Tag Archives: Fidesz

What will come of Orbán’s opposition?

Yesterday HVG  published a two-page summary of Medián’s polling results over the 2017 calendar year. Ever since April Fidesz has been gaining in popularity among the electorate as a whole. Jobbik, although losing some of its support, has maintained its position as the largest opposition party. Opposition parties on the left, taken together, have garnered, depending on the date of the poll, between 19% and 25% support. Medián has a category of voters it calls “active undecided.” These are people who claim they would definitely vote but are still undecided about their party of choice. This is a group of a little over a million voters. And about half of the electorate, despite the seemingly overwhelming support for Fidesz, would like to see a change of government.

One of the striking findings of the survey is that with every passing month the number of people who would under no circumstances vote for MSZP or DK has grown. By November 59% of respondents said they wouldn’t vote for MSZP; 60% wouldn’t vote for DK. The reason for this development is twofold. First is the growing doubt about the chances of the left-of-center opposition at the polls. And second, the protracted negotiations between MSZP and DK gave the impression of incompetence, lack of political finesse, and the will to win. Whether this view will change after the conclusion of the first phase of the negotiations only time will tell, but I wouldn’t be overly optimistic, again for at least two reasons.

The first reason for my doubt is the relatively weak popular support for the kind of arrangement that MSZP and DK came up with. Only 21% of those who want a change of government would like to see one common left-of-center candidate against the candidates of Fidesz and Jobbik. A much larger percentage (45%) of respondents support across-the-board cooperation among the opposition parties, including Jobbik. That arrangement would pit one joint opposition candidate against one Fidesz candidate. In brief, almost half of the anti-Orbán forces are convinced that without Jobbik the left opposition cannot win.

The second reason for my belief that the campaign on the left-of-center side will not be particularly successful is the inability of its political leaders to set aside their bickering. I had hoped that public arguments about the best arrangement would come to an end once an agreement was reached on the individual districts. But I was mistaken. Last night Gyula Molnár and Ferenc Gyurcsány spent close to half an hour discussing the pros and cons of the arrangement on ATV’s “Egyenes beszéd.” For good measure, they also engaged in, at the urging of the anchor, a lengthy discussion about their differences of opinion regarding Gergely Karácsony as a suitable candidate for the post of prime minister. This conversation, as far as I was concerned, didn’t help the situation of either MSZP or DK. Gyurcsány’s disparaging remarks about Karácsony were unfortunate. He didn’t have to give a lecture on the unimportance of popularity as a political category or make snide remarks about MSZP not being able to come up with a candidate of its own. It was equally unnecessary for Gyurcsány to talk about the unlikely situation in which the left-of-center parties win the election and then have to decide on the best person for prime minister (when he didn’t rule himself out as being the best choice), as he did in an interview with Olga Kálmán on Hír TV. None of this is helpful in strengthening the electorate’s trust in the opposition.

It is also difficult to understand why László Botka felt compelled to give an interview right after his party and DK had just signed an agreement. I wasn’t convinced by Botka’s reasoning that he “owes the people of Szeged an account of his candidacy at the end of the year.” Botka looks upon himself as an innocent victim who was attacked by both Fidesz and his own party. He still believes that he “suggested total cooperation” and did everything in his power to achieve it. As we know, this was not the case. He spent nine months negotiating with no one and on principle excluding the leader of the second largest party from that “total cooperation.” In addition, he was largely responsible for his party’s rapid loss of popularity during the summer and fall of 2017. But instead of admitting his contribution to MSZP’s troubles, he now publicly accuses the current party leaders of not striving for victory. Botka now claims that he resigned because he couldn’t withstand the  “incredible pressure” coming from Fidesz “for which left-wing politicians often offered the munition.” It is unlikely that this mixture of public crying over spilt milk and accusations will inspire the anti-Orbán forces to stand behind the left-of-center parties.

By now it has been determined, whether DK likes it or not, that Gergely Karácsony will be MSZP’s candidate for prime minister, which I consider to be a fine choice. At the moment there are four declared candidates: Viktor Orbán, Bernadett Szél, Gergely Karácsony, and Gábor Vona. Medián asked voters to choose among these candidates. Although there remains a large undecided group (35-39% of the electorate), among those who have an opinion Viktor Orbán would win hands down with 45-46% against Szél’s 19%, Karácsony’s 18%, and Vona’s 16%.

Slogan says: Determination / Announcement for a meeting in Miskolc

Karácsony is a low-keyed man who, although he inherited a Fidesz-majority council, has been successfully running a Budapest district of about 130,000 inhabitants. He is young and good-looking. MSZP decided to send him and Ágnes Kunhalmi on a nationwide campaign. As Gyula Molnár said, the most popular politician with the most popular MSZP politician should be a winning combination.

December 22, 2017

A partial agreement between MSZP and DK

The first phase of the seemingly endless negotiations between MSZP and DK came to an end today. The two parties finally agreed on the division of the 106 electoral districts, but no one should think that this is the end of the story. Both MSZP and DK would still like to negotiate with the smaller parties on the left before the final allocation. And then we still have the huge problem that LMP and, to some extent, Momentum pose to any chance of the opposition winning. At the moment these two parties are unmoved by arguments that their unbending opposition to cooperation will lead to certain Fidesz victory.

Media reaction to the compromise, whether it comes from the left or from the right, is that Ferenc Gyurcsány was the winner of the struggle between MSZP and DK. But if that is the case, I don’t know why the former prime minister and chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció looked so mournful at the press conference that he and Gyula Molnár, chairman of MSZP, gave this afternoon.

To put it in the simplest terms, MSZP will be able to name candidates in 60 districts and DK in 46. In November seven opinion polls were published whose average result showed MSZP at 11% and DK at 7%, though the most reliable pollsters (Medián and Závecz) showed even less of a difference between the two parties. Most commentators, however, believe that Gyurcsány’s real victory was achieving cooperation without agreeing to MSZP’s long-standing demand for a common party list.

As far as common versus individual party lists are concerned, opinion is split on which system is more advantageous to the opposition parties. Gyurcsány naturally believes that individual lists are superior because with this system the voter who might be obliged to vote for the candidate of a party not his own could still express his party preference and therefore would be more ready to go to the polls.

Although divvying up the districts was no easy task, I still cannot help thinking how much better it would have been if these two parties had agreed on the “coordinated” candidacies months ago. Perhaps the greatest drag on progress was the good nine months wasted when László Botka’s candidacy put an end to negotiations between MSZP and the other parties. The Botka period also did great harm to MSZP, whose popularity kept slipping with every passing month. With his resignation Botka retired from national politics, but he is still the strongman in Szeged, where he managed to prevent DK from getting one of the two Szeged districts. MSZP also kept District XVIII in Budapest, where Ágnes Kunhalmi, a last-minute candidate, lost the election in 2014 by only a handful of  votes. The complete list of MSZP and DK candidates in all 106 districts can be seen here.

Since negotiations with the smaller parties will apparently continue, some of the districts might have to be given up to candidates of other parties. We know already that Tímea Szabó of Párbeszéd will most likely get one of the Budapest districts from MSZP. A couple of independents might also get districts currently allotted to MSZP. The same is true of DK, which most likely will have to negotiate with Együtt. So, it’s not over till it’s over or, as 168 Óra put it, “they divided and multiplied and at the end with one foot they moved from one to two.”

As opposed to Gyula Molnár, Gyurcsány looked weary and was low-keyed. About the future he said only that “it was better before Orbán and it will be better after Orbán,” which is really a minimalist promise. It looks as if he learned from his experience with unfulfillable promises. On the other hand, he was categorical when it came to the DK list, which he will lead without being a declared candidate for the post of prime minister. Although earlier there was talk about Gergely Karácsony being the candidate of MSZP and DK, Gyurcsány said that “DK doesn’t support a candidate who is on the list of another party.” This refusal, however, didn’t change MSZP’s mind. As of now, Karácsony is heading the MSZP list, though I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on his remaining there.

In response to the news of a partial deal, Fidesz announced that “on the left Gyurcsány is still the real leader,” and everything is moving in a direction that serves only his interest. Origo called the agreement “an alliance of hopelessness and the past.” According to the editorial, the two parties have given up hope of winning against Fidesz in 2018 and simply want to survive and get ready for 2022.

But it would be a mistake to assume that only the government media panned the agreement. HVG, which is a fairly consistent critic of Ferenc Gyurcsány, called the agreement “an understanding to continue to fight between themselves” while “Gergely Karácsony drifts into nothingness.” Nothing will come of this tentative embrace, mostly because of Ferenc Gyurcsány. His short-term aim is to beat MSZP, which he might be able to do, but he cannot win against Fidesz and Jobbik. His real aim is to be the head of the opposition in 2022. Gyurcsány has managed to line up his troops, while the socialists so far have done nothing but give up 46 electoral districts.

These assessments might not be too far from the truth. There is no question that DK has been vying for the voters of MSZP, a party that is losing them fast. It is also clear that Ferenc Gyurcsány hasn’t given up on the idea of becoming Hungary’s prime minister again sometime in the future. In the past he made some contradictory comments about his plans, but as far as I know he has never excluded the possibility of a complete political revival. This time, in answering a question, he pointed out that “there might be a situation” when he could become head of the government because he is “still a very young man who is in good shape.” He wouldn’t like it if the political right managed to get rid of him too early. “Since the Gyurcsánys have been a long-lived lot, I do hope that I can offer a political alternative against everything Fidesz and its prime minister represent for a very long time to come.” And this wasn’t said as a joke.

That kind of talk, unless some miracle happens in April of 2018, indicates that Gyurcsány has pretty well given up hope of the opposition winning the coming election. Yet here and there one gets the impression that he considers the possibility that Fidesz will not get an absolute majority and that the opposition parties will then have to sit down to negotiate a coalition government. But as I’ve said, something very unexpected and dramatic would have to happen between now and the election to be faced with such a currently unlikely situation.

December 20, 2017

Open Society Foundation moved to the “provinces”

Let’s step outside of Budapest for at least a day to take a look at local politics as it has been playing out in the “provinces.” In Hungary everything outside of Budapest is in the realm of the “provinces” (vidék), including fair-sized cities like Debrecen, Szeged, and Pécs. In these cities we can see first-hand how “national politics” is being translated into action on the local level. What we witness in these places is a raw, unedited version of political reality in all its brutishness.

The Open Society Foundation’s decision “to get closer” to trouble spots triggered vigorous government counter-propaganda. There are two especially poverty-stricken regions in Hungary: the southernmost areas of Transdanubia and the northeastern region of the Great Plains. Thus, OSF, after looking for civic groups with a lengthy, solid track record, picked two, one in Pécs and the other in Debrecen, to be in charge of allocating money from the block grant they receive to smaller local groups. All grants will be handled locally and independently from OSF. Each of these two centers will receive $130,000, which will be used for projects dealing with poverty, education, and public health. In Pécs, the NGO that will be responsible for the allocation is the Emberség Erejével Alapítvány/EEA (With Force of Humanity Foundation) while in Debrecen the Alternatív Közösségek Egyesülete (Association of Alternative Communities) was chosen for the job.

The local reaction in both places was immediate, with one big difference. Debrecen is a Fidesz city through and through, and therefore the opposition to having a “pseudo-civic” group in town was actually a grass roots movement, or at least it seems to be. Somebody began a Facebook page called “We don’t want a Soros office in Debrecen,” which since December 7 has gained 2,867 followers. Pécs is a different cup of tea. There the local Fidesz leadership has been totally discredited in the last few years, and there is growing opposition to Zsolt Páva, the mayor since 2009, whose leadership practically bankrupted the city. Although Fidesz won the two parliamentary seats from Pécs in 2014, it was only with a slim majority. In fact, if LMP hadn’t entered its own candidate, both seats might have been gone to the joint opposition. As far as I know, there was no enthusiastic popular opposition to the grant given to the Pécs NGO, which has been in existence since 2006 and is well known in town. Fidesz city leaders had to do the dirty work alone.

I’m in luck in my quest for information about local Pécs politics because recently a news site critical of the government was created by two journalists who had lost their jobs after Lőrinc Mészáros took over the local paper. These two inform the world what’s going on in the city. They have paid special attention to the uproar that Fidesz propaganda created around the grant to EEA.

As soon as OSF announced its plans for the two regional centers, Fidesz countered that George Soros’s latest charitable gift is simply money provided to organizations that will be taking an active part in the election campaign against the governing party. The two Fidesz MPs from Pécs instructed Mayor Zsolt Páva to do his best to thwart the Foundation’s plans to hand out money to the poverty-stricken regions around Pécs. Páva gave interviews to local papers and the radio station in which he accused Soros and the “pseudo civilians” of supporting the opposition in the coming election campaign.

I should note in passing that Péter Hoppál, one of the two Fidesz MPs from Pécs who delivered the word from Budapest, has made a fabulous career in national politics since 2010. Prior to that time he was active in local politics. He was trained as a musician, with a concentration in sacred music and conducting, and his field of study is the Hungarian Reformed musical tradition. He was employed as a chorister and teacher at the Hungarian Reformed Gymnasium in Pécs. Eventually, he became the principal of the institution. His choir, by the way, became quite well known, performing in 16 different countries. He could also boast of 14 recordings. Currently, he serves as undersecretary in charge of culture in the ministry of human resources.

On December 7 Hoppál gave a press conference in Pécs in which he announced that the city’s Fidesz organization is planning to submit a draft resolution on December 14 to the city council that will reject in the name of the city’s inhabitants the establishment of a “Soros campaign center” in Pécs. But Hoppál, the good Christian, didn’t stop here; he added that, “if possible, the people of Pécs shouldn’t even rent space” to this charitable organization.

Just as promised, the Pécs city council dutifully voted in favor of the resolution. The council has 27 members, 19 of whom are Fidesz affiliates. The rest is a varied lot: two represent MSZP-Együtt-PM; one, Demokratikus Koalíció; two, Jobbik; one, LMP; and two, a local civic group called “Cooperation for Pécs.” I would have thought that these eight would all have voted against the resolution. But no, they decided not to vote at all. Only the two Jobbik members demanded the removal of the item from the agenda. The LMP city father even suggested modifications to the resolution.

On the very same day, the owners of Nappali Bár on Pécs’s Váci utca, who had verbally agreed with the Emberség Erejével Alapítvány to rent them a gallery above their bar, announced their reluctant decision to rescind the offer at the insistence of the owner of the property, who was afraid of the possible consequences of having EEA’s office in his building. Soon thereafter, OSF published a statement regarding the developments in Pécs, in which they contended that the resolution the Pécs city council passed was an open violation of the constitution’s guarantee of freedom of expression and assembly. “These intimidating tactics evoke the darkest period of Hungarian history,” the statement concluded. EEA people are convinced that eventually they will have a roof over their heads because they have received offers of office space from several people.

With Force of Humanity Foundation is looking for a roof / Source: szabadpecs.hu

The story didn’t end here. On Saturday there was, by Pécs standards, a fairly large demonstration, a small part of which can be seen on video. In addition, at least two open letters were addressed to the two Fidesz MPs from Pécs and Zsolt Páva. One of the authors was Zoltán Bretter, a political science professor at the University of Pécs, who knows Páva well from his earlier life in politics. Bretter (SZDSZ) was a member of parliament between 1990 and 1998. From Bretter’s letter one gets the impression that Páva was at one point a decent man, who by now has sunk to “cheap Soros-bashing” and who “became one of the glorifiers of Orbán under Conductor Hoppál.” Yes, he wrote, there are people who are toxic, and Viktor Orbán is one of them. Another open letter was signed by 13 well-known public figures who used to or still live in the city. It was addressed to MPs Péter Hoppál and Péter Csizi, whom they call “inglorious executors of the government party’s most disgusting campaign.”

Fidesz’s merciless attack on civil society here and there still finds brave souls who oppose it, but, unfortunately, fear is spreading everywhere. In the “provinces” civic life seems even more threatened than in the nation’s capital.

December 17, 2017

Dress rehearsal for the national election? By-election in Solymár

Yesterday, on December 10, a local by-election for a seat on the town council was held in the sixth district of Solymár, a suburb of Budapest, which is described in its English-language Wikipedia entry as “a desirable destination for affluent city-dwellers moving to suburban homes outside of Budapest.” The extremely detailed Hungarian Wikipedia article portrays the small town of 10,000 as a bustling, culturally active community where there is a strong attachment to the German traditions that became nearly extinct with the deportation of a great number of indigenous German inhabitants of Solymár. The list of prominent writers, artists, and politicians who are associated with the town is impressive. Some well-known people from the right also seem to favor the place. The anti-Semitic leader of MIÉP, István Csurka, used to live there and Zsolt Bayer is still a resident. So is Pál Schmidt, the former president, who had to resign in disgrace.

Solymár is known as a Fidesz town through and through, a designation that is well-deserved, at least since 2006. Solymár has had a Fidesz mayor ever since that time, and all eight electoral districts of the town elected Fidesz-KDNP candidates. MSZP-DK, Jobbik, and Együtt-PM each received one place from the compensation list. The contested District #6 was handily won in 2014 by Gergely Gaal with 61.96% (215 votes) over MSZP-DK’s candidate with 27.67% (96) and Jobbik’s with 10.37% (36). A by-election had to be held because Fidesz-KDNP chose Gaal to replace György Rubovszky, a long-standing member of parliament (KDNP) who died in June. Gaal joined the Christian Democratic caucus, which represents a political formation that actually doesn’t exist.

All of the left-of-center opposition parties, including LMP and Momentum, two parties that are dead against any kind of cooperation with those they find politically unacceptable, decided to throw their weight behind an independent candidate, Zsuzsanna Kárpáti, a photographer who is well known and well liked in town. Jobbik decided not to enter the race, which was interpreted as a tacit endorsement of Kárpáti. Some of the independent media outlets heralded the event as “the dress rehearsal” for the national election next year. 24.hu considered the by-election in Solymár “a great deal more important than an ordinary by-election.” Having “only one competitor against the Fidesz candidate” is the sole formula by which Fidesz can be beaten. Magyar Nemzet also looked upon the Solymár by-election as a “litmus test” for next year’s election.

Zsuzsanna Kárpáti and supporters / Source: HVG

The election duly took place yesterday, and Attila Dalos, the Fidesz-KDNP candidate, won, receiving 225 votes (56.8%) against Zsuzsanna Kárpáti’s 169 votes (42.7%). The government propaganda machine was ecstatic. Magyar Idők interpreted Kárpáti’s loss as “a slap in the face to opposition cooperation.” The victory, in the opinion of the right, was “a win hands down.”

Gergely Gaal, whom Attila Dalos will replace as a member of the town council, interpreted the figures as proof that “the government parties have actually become stronger in Solymár” in the last three years. I predict a great career for Gaal in national Fidesz politics because his claim that Fidesz-KDNP has become stronger since 2014 when “Fidesz-KDNP received 55.6% and now 56.8%” is simple hoodwinking. Solymár is part of the Electoral District #2 of Pest County where Fidesz received 46.54% of the votes at the national election of 2014. Solymár with its 55.6% of Fidesz votes in the 2014 national election shows that Solymár is a Fidesz stronghold in District #2. Gaal is comparing apples and oranges when he compares municipal election figures to the numbers in the national election in order to portray the by-election as a great victory. The fact is that although the Fidesz-KDNP candidate won, the earlier overwhelming support for Fidesz (61.96%) in the local election slipped by more than five percentage points this time around. And the single challenger did considerably better (42.7%) than the MSZP-DK candidate (27.67%) in 2014.

As is usually the case, the other side finds the results encouraging. Gábor Vágó, a former LMP member and nowadays a civil activist and journalist, thinks that “Solymár shows that the national election is not a done deal.” Vágó, in comparing the figures, said that in 2014 there was a 121 vote difference between the Fidesz winner and the MSZP-DK challenger which by now “has melted to 56.” Thus, says Vágó, cooperation among the parties has a mobilizing effect on the electorate. I think that Vágó’s explanation is too simplistic. One must keep in mind that Jobbik didn’t enter the race, and it’s not evident if its supporters turned out to vote anyway and, if so, for whom they voted. Considering that there is no love lost between Jobbik and Fidesz, they may have cast their votes for Kárpáti. In 2014 the Jobbik candidate received 36 votes. In addition, 26 more people voted this time than three years ago. All in all, it’s not obvious that the narrowing of the gap between 2014 and 2017 was due solely to party cooperation.

The socialists are also optimistic. The party believes that “if in District #6 of Solymár one can have such close results it means that Fidesz can lose in the majority of the 106 electoral districts.” After all, the argument goes, this is a super-strong Fidesz district, and therefore it is not a good indicator of future results.

The oddest assessment of the Solymár results came from Zoltán Tóth, who is considered to be a real wizard in the analysis of election laws. Unfortunately, he has a great deal less skill as a political analyst. For some strange reason he thinks that Jobbik stayed away from the fray because it wanted to help Fidesz win. Neither the figures nor current Fidesz-Jobbik relations support this assessment. It is enough to take a look at Jobbik’s internet news site, alfahir.hu, which notes with satisfaction that “Fidesz’s advantage has been greatly reduced.” After comparing the current and the 2014 results, the article concludes that “it is clear that a unified, independent candidate is capable of putting pressure on the Fidesz candidate even in Fidesz strongholds.” Surely, Jobbik was not on the side of Fidesz in Solymár. On the contrary.

Viktor Szigetvári of Együtt, who used to be an electoral number cruncher before he decided to become a politician, points out that only a 60% participation rate can remove the Orbán government, even if only one challenger faces the Fidesz candidate. Whether the opposition parties, whose main preoccupation seems to be fighting among themselves, will be able to mobilize those voters who are unhappy with the present government only time will tell.

December 11, 2017

That’s one way to win an election–Eliminate the opposition

Two months ago, on October 7, I wrote a lengthy post about “another attempt to silence Jobbik.” In that article I explained in great detail the manner in which the Állami Számvevőszék (State Accounting Office/ÁSZ) normally audits political parties and that 2017 is the year that the most recent audits would take place, with ÁSZ checking the books for 2015-2016. The deadline for submitting the paperwork was October 3. However, on September 28, Jobbik was informed that ÁSZ is also interested in the financial affairs of the party during the first six months of 2017. This was an unheard-of demand in the 27-year history of ÁSZ. Jobbik was told that the auditors would arrive the next day, a Friday, although Jobbik informed them that the office would be not open that day. Jobbik asked for a postponement until October 2. The request was not granted, although the date was before the October 3 deadline. All attempts to file the documentation failed. The documents couldn’t be sent electronically, and when Jobbik officials hand-delivered them, ÁSZ refused to accept them. There were numerous signs indicating that the whole scenario had been carefully orchestrated from above. The head of ÁSZ is a former Fidesz member of parliament. His appointment on July 5, 2010 was one of the first to signal that all allegedly independent organs will be led by former Fidesz politicians.

At that time it was only LMP that came to Jobbik’s rescue. The party issued a statement deploring “the campaign against representative democracy,” and it also announced that it will ask TASZ, Hungary’s Civil Liberties Union, to provide legal aid to Jobbik. I don’t know whether anything came of TASZ’s legal assistance because I haven’t seen any public discussion of the case in the last two months.

Fidesz’s gift to Jobbik was delivered yesterday, the day when good children are supposed to get presents from Santa Claus. I wouldn’t be surprised if this whole rotten affair was cynically planned this way. Viktor Orbán and his loyal criminals are capable of such a sick “joke.”

The billboard responsible for the present predicament of Jobbik

Jobbik was fined 331 million forints, and it will be docked another 331 million from the funds that the party is supposed to get from the budget this year. That amounts to over $2.4 million. The reason? Jobbik is charged with acquiring surfaces for its billboards below “market price,” which is the price either Fidesz or Viktor Orbán decided was the market price. In a true market economy, the price of goods is arrived at through negotiations between seller and buyer. That’s the first problem. The second problem is that ÁSZ didn’t look at the actual documentation on the basis of which it arrived at its verdict.

Jobbik has no 331 million forints in its bank account, and therefore it claims that under these circumstances it simply cannot compete fairly or perhaps not at all in the election campaign that will be officially launched very soon. Even if Jobbik asked for backing from its supporters, the money it received would go straight to ÁSZ. The government’s goal is clear: to cripple Jobbik, which at the moment is the largest opposition party. If Viktor Orbán manages to get rid of Jobbik, he will have to face only the highly fractured left-of-center parties, which are still negotiating about how to face Fidesz in the coming election. Although at the moment these parties have no intention of cooperating with Jobbik, Viktor Orbán is likely still worried about the possibility that such a collaboration might materialize, which could be a serious threat to his electoral chances. If Fidesz gets rid of Jobbik, however, it can kill two birds with one stone. The party removes a serious rival while abroad it can explain that Fidesz, which is a “conservative,” “right-of-center” party, managed to eliminate a far-right and dangerous group. Few people are aware of the fact that by now Fidesz is farther to the right than Jobbik and, what is more important, that Jobbik poses less of a threat to Hungarian democracy than the governing party, with all the political, economic, and military might at its disposal.

Jobbik’s internet newspaper, Alfahír, made an emotional appeal to the citizens of the country. First, the party turned to those liberal and leftist voters who consider Jobbik a far-right, racist, Nazi party. The author of the article claims that he understands their feelings because he himself felt the same kind of antagonism toward Soros and his supporters. But once he saw what the government did to Central European University and asked himself who the next victim will be, he changed his mind. What will happen if all opposing views are silenced? The author repeated this message for former Fidesz voters who, he states, surely didn’t vote in 2010 or 2014 for a one-party system.

The left-of-center parties more or less lined up in their condemnation of Fidesz’s attempt to annihilate Jobbik. Viktor Szigetvári of Együtt even filed charges against Fidesz, targeting its own advertising budget during the 2010 and 2014 election campaigns. The only exception seems to be Momentum, which will stand by Jobbik only if it receives answers to several questions. Momentum’s first concern seems to be the person of Béla Kovács. The case against him for alleged espionage has been in limbo for four years. Somewhat suspiciously, it was a couple of days ago that at last the prosecutors decided to charge him with espionage. Momentum inquired why Jobbik didn’t investigate Kovács’s case in the last four years. Momentum’s leaders also want to know whether Jobbik received any money from Russia through Béla Kovács. Finally, how did Jobbik have enough money to lease and later purchase several thousand billboard spaces? While the first two questions are legitimate, with the question about the billboards Momentum is essentially siding with Fidesz.

Two prominent lawyers offered their opinions about what Jobbik can do under the circumstances. Jobbik’s room to maneuver is small. There is no opportunity to appeal the verdict. András Schiffer looks at the government’s attack on Jobbik as “the beginning of the end of the multi-party system in Hungary.” The government was able to use this “trick” because the law on party financing, written 28 years ago, is most likely unconstitutional. “Nowhere [in the law] are there any procedural safeguards or the possibility of redress when the validation of fundamental rights and one of the elements of democratic governance is violated.” According to Schiffer, one possibility is for Jobbik to immediately turn to the constitutional court for an opinion. The other is for all opposition parliamentary delegations, in a joint action, to do the same. György Magyar, who by the way recently served as Lajos Simicska’s lawyer, suggests a slightly different route. Jobbik should ask for a suspension of enforcement from the courts, which in turn could go to the constitutional court.

Otherwise, after temporary gloom in Jobbik circles, by tonight Vona regained his composure and made a fiery announcement on Hír TV. The party will try to collect money, and he doesn’t preclude the possibility of asking Jobbik’s supporters to go out on the streets. He sees “a storm of indignation” in all walks of life, not just among the party faithful. In his opinion, there are only two possibilities: either Orbán wins, and that’s the end of democracy in Hungary, or Jobbik “in alliance with people” who want to remove the government from power “will sweep this government away.” He then directly addressed Viktor Orbán: “Listen Viktor, you corrupt dictator. If you think that I or we are afraid of you, you are wrong. I am not afraid of you, and Jobbik is not afraid of Fidesz, and I see that the people are not afraid either. You’re the one who should be afraid. You thought that 2017 would be the year of insurgence, but you were wrong. 2018 will be the year of rebellion that will drive you away and will make you accountable. Be prepared!”

Jobbik has a large following, and the government’s dirty trick might backfire. It might turn out to be dangerous to the health of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán.

December 7, 2017

Open letter to Jean-Claude Juncker

The letter below, addressed to Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, was written by Hans Eichel, co-founder and former chairman of G20 and former finance minister of Germany,  and Pascal Lamy, former European commissioner and president emeritus of the Jacques Delors Institute. Hans Eichel and Pascal Lamy also represent Franz Fischler and Yannis Paleokrassas, both former European commissioners.

♦ ♦ ♦

Dear Mr. President Jean-Claude Juncker,

As signatories to this letter, we ask the European Commission to temporarily suspend payment of all EU funding to Hungary, with the exception of funding provided directly by the Commission (i.e. without the intermediary role of the Hungarian government).

Over recent years, the whole institutional and legal system in Hungary has been transformed in a way that makes it much easier to assign a substantial part of EU money directly or indirectly to certain business and political groups, no matter how detrimental this is for the Hungarian society, and thus also for attaining the objectives of the European Union.[1]

Key public institutions, such as the office of the prosecutor general and the constitutional court, have been de facto taken over by the ruling party, Fidesz.[2] The Constitution has been amended several times to serve the interests of Fidesz.[3]

Press freedom has been eviscerated, and the overwhelming majority of the media is now Fidesz-dominated.[4] Access to information has been seriously curtailed by several new laws.[5]

Universities have practically lost their independence as they have been put under the strict control of “chancellors” appointed by the government. (A notable exception is the Central European University in Budapest which the government has been trying to shut because it is still offering a home to academic freedom and critical thinking.[6])

Harassment and smothering of civil society organisations has been going on for years.[7] It is also telling that the Hungarian government has refused to join the EU’s key anti-corruption initiative, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.[8]

We fully agree with the following statement in the Commission’s Reflection Paper on the Future of EU Finances: “Respect for the rule of law is important for European citizens, but also for business initiative, innovation and investment, which will flourish most where the legal and institutional framework adheres fully to the common values of the Union. There is hence a clear relationship between the rule of law and an efficient implementation of the private and public investments supported by the EU budget.”[9]

More than 95% of public investment projects in Hungary receive EU co-financing. The Hungarian government announced[10] that it will use 2017 and 2018 to allocate most of the EU money available for the funding period 2014-2020, and is rapidly implementing this strategy. The purpose here is clear: to help Fidesz at the national elections in spring 2018, without any consideration of what will happen after 2018 when EU funding will be mostly exhausted. Such jerking of the economy is also extremely detrimental for business in general, the rapid disbursement leads to inefficient use of EU money, and greatly increases the risks of corruption. This brings a special urgency to the situation.

It is time to heed the Dutch ambassador to Hungary, Gajus Scheltema: “The argument over what happens with our money is indeed growing ever fiercer. We can’t finance corruption, and we can’t keep a corrupt regime alive. At the same time, we need to continue supporting underdeveloped areas – that’s solidarity. Economically Hungary still lags behind Western Europe, so we need to help. – But in such a way that both the Hungarians and the Dutch are satisfied. We need to make the system much more transparent, accountable, and monitored.”[11]

To emphasise the point: a temporary cessation is what this situation requires; all funding can and should be restored as soon as basic democratic freedoms are reinstated and corruption counter-acted. We strongly believe that this is also a pre-condition for continuing EU funding to less developed regions – which is indispensable for the future of the European Union – in the period following 2020 in light of growing resentment all over Europe about the inefficient and improper use of EU funds.

It is the Commission’s duty to protect the EU’s financial interests. The Commission should live up to its duty concerning Hungary without any further delay.[12]

We are looking forward to your reply as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Hans Eichel, Co-founder and former Chairman of G20, former Minister of Finance of Germany

Pascal Lamy, former European Commissioner, President Emeritus of the Jacques Delors Institute

also on behalf of

Franz Fischler, former European Commissioner

Yannis Paleokrassas, former European Commissioner

23 November 2017


[1] See, for example: “A Whiff of Corruption in Orbán’s Hungary,” Spiegel Online, January 17, 2017 http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/a-whiff-of-corruption-in-orban-s-hungary-a-1129713.html  “Vladimir Putin has been named the 2014 Person of the Year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an award given annually to the person who does the most to enable and promote organized criminal activity.… Runners up to Putin this year were Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Đukanović.” OCCRP, 2015, https://www.occrp.org/personoftheyear/2014/

[2] See, for example: “Hungary – Joint Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review,” by Transparency International Hungary, Transparency International, and K-Monitor Watchdog for Public funds, 21 September 2015, https://transparency.hu/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Joint-Submission-to-the-UN-Universal-Periodic-Review.pdf

[3] See, for example: “Hungary’s Dangerous Constitution. Columbia Journal of Transnational Law,” October 2015, http://jtl.columbia.edu/hungarys-dangerous-constitution/ Fidesz has set the large controlling organizations and the independent branches of power to manual control. atlatszo.hu (member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network), 20 September 2014, http://english.atlatszo.hu/2014/09/20/fidesz-has-set-the-large-controlling-organizations-and-the-independent-branches-of-power-to-manual-control/

[4] See, for example: “Freedom of the Press 2017, Hungary.” Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2017/hungary

[5] See, for example: “New Civil Code: public fund contracts are to become inaccessible,”  Transparency International Hungary, 16.08.2012, http://www.transparency.hu/New Civil Code public fund contracts are to become inaccessible “The coming dark age of democratic governance in Hungary,” atlatszo, 08.05.2013, http://atlatszo.hu/2013/05/08/the-coming-dark-age-of-democratic-governance-in-hungary/“Further Restrictions on Freedom of Information in Illiberal Hungary,” Hungarian Spectrum, 05.07.2015, http://hungarianspectrum.org/2015/07/05/further-restrictions-on-freedom-of-information-in-illiberal-hungary/

[6] At Hungary’s Soros-Backed University, Scholars Feel a Chill. The New York Times, April 24, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/24/world/europe/hungary-george-soros-central-european-university.html

[7] See, for example: “Civil Society Europe briefing on the state of Civic Space and Fundamental Rights in Hungary,” April 2017, https://civil society europe. eu.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/cse-hungary-fact-sheet_april2017.pdf

[8] It is not necessary to create a European Public Prosecutor’s Office. Website of the Hungarian Government, December 6, 2016, http://www.kormany.hu/en/ministry-of-justice/news/it-is-not-necessary-to-create-a-european-public-prosecutor-s-office  “European Public Prosecutor’s Office established without Hungary’s participation,” The Budapest Beacon, June 9, 2017, https://budapestbeacon.com/european-public-prosecutors-office-established-without-hungarys-participation/

[9] Reflection Paper on the Future of EU Finances. European Commission, 28 June 2017, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/reflection-paper-eu-finances_en.pdf

[10] See: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+WQ+P-2017-002541+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=en

[11] Ambassador Scheltema: “We Mustn’t Keep a Corrupt Regime Alive.” Hungarian Spectrum, August 31, 2017, http://hungarianspectrum.org/2017/08/31/ambassador-scheltema-we-mustnt-keep-a-corrupt-regime-alive/

[12] See also: “Legal Grounds for the Suspension of EU Funding to Hungary Now,” Hungarian Spectrum, September 3, 2017, http://hungarianspectrum.org/2017/09/03/legal-grounds-for-the-suspension-of-eu-funding-to-hungary-now/

November 28, 2017

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