Viktor Orbán handpicks the candidates, who are nothing more than loyal voting machines.

November 22, 2017

Former PM Péter Medgyessy on the current political situation

Two days ago, when I was covering the negotiations between MSZP and DK, I was initially planning to include a few words about an interview with Péter Medgyessy, who was prime minister of Hungary between 2002 and 2004. Because I launched Hungarian Spectrum only in July of 2008, readers will find relatively little information on him on this blog. But his name came up about a year ago when we learned that the former prime minister, who owns a consulting firm, had received €600,000 from the French company Alstom in 2006, the year in which the City of Budapest made its decision to buy Alstom cars for the new metro line. Medgyessy naturally claims that his consulting firm had nothing to do with the decision in favor of Alstom, adding that it is a well-known fact that his relationship with Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and the liberal SZDSZ leadership of the City of Budapest was strained. This may be so, but receiving a high fee from a firm that was already in some trouble over corrupt business practices doesn’t look good.

Medgyessy comes from an old Transylvanian family and can trace his ancestry all the way back to the seventeenth century. After graduating from Karl Marx Economic University, he became a civil servant, working his way up the ladder until by 1982 he was deputy finance minister. After the regime change, he retired from politics and became CEO of a couple of banks. In 1996 he was named finance minister in the Horn government. In 2002 he was chosen as MSZP’s candidate for the premiership and, after a slim victory over Fidesz, became prime minister of the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition government.

Less than three weeks after his inauguration, Magyar Nemzet, a newspaper that had close ties with Fidesz in those days, revealed that Medgyessy had worked as a paid counterintelligence officer under the code name D-209 in the III/II section of the ministry of the interior. SZDSZ demanded that Medgyessy be replaced with someone with a clean record, but MSZP politicians convinced them to support Medgyessy. Two years later, however, Medgyessy lost the support of the coalition partners.When he threatened to resign unless the SZDSZ minister of the economy was dismissed, MSZP refused to stand by him. His resignation was accepted, and MSZP named the young Ferenc Gyurcsány as his replacement.

After this somewhat lengthy introduction, let me turn to the interview itself. Szabolcs Dull of Index visited Medgyessy in his home, where he asked the former prime minister to assess the current political situation. The conversation began with the chances of the opposition parties at the forthcoming election. Medgyessy predicted a Fidesz victory due to the poor performance of the opposition politicians and Viktor Orbán’s superior political instincts. What Medgyessy was referring to here were Orbán’s policies in the face of the migrant crisis. He doesn’t like Orbán’s answers, but he would have done the same thing if he had been in Orbán’s shoes. He also praised Orbán’s public works program. He admitted that the program doesn’t make much sense economically, but it is a good thing to put these people to work, for which they “receive a little bit of money.”

Source: Index / Photo: István Huszti

As for Orbán’s political chances, Medgyessy is convinced that “it will not be the opposition but time that will displace Orbán.” The problem with the opposition politicians, including Gyurcsány, is that “they are made of old stuff,” which is somewhat amusing to hear from a former Kádár counterintelligence officer who served as deputy finance minister in the old regime. They are not only old-fashioned socialist types from Kádár’s times, but “they are also mediocre.” No socialist can successfully take on Viktor Orbán, “who is anything but mediocre.” There is only one person who is up to the task, and that is Bernadett Szél. Medgyessy admits that Szél’s prospects for 2018 are slim, but he believes that she will be ready to lead the country in 2022. Medgyessy’s description of Szél as a person who “can integrate people” is strange considering her categorical and total rejection of cooperation with any other opposition politicians.

At the end of the interview Medgyessy repeated what he had asserted in an interview almost a year ago–that Viktor Orbán can be removed only if MSZP, DK, and Jobbik cooperate. Such a solution might not be a principled political decision, but “what is principled in politics?” The question is not whether the political left likes Jobbik. “There are historical situations which override every other consideration.” As for the problem of a workable coalition government that would comprise left-wing parties and a right-wing Jobbik, Medgyessy’s answer was: “This is the art of politics.” After all, this problem was solved in Austria during Wolfgang Schüssel’s chancellorship between 2000 and 2007 when he formed a coalition government with Jörg Haider’s Freedom Party of Austria.

The interview was not well received in opposition circles. The only person who had a high opinion of the interview was László Kéri, who found Medgyessy’s assessment of the present Hungarian situation correct and convincing. His colleague Zoltán Lakner, whom I consider perhaps the best political analyst in Hungary today, had a strikingly different opinion of Medgyessy and his interview. He said that it is hard to forget Medgyessy’s D-209 past and his rather miserable performance as prime minister. Moreover, someone who doesn’t remember the past accurately might not be the best person to predict the future. Here Lakner is referring to Medgyessy’s repeated claim after his resignation that it was a veritable coup d’état organized by Gyurcsány and other MSZP leaders that removed him from office. And with a D-209 past, “he shouldn’t stand on a moral pedestal because it may wobble under him.”

Lakner’s colleague Kornélia Magyar, in a comment to the above, wondered why Index found an interview with Medgyessy such a good idea just now. What is the editorial direction of Index? Clearly, she is suggesting an ulterior motive behind the publication of this interview. I assume Magyar was making a mental note of the fact that Index is owned by Lajos Simicska, who has been supporting Jobbik.

Jenő Kaltenbach, former ombudsman in charge of national and ethnic minority rights, was blunt in expressing his befuddlement at “keeping alive these political weathervane-corpses (Szili, Medgyessy). Unless because of Fidesz.”

This last point refers to the fact that in November 2015 Péter Szijjártó bestowed a prize on Medgyessy for his work on developing closer relations between China and Hungary. The ceremony took place shortly after Medgyessy in an interview claimed that corruption was not greater during the Orbán government than it had been earlier. As for Katalin Szili, formerly one of the top MSZP politicians who was president of the parliament (2002-2009), she accepted all sorts of jobs from Viktor Orbán after 2010. For example, she became a member of the Nemzeti Konzultációs Testület in 2011 and in that capacity had a hand in writing the new constitution. Since March 2015 she has been working for the Orbán government as a commissioner representing the prime minister himself, dealing with matters related to Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries.

What upset MSZP politicians most was Medgyessy’s suggestion of a political collaboration with Jobbik. The party published a statement in which they expressed their opinion that “Jobbik is the party of a billionaire thief while Fidesz is the party of thieving billionaires –one mustn’t vote for either! With these? Never!” Ildikó Lendvai, former party chairman and leader of MSZP’s parliamentary delegation between 2002 and 2009, stressed in a television interview yesterday that, although she thinks highly of Medgyessy and considers him a pleasant and clever man, she found this interview unfortunate. To work together with Jobbik would be a suicidal strategy. She also took issue with Medgyessy’s support of Bernadett Szél. Although Szél is a very promising and talented politician, one cannot have as the common prime minister of the democratic opposition somebody who refuses to work with others.

All of this shows the predicament in which Hungarian opposition politicians find themselves. Viktor Orbán managed to set up a structure that created a trap from which it is almost impossible to break out.

November 9, 2017

Demokratikus Koalíció moves into a “new phase” of its electoral campaign

Ferenc Gyurcsány, president of the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), announced a “new phase” in the party’s 2018 election campaign. DK activists will collect signatures of people who agree with DK’s resolute opposition to the right of dual citizens who have never lived in Hungary to vote in Hungarian national elections. DK has been relentless in its opposition to the 2011 law, which it opposes on the grounds that only those people should vote who will directly bear the consequences of their decision.

Let’s make clear at the very beginning that no DK politician seriously thinks that this signature drive can have any impact on the current law. Instead, it was designed to serve political purposes. First, the signature drive allows the party to be visible. It will certainly give the party more exposure than the party’s forums, where a hundred or so people gather, most of whom are already DK sympathizers. Second, a signature drive will add tens of thousands of signatures and addresses to the party’s database. And third, it distinguishes DK from the other left-of-center parties that all believe that opposing the voting rights of non-resident Hungarian citizens is far too risky. It would alienate those Hungarians who live in Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine. And the government parties will call them traitors to the national unification efforts launched by Fidesz in 2010.

Surely, Gyurcsány must have known the kind of abuse he would get from abroad as well as from Fidesz and, to some extent, from Jobbik. Yet he decided that the advantages of such a signature drive far outweigh its disadvantages. In 2014, 95% of votes from the neighboring countries were cast in favor of Fidesz and perhaps 2% for the left-of-center parties, which in the eyes of the very conservative Hungarian voters in the neighboring countries are already considered to be traitors to the national cause. On the other hand, DK might endear itself to the overwhelming majority of Hungarian voters who strongly oppose voting rights for dual Hungarian citizens.

In August of this year Publicus Intézet published a comprehensive poll on the attitudes of resident Hungarian citizens toward the rights of Hungarians living outside the current borders of Hungary. The results cannot be clearer. While 68% of Hungarians think there is nothing wrong with granting citizenship to members of the Hungarian minorities, they have grave objections to granting them voting rights. When it was pointed out to the respondents that these people don’t pay taxes yet they are allowed to vote, only 18% of the population was in favor of granting voting rights to them. Of course, Fidesz voters were more enthusiastic than those of the other parties, including Jobbik, but still 50% of them objected to what they consider a “free ride.” Thus, gathering signatures will probably not be very difficult.

Some analysts consider the signature drive a very clever political move. Among them are Dániel Mikecz of the Republikon Intézet and, to my great surprise, Zoltán Ceglédi, a political scientist who is normally highly critical of Gyurcsány. The former is certain that this “radical” move will mobilize not only DK voters but sympathizers of MSZP as well. Gyurcsány will be fiercely attacked by Fidesz, but he is already hardened on that score. The issue can distinguish DK from the other left-of-center parties with an easily recognizable and strong political profile. It may allow DK to call attention to the real danger of a two-thirds majority with the help of votes coming from abroad. In 2014, 130,000 foreign votes gave the one extra seat in parliament that was necessary for Fidesz to achieve the much desired two-thirds majority. At that time, only half a million new citizens had been added to the voter rolls, but by now the number is close to one million. So, it can easily happen that the Fidesz parliamentary faction will gain two or three extra seast as a result of the vote coming mainly from mostly Transylvania.

Voting in Transylvania / MTI / Photo: Nándor Veres

The government is doing its best to make sure that the foreign vote will be large. A special commissioner was appointed whose single task is the organization of the election abroad. This is in addition to another commissioner who makes sure that as many individuals ask for citizenship as possible. Mikecz reminds his readers of the infamous speech of István Mikola in 2006 when he was Fidesz’s candidate to become deputy prime minster. He said that “if we can win now for four years, then we will give citizenship to five million Hungarians, and when they can vote, we will be set for twenty years.” And since, according to many analysts, the best the left-of-center opposition can achieve in 2018 is to prevent a huge, supermajority Fidesz win, a campaign against the voting rights of dual citizens can keep the issue alive.

Zoltán Ceglédi is no friend of Ferenc Gyurcsány, but now he defends him because the other seven parties came forth under the banner of Márton Gulyás’s Közös Ország (Common Country) with a proposed electoral law that would give extra two mandates to the dual citizens outright, regardless of the number of votes. Momentum and Együtt went so far as to propose the creation of two extra districts, which would allow the voters in the neighboring countries to vote not only for party lists but also for local candidates. Given the strength of Fidesz domestically, the prospect of two or three seats coming from abroad should be truly frightening to the opposition.

Zsolt Semjén, whose chief job is to gather new citizens and new voters, is working assiduously. Viktor Orbán has already sent off a letter to all new dual citizens. An incredible amount of money is being spent abroad, for which the Hungarian government “is asking for and getting votes.” According to Ceglédi, “one mustn’t be mum about this.” Ceglédi believes that the opposition is doing Orbán a favor when it supports this idea under the false notion of “a common country” with people who have never set foot in Hungary and who “just mail their votes for Viktor Orbán.”

On the other side, Csaba Lukács, a journalist for Magyar Nemzet and a native of the Szekler district in Transylvania, is certain that Gyurcsány’s campaign is good only for Fidesz. He is sure that Hungarians living in the neighboring countries will be even more determined to vote after DK’s campaign. In his opinion, Gyurcsány is discrediting the entire left. His only goal is get a few more votes in order to squeeze his party into parliament. In Lukács’s opinion, the votes coming from abroad are neither here nor there. First of all, these people have only “half a vote” because they can vote only for the party list, not having districts of their own. And one seat out of 199 is nothing to make a fuss about. What Lukács forgets to mention is that “this one measly seat” gave Fidesz a two-thirds majority in 2014.

Another Transylvanian, Miklós Gáspár Tamás, TGM as he is known in Hungary, is convinced that Gyurcsány is a “bad politician,” as he has proved again and again. He admits that “it is somewhat unusual that people who have never lived in a country and have no intention of moving there and pay no taxes” can vote, but just because something is unusual does not necessarily make it incorrect, unreasonable, or illegal. “To reject these compatriots of ours just because they are partial to one particular Hungarian party is selfish and petty.” Gyurcsány “foments hatred … ignores or belittles the Hungarian nationalities in the successor states, which is intolerable. His madness and provocations are distasteful.”

So, that’s where we stand. We will see whether Gyurcsány is “a genius,” as the political scientist Gábor Török called him a few days ago, or a really bad politician whose latest move was most likely celebrated in Fidesz circles, as Csaba Lukács and TGM claim.

November 3, 2017

Another abortive attempt at forging a united democratic opposition against Orbán

While some conservatives are showing a willingness to join forces with the “democratic opposition” parties, the situation on the left is still in disarray.

My hope was that, with the retirement of László Botka, negotiations among the left-of-center parties would become a great deal easier. In a very limited sense, the situation did change for the better. MSZP and DK agreed to sit down again and discuss ways in which they could cooperate. This was certainly a positive step; after all, MSZP and DK are the two largest parties in this camp. Apparently, negotiations concerning the allocation of individual candidates in the 106 electoral districts have been proceeding well. We have been assured that an agreement will be reached soon.

The smaller parties are still looking for ways to distinguish themselves as separate entities with their own distinctive characteristics. They thus refused to join the talks. One such commonality, something their leaders consider to be a plus, is their “purity.” Their politicians have always been in opposition and therefore, they claim, they are superior to those who dirtied themselves in the political arena before 2010. LMP, Együtt, Párbeszéd, and Momentum view themselves as members of this group. When it came to negotiations, however, it turned out that organizing a “new pole,” as Péter Juhász of Együtt named the group, faced insurmountable difficulties. LMP and Momentum currently insist on entering the political fray alone. It is hard to know what Együtt and Párbeszéd are planning to do. Of course, if all these parties put up their own candidates, the failure of the opposition in the 2018 election is guaranteed.

Another problem on the left is the lack of a candidate for the premiership. MSZP lost its candidate when Botka left the campaign and DK never designated one. Párbeszéd has named Gergely Karácsony, but, let’s face it, Párbeszéd has only a 1% share among active voters. Regardless of how attractive and popular a candidate Karácsony is, his chances are close to nil.

It seems that there are plenty of people around with some connection to politics and politicians who are ready with advice. The latest name to surface was Péter Balázs, foreign minister in the Bajnai government. He is a more than respectable candidate. He would be excellent and, as of yesterday, he was willing to become a candidate if the majority of the parties would support him. But he stressed that under no condition would he be the candidate of MSZP and DK alone, as was originally reported.

Péter Balázs

Balázs had a distinguished career in the ministry of trade and, later, in practically all the governments after 1990, with the notable exception of the first Orbán government between 1998 and 2002. A lot of analysts greeted Balázs’s willingness to serve with great enthusiasm, and for perhaps a day it looked as if the forces of the left had found a desirable candidate. Although Gyula Molnár, chairman of MSZP, denied that he or anyone else from the party had approached Balázs, the normally well-informed Magyar Nemzet learned that MSZP was hopeful that the “negotiating proceedings” will accelerate as a result of Balázs’s indication that he is ready to talk. But it didn’t take long for Ferenc Gyurcsány to repeat that, as far as he is concerned, DK will not be a party to either a common list or a common candidate for the post of prime minister. At this point Gábor Török, the well-known political scientist, wrote on his Facebook page: “This was expected. With this step MSZP arrived at the edge of the precipice.” Within a day we learned that DK was not the only fly in the ointment. None of the parties was ready to stand behind Péter Balázs.

Gyurcsány’s first interview after Balázs’s affirmation of his interest was with Ildikó Csuhaj of ATV. It was during this interview that Gyurcsány stated that DK’s negotiations with MSZP are “not about a common list and not about a common candidate for the post of prime minister.” The party wants to arrive at an agreement on the candidates for the 106 electoral districts, but that is the extent to which DK is prepared to go. During the course of the conversation Gyurcsány recalled an essay he wrote in Népszabadság after the 2014 election in which he discussed the long-term future of the democratic opposition. He is still convinced that one day all these smaller parties will unite in “a big, open democratic party.” But this is not a program for 2018. The formation of such a party may take four or perhaps even eight years.

After this interview he explained the position of DK’s leadership in greater detail. For a common candidate for the premiership, one would need a common list and a common program. Although the programs of MSZP and DK have many features in common, on many questions the two parties don’t see eye to eye. For example, DK disagrees with MSZP on the voting rights of dual citizens living in the neighboring countries and on a return to the practice of giving pensioners an extra month’s stipend. A candidate for the post must represent a common program, which at the moment doesn’t exist; moreover, it is unlikely that the two parties will ever agree on all issues.

­HVG talked to a socialist politician who is convinced that DK wants to be the leading party on the left and wants to ruin MSZP. But, he said, Gyurcsány overestimates his party’s strength. The same politician admitted, however, that “MSZP in its present form is finished and that after the election reforms must be introduced.” On the basis of past experience, MSZP politicians should know that parties usually don’t revive after a state of marasmus. No reforms can help at this stage. I think he is right in believing that the DK leadership is convinced that they might become the strongest party, surpassing MSZP, on the left. From the trends of the last few months, their hopes are not unfounded.

Gyurcsány’s scheme is simple. If the democratic opposition wins the election, the party with the largest support will name the prime minister, who in turn will try to form a coalition government. One reason for DK’s reluctance to have a common list is the party’s bad experience at the 2014 election when MSZP allowed only very few DK members to be high up on the list. As a result, DK was very badly underrepresented and MSZP overrepresented in parliament.

Gyurcsány at the moment claims that it is out of the question that he would be the next prime minister, even if DK emerged as the strongest party after the election. “DK would consider someone else. Cooperation is easier when we don’t commit ourselves to one particular person.” A few months ago his ambition was to achieve a 13-15% share and have a fair-sized parliamentary delegation. In that case, he saw himself becoming the head of DK’s parliamentary delegation, which would allow him to display his oratorical and political skills. Whether he would be satisfied with only that much if DK emerged as an important political factor, I doubt. For the time being, however, we don’t have to worry about such an outcome.

October 26, 2017

MSZP’s Gergely Bárándy “debates”: Self-inflicted wounds

Fidesz politicians, who until very recently refused to debate their political opponents, suddenly developed an appetite for political discussions with politicians of MSZP. I haven’t noticed the same eagerness to exchange ideas with Gábor Vona of Jobbik or Bernadett Szél of LMP. But the Fidesz top-drawer strategists allowed Szilárd Németh to shout his way through a discussion, if you can call it that, with Zsolt Molnár of MSZP. Mind you, for that disaster I largely blame Egon Rónai of ATV, who seems to be utterly incapable of keeping order in his studio.

A great deal more was expected of a debate between Gergely Gulyás and Gergely Bárándy, which took place last night at ELTE’s Law School at the invitation of the school’s Political Science Workshop. Bárándy is the MSZP caucus’s “legal expert.” He is a 41-year-old who, after finishing law school at Péter Pázmány Catholic University in 2000, worked as a lawyer in the law office of his grandfather and father. Considering that he was a relative latecomer to politics, he made a remarkable career in MSZP. He became a member of parliament in 2010 and 2014, both times from party lists. I personally find him rather dull and his speeches in parliament uninspiring.

Gergely Gulyás, on the other hand, stands apart from the average Fideszniks. He is what Hungarians call a true “úrifiú,” a young gentleman both in looks and behavior. Like Bárándy, he comes from a family of lawyers. He also attended Péter Pázmány Catholic University’s law school, graduating five years after Bárándy. He joined Fidesz at the end of 2005 and also made a remarkable career in his party. By now he is the leader of the large Fidesz parliamentary delegation, deputy president of parliament, and Fidesz’s legal expert in general. He is intelligent and articulate and is very quick on his feet. He is ready to engage in debates with others and usually comes out on the winning side, even with reporters as well prepared as György Bolgár. He is like an eel; he always manages to support his party’s positions no matter how indefensible they are. At the same time, he gives the impression of someone whose views are moderate. He condemns extremism and vulgarity, which are often exhibited in Fidesz circles.

Photo: Magyar Nemzet

So, when I heard that these two men would face each other in a debate, I anticipated a huge Gulyás win over the less eloquent and less coherent Bárándy. Well, the debate turned out to be something no one was prepared for. According to Magyar Nemzet, it was “a convivial conversation” between two people who have known each other for a long time and who have spent considerable time together on the legislative committee of the parliament. As Gulyás remarked, they know each other’s legal positions through and through. Still, I was not prepared for Gergely Bárándy’s performance. He offered a public confession of the sins of his own party. “Even a Fidesz politician couldn’t have done better,” as Index’s journalist who was present put it. He described his own political side as something “dreadful” and said that he perfectly understands outsiders’ low opinion of the left. He “wouldn’t even entrust his dog to these people.” Gulyás exhibited bafflement at his opponent’s total political ineptness.

Once Bárándy was in the swing of things, Gulyás decided to toss him a bone by introducing the magic word “Gyurcsány” into the debate. How is it, he asked, that after eight years in opposition MSZP is still under the influence of the leader of the Demokratikus Koalíció? What followed was more or less what I expected because I always placed Bárándy in the left wing of MSZP and therefore suspected that he was no admirer of the liberal-leaning Gyurcsány. Keep in mind that István Nyakó, MSZP’s spokesman, was just sacked by Gyula Molnár because his sarcastic remarks interfered with the current MSZP-DK negotiations, and therefore the last thing MSZP needed was a barrage of verbal insults on the chairman of DK by an important MSZP politician. But this is exactly what happened. Bárándy announced that he would be very happy if Gyurcsány would step back and wouldn’t insist on being on a common party list.

It is hard to fathom why Bárándy brought up a common list and Gyurcsány’s presence on it because, with Botka’s resignation and the beginning of negotiations between MSZP and DK, this issue is no longer on the table. He got himself so wound up that during the Q&A period, when most of the questions were about the state of MSZP and the other opposition parties, he kept repeating his opposition to Gyurcsány. Bárándy must have realized that this incredible performance would be deemed unacceptable by the current leadership of MSZP because a couple of times he jokingly told his audience that he will deny some of his remarks and hoped that he would not be quoted out of context. For example, when he talked about the absolute necessity of having a leftist party, “whether it will be called MSZP or something else.” This afternoon Klub Rádió reported that Gergely Bárándy now insists that the statements that were attributed to him were never uttered or, if they were, they were not accurately described. Well, he will need a better explanation than that. Not so much to the public but to his comrades.

Since the debate was not open to the public, few newspapers reported on it. Figyelő was the only pro-government paper I could find that carried the news. The article was written by Tamás Pindroch, a devoted pro-Fidesz journalist originally from the far-right Magyar Hírlap who then had a short stint at Magyar Idők. He was delighted because he believes that MSZP politicians like Mesterházy, Botka, Nyakó, and Bárándy are working for a renewed MSZP that will emerge after the party’s electoral defeat next year. The number of people, he wrote, who think that the greatest encumbrance on the Hungarian left is Ferenc Gyurcsány is growing. These people realize that he must be removed in order to have a robust Hungarian left. “One thing is sure; the left-wing cleansing process which didn’t take place in 1990 may begin after 2018. Better later than never.” Of course, Pindroch is not really worried about MSZP’s renewal. What he is hoping for is the further weakening of the left by warring factions within MSZP before the election. And looking at the latest polls, the leadership of MSZP is succeeding admirably. According to the latest opinion poll, in the past three months MSZP has lost 4% of its voters. Among active voters they stand at 13% as opposed to DK’s 9% and LMP’s 6%.

I can more or less understand that MSZP regional leaders, like Ferenc Kurtyán from Szekszárd, haven’t been able to grasp the present Hungarian political reality, but that one of the shining lights of the party, the great legal expert, commits such a political blunder is unfathomable. What kinds of nincompoops run this party? How can you let any politician engage in a debate without sitting down with him and agreeing on the talking points? MSZP’s ineptitude simply boggles the mind.

October 19, 2017

Intraparty affairs of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP)

I decided to do some detective work inside the dark labyrinths of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) after reading a brief news item about plans by Zsolt Gréczy, spokesman of the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), to sue MSZP’s local organization in Szekszárd. His charge is that it “spread the falsehood on its official Facebook page that [Gréczy] conducted negotiations with Kálmán Horváth and István Horváth, Fidesz politicians, in the Heinmann Winery on October 13, Friday, at 2:00 p.m.” Gréczy stated that he spent the whole day in Budapest and that he has never met or even heard of these politicians.

After doing some research on the local level, I came to the conclusion that this “storm in a teapot” is just one more manifestation of the division that exists in MSZP, a division that is so deep that it may lead to the demise of the party. This split spans the entire party, from ordinary voters and party members all the way to the highest echelons of the party hierarchy.

At first one might be inclined to look upon this incident merely as a case of mistaken identity. The so-called eyewitness who informed Ferenc Kurtyán, the chairman of the local MSZP organization in Szekszárd, was wrong and apologies would be in order. But once I looked into Kurtyán’s “literary activities” before and after the incident, I came to the conclusion that he is a member of a fairly large group among the local and national leaders who are convinced that the current MSZP leadership is digging its own grave by negotiating with Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció.

There is an internet news site called civilhetes.net which is, I suspect, a vehicle for those within the party who oppose negotiations with Gyurcsány. Kurtyán is a regular contributor. Just to give a sense of the ideological flavor of the site, here are two articles that have appeared on the news site: “Joint opposition in the districts will be a failure,” an assessment by Fidesz’s Századvég Intézet, and “The Gyurcsány plan,” a republished opinion piece by Tarski, a blogger, who is certain that negotiations with Ferenc Gyurcsány will serve only the interests of DK, which, without the help of MSZP, would never get into parliament.

Kurtyán, in addition to contributing to civilhetes.net, also runs the Szekszárd MSZP organization’s Facebook page, where he posts comments like “Why should MSZP change its candidate to the post of prime minister for a man with 17% popularity? To keep Orbán in power?” to which commenters added that no one wants to support Gyurcsány as MSZP’s candidate for the post of prime minister.

Discussing the election?–Ferenc Kurtyán’s artwork on Facebook

It was Kurtyán who posted the false story about Gréczy’s clandestine meeting with the Fidesz politicians on the Szekszárd MSZP Facebook page, which was subsequently embellished by civilhetes.net. Although Gréczy denied the story and threatened to sue, the site kept insisting on the truthfulness of this unlikely tale, despite the fact that civilhetes.net’s article had to admit that, upon checking the license plate of the “black Mercedes” which was allegedly used by Gréczy, it actually belonged to a dark green Toyota Corolla. Never mind, the article simply brushed the discrepancy aside and claimed that the change of license plate was a deliberate attempt by someone in the DK camp to mislead. Some commenters called the chairman of MSZP, Gyula Molnár, Ferenc Gyurcsány’s “csicskás” (orderly of an officer). Kurtyán eventually removed the montage he created from the Szekszárd site, but it can still be seen on his own website, although people kept urging him to remove it. Obviously, he feels very strongly that MSZP is making a dreadful mistake because its present leaders are seeking a compromise with the man who wants to destroy the party.

I should add that two very important MSZP members of parliament are from Szekszárd: the Harangozó brothers, Gábor and Tamás. I don’t know about Gábor, but Tamás is no friend of Ferenc Gyurcsány. During a television interview the reporter told Harangozó that Ágnes Kunhalmi, in one of her careless moments, said at a press conference that there will be a day when MSZP and DK will be one party again. Tamás Harangozó’s reaction was that if such an event ever happens, he will quit MSZP. All in all, I believe that the split between those who would like to make some arrangement with DK and those who fiercely oppose it is deep and most likely unbridgeable.

One must assume that István Nyakó belongs to the anti-Gyurcsány camp because, as spokesman of MSZP, he issued a sarcastic communiqué stating that “if we would file charges against DK after every abusive and wrongful Facebook comment, Tünde Handó [president of the National Judiciary Office] would have to set up a separate appellate court for all the hearings. MSZP has never done anything like it. But if Mr. Gréczy thinks that his word is not enough and he needs a court decision to state that he has never visited the Szekszárd winery, it’s his funeral—the court will decide.” A few hours later Gyula Molnár, the head of MSZP, fired Nyakó. Molnár must have felt that strong action was needed to put an end to the activities of those who refuse to accept the leadership’s decision concerning negotiations with the other opposition parties.

But civilhetes.net is continuing the fight and refuses to accept the truth that whomever the sole informer saw, it was not Zsolt Gréczy. The whole case by now is being portrayed as a conspiracy where the top leadership of MSZP is conspiring with DK to clear Gréczy’s name while Nyakó “has been condemned to death” by the MSZP leadership. It is indeed a very ugly game, and one has the nagging feeling that the grand old socialist party is starting to crumble.

October 18, 2017

From chaos to possible prospects for political understanding

The chaos caused by the resignation of László Botka, MSZP’s candidate for the premiership, hasn’t subsided. If anything, it has grown over the last two days, nurtured by the vitriol that has surrounded Botka’s departure from the national political scene. Botka’s few stalwart supporters keep talking about the alleged treachery of certain leading members of the party, who were shielded by the majority of the board (választmány).

Perhaps the most stinging condemnation of the leadership of MSZP came from Ákos Tóth, the new editor-in-chief of 168 Óra, who began his editorial with the following sentence: “László Botka failed because the darkest scoundrels of the Orbán regime, his own kind, made him fail.” In the editorial Botka is portrayed as a valiant reformer who wanted to lift his party out of the swamp but was stabbed in the back by internal agents, moved by Fidesz hirelings with the help of pro-DK internet news sites, which he compares to 888.hu, the most heinous online government rag.

One should not be surprised by this vehement attack on the alleged rats within MSZP when Botka himself, seconded by István Ujhelyi, an MSZP member of the European Parliament, pointed the finger at Zsolt Molnár, one of the vice chairmen of the party. According to those who bought this story, Botka didn’t resign because his strategy of forging a united democratic opposition failed. He resigned because of his furor, mixed with sadness and disgust, after he realized that his comrades refused to go after the alleged traitors in the party. On the other hand, both Gyula Molnár, the party chairman, and István Hiller, chairman of the board, have repeated several times, quite emphatically, that there was no reason to censure Zsolt Molnár because the explanation he offered the board satisfied the great majority of the board members.

If anyone is guilty of undermining the little respect MSZP still has, it is István Ujhelyi. Botka has been quiet since his resignation, but Ujhelyi has given several interviews in which he laid the blame on “the Fidesz agents” in the party. As far as he is concerned, Botka’s only mistake was not making public the presence of these traitors in MSZP. He seems to believe that Fidesz agents are in all the opposition parties. Facts don’t seem to matter to Ujhelyi when it comes to the defense of his friend, László Botka. In these interviews he ignored the disastrous drop in MSZP support since Botka’s nomination and LMP’s latest unequivocal refusal to cooperate with him.

Are there any signs of a resolution to this admittedly dire political situation? I see the glimmer of a light at the end of the tunnel, but in order to explain why, I have to say a few words about electoral arithmetic. You may remember that Botka insisted on an agreement on the 106 electoral districts and on a common party list.  Gyurcsány agreed that there should be only one candidate in each electoral district agreed to by the different parties but insisted on individual party lists. That strategy has its pluses. For example, it satisfies the voters’ desire to vote for the party of their choice while being forced to vote for a candidate who might not be their first choice if they were absolutely free to decide. Botka argued that Gyurcsány was misleading the electorate because the electoral law doesn’t permit that combination of single candidates and multiple party lists. Was Botka right or not? Well, not quite. The law stipulates that the so-called coordinated voting system, which Gyurcsány promulgated, can be applied only if each party can put up at least 27 individual candidates. The problem in this case is that there are four parties on the left that could be part of an agreement: MSZP, DK, Együtt, and Párbeszéd. Four times 27 is 108, more than the number of available districts.

Given this arithmetical conundrum, MSZP and DK should start to negotiate. There is apparently still some hope in MSZP circles that a common list remains a possibility. However, I don’t believe that Gyurcsány will give up his idea of individual party lists because, as I understand it, he foresees an outcome where the party with the highest number of votes cast for its party list will be the prime minister in the case of victory. But even if Viktor Orbán remains in power, the number of members of parliament for each party will depend on their party’s actual strength. This, he argues, would be a fairer apportionment of seats than an arbitrary assignment of places from a common party list. I should add that Gyurcsány obviously believes at the moment that his party will do well, perhaps even better than the ailing MSZP.

But what about the other two parties? This is where I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Today, Tímea Szabó, co-chair of Párbeszéd, announced that the party is ready to unite with Együtt to enter the 2018 race. Although the form of cooperation has not been finalized, it is likely that the two parties will have a common list and common candidates. That would be a rational decision given the minuscule size of the two parties. This would remove the obstacle to the “coordinated” voting system, although it is unlikely that these two parties would be able to compete on an equal footing with the two more established parties. I assume that once some kind of understanding is reached between MSZP and DK, these two parties could then sit down to negotiate. In that case, MSZP and DK might offer something enticing. For example, there is more and more talk about Gergely Karácsony as a possible common candidate for the post of prime minister.

Although Gyurcsány keeps repeating that an agreement can be reached in 72 hours, I think that even 72 days may not be enough to hammer out some kind of an agreement. This is a pity because the electorate, which would like a speedy agreement, might lose its little remaining faith in politicians if they drag their feet or if they keep publicly criticizing each other. Unfortunately, there is a good likelihood of such an outcome.

October 4, 2017