Tag Archives: Gyula Molnár

MSZP-Párbeszéd held its campaign launch

MSZP’s congress, which also served as the party’s campaign launch, has concluded. Originally, the congress was supposed to be held in December, but until the last minute the MSZP leadership kept hoping that they would be able to convince Ferenc Gyurcsány to join them in creating a common party list. The other reason for the general sluggishness of the MSZP negotiators was their ardent hope that by announcing László Botka’s candidacy for the premiership in October the party’s standing would improve considerably. That hope was pretty well dashed by the end of the year. And then a somewhat unexpected turn of events brought Gergely Karácsony, co-chair of Párbeszéd, to the negotiating table with the leaders of MSZP. He said he would be willing to be the party’s candidate for prime minister but only if Párbeszéd as a distinct entity could join the socialists, forming an MSZP-Párbeszéd ticket.

Such a demand is reasonable when the two parties are of equal or close to equal weight, but Párbeszéd is a minuscule party with perhaps 1% of support in the electorate. And there was another impediment to a merger. According to the Hungarian electoral law, if two distinct parties formally join, creating a new entity, that entity must receive at least 10% of the votes to become a parliamentary party. Given the poor showing of MSZP of late, some people in the party thought that such a move would be too risky. Others, apparently the fiery Ágnes Kunhalmi included, warned against that kind of gloomy outlook, saying it would negatively influence the whole socialist campaign.

“Alliance for change” / Source: Népszava / Photo: József Vajda

Current thinking is that MSZP will be able to garner at least 15% of the votes, which translates more or less into a 15-member parliamentary delegation. In 2014 the common party list of MSZP, DK, and Együtt received enough votes for a 37-member parliamentary delegation, of which 29 seats went to MSZP due to a list on which MSZP members had an undue advantage. This time, in exchange for an attractive candidate in the person of Karácsony, the socialists seem to be a great deal more generous. Párbeszéd has three candidates in the first 20 slots, two of whom will probably be sitting in the next parliament.

Then there is the Magyar Liberális Párt of Gábor Fodor. It is even less significant than Párbeszéd, yet for some strange reason Party Chairman Gyula Molnár wanted Fodor to be part of the team. First, he suggested that Fodor run in the district that includes the city of Gyöngyös, Fodor’s hometown. Gyöngyös has a socialist mayor, whom László Botka recommended to be MSZP’s parliamentary candidate for the district. When the mayor was told by Molnár that plans had changed, he resigned from the party. But in the end it wasn’t Fodor who got the district but a young MSZP member from the area. The flip-flops gave the impression of a party that doesn’t know what it’s doing.

That was not, however, the end of the Fodor saga because Molnár still wanted Fodor to be part of the team and suggested him for the fifteenth slot, which is considered to be winnable. At that point a revolt broke out; Molnár was voted down 8 to 1. In the end a compromise was reached. Anett Bősz, one of the better-known members of the liberal party, was chosen instead of Fodor to represent the liberals. Perhaps Ferenc Gyurcsány’s experience with Fodor in 2014 made the MSZP leadership leery of trusting Fodor. On Gyurcsány’s insistence, Fodor got a top-notch place on the joint list, but after he was elected he refused to join the DK group, which needed only one more person to form an official parliamentary delegation. In any case, it is possible that Fodor’s long political career is over.

All this wrangling has done considerable damage not just to MSZP but also to the other left-of-center parties. Voters cannot understand their inability to set aside personal ambitions and coalesce into a united front. But it is easy to give advice from the outside. The creation of a party list is a difficult, emotional  undertaking. The mayor of Gyöngyös was practically in tears when he announced his resignation from the party. And Gergely Bárándy, who in the last 12 years was the party’s legal expert, announced his retirement from politics. The reason is most likely his slim chance of continuing his work as a member of parliament.

In addition, although I often point out that the left-of-center parties have a great deal in common and that they agree on the fundamentals of liberal democracy, there are still many issues that divide them. One such issue is their attitude toward the recent past. Együtt, LMP, Momentum, and to a certain extent even Párbeszéd look upon the socialist-liberal era before 2010 as political baggage that must be discarded. Something went wrong as early as 1990 and everything must begin anew. Obviously, MSZP and DK feel differently about the democratic accomplishments of those years.

The parties’ views on liberalism also differ sharply. Members of the socialist party are convinced that the reason for their loss of support was the party’s move toward liberalism under the chairmanship of Ferenc Gyurcsány. In fact, the chairman of Demokratikus Koalíció still maintains that it is his party that most clearly represents liberal values; it is the most market-friendly party and the most sensitive among the democratic parties when it comes to human rights.

There is also the question of voting rights for Hungarians living beyond the borders, which sets DK apart from the rest of the left-of-center parties.

Gergely Karácsony believes in a guaranteed minimum income (GMI), which sends people like Lajos Bokros, a man holding hard-and-fast views on the traditional market economy, into fits of apoplexy. But the left wing of MSZP must welcome Karácsony’s ideas on what he calls “szociális demokrácia” as something different from szociáldemokrácia, which is a political movement. My understanding is that Karácsony is talking about a democracy that first and foremost concerns itself with the betterment of its citizens’ standard of living. Other political leaders believe that the restoration of the rule of law is the first order of business, which will then lead in an organic way to a more prosperous life.

Karácsony is promising help for those who suffered at the hands of financial capitalism, both honest and corrupt. Just today, he said he would take care of those people who took out Forex loans and ended up with incredible financial burdens for decades to come. He would also compensate those who suffered losses as a result of the Quaestor scandal of 2015. Other parties, for example DK, are worried about financial promises that either cannot be kept or, if kept, would be economically disastrous for the country.

Let me close by pointing out a few positive developments. In two instances MSZP members gave up their electoral districts to non-politicians who might stand a better chance of winning. One of the most promising examples is economist Tamás Mellár’s electoral district in Pécs. In 2014 Fidesz won the district narrowly and with the help of LMP, which had its own candidate. Since then, the local Fidesz government has driven the city to the brink of financial ruin, so voters seem to be eager for a change. The other district is around Siófok, where the “star lawyer” György Magyar decided to run with MSZP support.

These are good signs, but LMP’s reluctance to cut a deal with MSZP-Párbeszéd and DK is still a serious impediment to the opposition’s chances against the government party.

February 11, 2018

MSZP’s Karácsony and Molnár in Transylvania. A waste of time

Among the left-of-center opposition parties it is only the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) that openly opposes extending voting rights to those people in the neighboring countries who acquired citizenship as the result of a registration drive organized by the Orbán government in the last five or six years. The others all join Fidesz in embracing the unity of the Hungarian nation across borders, which carries the right to vote as a given, and they openly disapprove of DK’s anti-voting-rights rhetoric. Critics maintain that Ferenc Gyurcsány and his party are only taking advantage of the general xenophobia whipped up by the Orbán government since the beginning of 2015.

Yet opinion polls going all the way back to 2010 when the question of dual citizenship and voting rights was first discussed confirm that the overwhelming majority of Hungarians living within the Trianon borders are against granting voting rights to members of the Hungarian minorities living outside the borders. A May 2010 Medián poll showed that 71% of the adult population was against granting voting rights and 33% even opposed granting citizenship to Hungarians in the neighboring countries. In July 2012 Medián repeated the poll. It showed that, despite Fidesz and Jobbik support, slightly over 70% of the population disapproved of Fidesz’s brainchild. Five years later, in 2017,  public opinion was still strongly against voting rights as well as against providing dual citizens with pensions, paid leave for new mothers, travel discounts, welfare benefits, and the very generous financial support that goes to political parties, cultural organizations, and churches in the four neighboring countries: Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia.

In 2014 Fidesz’s two-thirds parliamentary majority resulted from the one extra seat the party gained from the dual citizens, 98% of whom voted for Fidesz. By now, thanks to the tenacious citizenship drive conducted by Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén, whose only occupation seems to be making sure that the largest possible number of people register to vote, it is predicted that Fidesz may receive three or four extra seats from the votes of dual citizens.

Left-of-center opposition parties, fearing a backlash from abroad, have supported the pro-minority “national policy” of the Orbán government, hoping to extend their own influence in Hungarian-inhabited areas of Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia. In this spirit, Gergely Karácsony and Gyula Molnár visited Transylvania to assure Hungarians there that the current generous level of support for them will not be reduced after a possible change of government. Moreover, the Transylvanian Hungarians have nothing to fear about their right to vote. In fact, MSZP is thinking of making some changes that would offer them further advantages. For example, whereas now they can vote only for party lists, the socialists would establish voting districts with local candidates to vote for. I find this idea fraught with danger. Given the number of registered voters in Transylvania alone, I can’t imagine that the political leaders of the Hungarian minority would be satisfied with two or three electoral districts in Romania. And what about Serbia’s Voivodina autonomous region? I don’t think that these politicians thought through the possible consequences of such a move.

The trip that Gyula Molnár and Gábor Karácsony undertook to extend a hand to the Hungarian voters in Transylvania was a flop. No, it was more than a flop. The two were deeply humiliated by the chairman of RMDSZ (Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség/Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România), Hunor Kelemen, whom they invited to dinner. After the meeting was over, Kelemen, in an interview with a local internet news site, reported that he had told the opposition politicians that they shouldn’t even bother to campaign in Transylvania. “It is a waste of time.”

Molnár and Karácsony were presumably aware of RMDSZ’s solidly pro-Fidesz stance. The leading Hungarian party in Romania considers Fidesz-KDNP’s “national policy” excellent, something that should be continued. “The Hungarians of Transylvania know full well for whom to vote,” said Kelemen. Magyar Idők called the Karácsony-Molnár trip a “suicide mission to Transylvania.” Naturally, the government paper was only too happy to describe the indignity the opposition politicians suffered in Kolozsvár/Cluj and the total commitment of RMDSZ to the Fidesz cause. Kelemen’s party, in fact, is working to advance Fidesz’s citizenship- and voter-registration drive on money provided by the Hungarian government to Eurotrans, a RMDSZ foundation. Given this backdrop, I have no idea what Karácsony and Molnár wanted to discuss with Hunor Kelemen.

Only Gergely Karácsony and Gyula Molnár are smiling. I wonder why.

Gáspár Miklós Tamás (TGM), a Transylvanian native, expressed his disgust with Kelemen’s behavior. In his opinion, Kelemen behaved boorishly when he made public the contents of a private conversation. He affronted not only the two politicians but also those who are not followers of Fidesz. TGM as well as others consider Kelemen’s antagonistic attitude toward Karácsony and Molnár, who support voting rights for Hungarian nationals living in the neighboring countries, a political mistake because “the majority of the Hungarian public in this question agree with [Ferenc] Gyurcsány, including a not insignificant portion of right-wing voters.” András Jámbor in Mérce also alluded to Kelemen’s bad political instincts because, in his opinion, Kelemen’s statement “only adds fuel to the fire stoked by the Demokratikus Koalíció because it hopes to gain votes from the general antagonism toward Hungarians living across the borders.” Actually, the fire doesn’t need much stoking, as older public opinion polls demonstrate.

I should add that Kelemen in that interview also stated that there are only two parties with which he refuses to have any formal relations: Jobbik and the Demokratikus Koalíció. Jobbik, given its nationalistic ideology, by and large supports Fidesz’s policies as far as the Hungarian minorities are concerned. When last November the government gave 325 million forints for the continuation of the citizenship drive to RMDSZ’s foundation, Gábor Vona favored the decision, saying that “government support of the Hungarian national minorities is important and has been successful.” Jobbik by now is not a far-right party; in fact, it may be closer to the center-right than Fidesz itself. Therefore, Kelemen’s disavowal of Jobbik doesn’t rest on ideological grounds. It is most likely the result of what looks like a life-and-death struggle between Fidesz and Jobbik.

RMDSZ’s animosity toward Ferenc Gyurcsány and the Demokratikus Koalíció, on the other hand, is completely understandable. In 2010 there were only three members of parliament who voted against the law that extended citizenship to by now close to one million people: Ferenc Gyurcsány, Csaba Molnár, and Tibor Szanyi. Three other socialists–József Baracskai, Lajos Oláh, and Iván Vitányi–abstained. Of this group Gyurcsány, Molnár, Oláh, and Vitányi are members of the Demokratikus Koalíció today. So, there is a long history of DK’s opposition to Fidesz’s “national unification across borders” policy.

Critics of the left-of-center opposition parties often complain about their political leaders’ lack of sharply delineated positions. One such issue is nationalism. It is hopeless to try to outdo Fidesz in nationalist rhetoric. Moreover, should they even try? The trouble is that, time and again, left-of-center parties mimic Fidesz, even in word usage. The Fidesz leadership years ago ordered its politicians to use the adjective “Hungarian” in front of “people,” whether that qualifier was necessary or not. In no time, everybody, including the opposition, was throwing “magyar emberek” around. This is a small example but unfortunately typical. Going to Transylvania and offering more money to buy them away from Fidesz is a hopeless, even disgraceful undertaking.

February 5, 2018

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

Negotiations drag on, but there are a couple of bright spots on the horizon

Those who think that the most important task of the opposition parties is joint action and cooperation because otherwise there is no chance whatsoever of removing Viktor Orbán from power are pretty desperate. And angry, very angry. They express their deep frustration with politicians’ “selfish” behavior. They accuse them of caring only for their own careers. They charge that politicians seem to disregard the true interests of the country and place party politics ahead of the common good.

Many ordinary Hungarian citizens want to get rid of not only Fidesz but all opposition politicians as well. Their irritation is understandable. On the surface what people who follow politics see is a never-ending series of negotiations between MSZP, the Hungarian socialist party, and Demokratikus Koalíció, a liberal-democratic party. These two parties are considered to be “large parties” with their 10-12-14% share of the votes. The third largest party with about 7-8% of the votes is LMP, a green-anti-globalist party, which refuses to cooperate with anyone. In addition, Hungary has at least four or five even smaller parties. In all vital matters, like the restoration of democracy, the reestablishment of checks and balances, and the revamping of the electoral system, these people are of one mind, but when it comes to dividing up the political terrain, they are unable to look beyond their own narrow interests. At least this is the general perception.

I know that the situation is pretty grim, but I would like to point to a few hopeful signs. While news sites report on the real difficulties weighing down the negotiations between MSZP and DK, one can easily miss a couple of indications that behind the scenes small steps are being made toward some understanding.

Let’s start with the MSZP-DK negotiations over the division of the 106 electoral districts. For the longest time we heard that the negotiators were very close to an agreement. It was only a question of days. But then, weeks went by and there was no resolution. MSZP announced that they would give details of the final agreement with DK at their congress, scheduled for December 9. As might be expected, the congress must be postponed because it is unlikely that negotiations can be concluded prior to that date.

It is hard to tell who is responsible for the sluggish negotiations. According to Ferenc Gyurcsány, one of the three DK negotiators, the three politicians representing MSZP don’t have the authority to make decisions on the spot. They have to go back to the party’s “presidium,” some of whose members accuse the negotiators, especially Gyula Molnár, chairman of the party, of being too soft. And they accuse DK of treating their party in a high-handed fashion. Some of them complain that Gyurcsány and Company are too aggressive and suspect, most likely not without reason, that DK wants to be “the only force” on the left. On the other side, Gyurcsány likes to remind his former comrades that they are no longer in a position to dictate terms as they did four years ago, with pretty disastrous results.

Apparently, some of the socialist leaders are so unhappy with Gyula Molnár that they have raised the possibility of removing him from the post of chairman, or, if not that, at least replacing him at the negotiating table with someone else. Fortunately for the socialists, that politically suicidal idea was dropped, especially since Molnár is, according to reports, anything but soft and consistently defends MSZP interests. For the next round, however, the socialists will be returning to the negotiating table with a much tougher attitude. The negotiators’ hands will be tied by prior decisions of the presidium. Such an arrangement is long overdue; after all, this is how the DK negotiating team functions. The DK presidium, for example, instructed the three negotiators that a common party list, which is at the core of MSZP’s demands, is out of the question.

The tug of war over a common party list shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows Hungarian party politics. I should point out that, with the exception of MSZP, no opposition party wants to merge its votes into a common party list. DK, Együtt, and Párbeszéd are ready to divvy up electoral districts among themselves even if they are not entirely satisfied with their lot, but by insisting on separate party lists they can at least measure their nationwide support. On the other hand, MSZP, with its shrinking base, would like to bury its declining numbers in a common list. Four years ago DK suffered when MSZP insisted on reserving for MSZP politicians what later turned out to be an excessive number of places at the top of the list. DK most likely would have done a great deal better if its leaders had insisted on a separate party list.

This is where we stand right now. The socialists insist on a common list, and the party’s negotiators are bound not to agree to the DK position. In addition, there are a couple of districts that DK would like to have but MSZP is not ready to release. All in all, not too promising.

But there is some news that might lift the spirits. This morning Népszava reported that, according to their sources, Ágnes Kunhalmi, the most popular socialist politician, will be heading the MSZP list. This report was later modified to read that Kunhalmi will be “the face of the socialists’ campaign.” Even putting Kunhalmi forth as the “face of the campaign” is welcome news and should help MSZP recover its standing somewhat. It was a real shame that Kunhalmi was relegated to dealing with matters of education only and wasn’t used as a general spokesperson for the party, while real third-rates represented MSZP in public over the last four years. In 2014, at the time of the Budapest municipal election when the democratic opposition had trouble finding a mayoral candidate, she looked like an obvious choice to me. I think she might have surprised us. The idea didn’t occur to anyone.

Ágnes Kunhalmi

The other piece of promising news is that negotiations seem to be going on among DK, Együtt, and Párbeszéd, and it looks as if they see eye to eye. They have lined up against MSZP, charging that MSZP is dragging its feet. Péter Juhász of Együtt complained that MSZP keeps sending messages but refuses to sit down to negotiate. So, the three parties demand the start of talks with MSZP. The trouble is that MSZP apparently refuses at the moment to sit down with all three parties at once, which is a rational decision on their part. As it is, the socialists feel threatened in a one-on-one situation with DK, and they certainly don’t need two other parties to deal with.

And finally, we often hear that LMP and Momentum are adamant in their refusal to talk to other parties as partners in the forthcoming national election. They will win the election alone, they claim. But, behold, there is a small by-election that will be held on December 10 in the town of Solymár, a suburb of Budapest. About two weeks ago it was reported that the locals found an independent candidate who will be supported by MSZP-DK-Együtt-Párbeszéd-LMP. Yes, LMP. This is a first, as far as I know. And the story doesn’t end here. Yesterday Momentum announced that it will join the others in support of the democratic opposition parties’ candidate. I should add that Jobbik will not take part in the election.

Perhaps there are still grounds to hope that reason will prevail and there will be a united front on the left. According to experts on the current electoral law, as long as there are only three candidates (Fidesz, United Left, and Jobbik), the left actually has a chance of winning the election.

December 1, 2017

MSZP’s self-inflicted wounds, with some outside help

Mistaking the date of the publication, I started reading a report by József Nagy of 24.hu from June 2017. The report was based on conversations with ten high-level MSZP politicians about the prospects of their party. Most of them were so optimistic about the bright future for MSZP led by István Botka that Nagy’s article bore the title “Botka eats the grandmother.” One of them described the situation as follows: the party now has 20% of the votes among the determined voters and perhaps by October MSZP will have 27%. If not, they will have to come to terms with the Demokratikus Koalíció.

The polls published in May and June did show a slight bump in MSZP’s popularity, but that didn’t last for long. The party began losing supporters at a fairly rapid rate. Instead of reaching 27% support by October, Medián reported at the beginning of November that MSZP has only 9% support among those voters who are 100% sure that they will vote. DK has 7%. So, it’s no wonder that an article appeared in HVG today that talked about “shrinkage of the declining MSZP.” MSZP is in such a sorry state, claimed the article, that by now its leaders are ready to invent agreements with DK in order to boost the waning trust of the voters in MSZP. This description of the state of affairs is not quite accurate, but it is true that some observers talk about the party’s “death struggle.” It is just a question of time before the socialist party meets its maker.

Party preferences in October 2017 / blue: population as a whole; green: eligible voters; red: committed voters

Many of MSZP’s problems are self-inflicted. Let’s start with Tibor Szanyi, who for years has been a problematic character. Every few months he comes out with something outrageous, but he seems to have enough clout within the party that he never gets into serious trouble with the leadership. It’s possible that his latest job as a member of the European Parliament was an attempt to remove him from center stage, but unfortunately Facebook is always at his disposal. And he is a diligent contributor. Moreover, he is still a frequent guest on radio and television programs.

In order to “appreciate” Szanyi’s lack of common sense, here is an early example. A few months after Szanyi occupied his office in Brussels, he invited the far-right Goy Bikers for a visit to get acquainted with the workings of the European Parliament. Their airfare was paid from a special fund that could be tapped by members of parliament for such invitations but, naturally, whoever came up with the idea didn’t have the Goy Bikers in mind.

This time Szanyi decided to commemorate the anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution by posting a photo of the only major blemish on the face of a revolution, which was renowned for its incredibly humane treatment of those on the other side. Anyone who tried to use force was told that these people should be dealt with in a court of law. But a mob attacked and lynched several people after the occupation of the party headquarters. The Kádár regime used this event as proof of the counterrevolutionary nature of the revolution. Szanyi decided to remember the revolution with this photo, which he posted on Facebook. By now the photo and Szanyi’s comment are no longer available. Everybody, not just Fidesz-KDNP and its media, was outraged. Gyula Molnár felt compelled to distance himself and his party from Szanyi’s outrageous “remembrance of the revolution.”

But that’s not all. Szanyi’s latest is that he shared his opinion, again on Facebook, of László Marton’s sexual dalliances, saying that he finds “the public calibration of Marton’s penis a disgusting thing. It is worth recalling who is running around on stage stark naked,” obviously referring to the women who were allegedly the victims of Marton’s sexual interest. Well, that wasn’t well received in the party either. Kata Tüttő, a member of the board, sent Szanyi straight to hell. István Ujhelyi, his colleague in the European Parliament, wrote “Tibor, this is shameful. Stop it!” Szanyi’s post elicited an incredible number of comments, practically all negative.

One could write Szanyi off as an aberration. But when a letter to the party chairman, written by an important party leader, accusing him of incompetence, reaches the public, the situation is more serious. And that is what happened yesterday. HírTV got hold of a letter that Árpád Velez, a former “party director,” wrote to Gyula Molnár. In it he describes at length how Molnár ruined the party. From a “leading party of the left [Molnár] created a vulnerable political community which is unmotivated, dejected, trailing after the others.” In this weakened state MSZP is at the mercy of DK, which has been building a strong structure while “our own party is in ruins.” Apparently one reason for Velez’s distraught state of mind is that the district he was supposed to run in was allegedly given to DK.

The impression is that MSZP is in total chaos. Gyula Molnár stated already on Friday that MSZP and DK had reached an agreement. The announcement was made in an interview with György Bolgár, the moderator of Klubrádió’s call-in program “Let’s Talk It Over.” Molnár said that the two parties had agreed on a 60-40 split of the 106 electoral districts. DK’s press office immediately released a correction: “Contrary to a series of news items and statements, so far no agreement has been reached concerning the coordinated candidacy of electoral districts between MSZP and DK. Negotiations are still ongoing. Our aim is to reach an agreement within weeks.” It turned out, however, that Molnár had told the truth. An agreement about the ratio had been reached, but there was no final decision yet on the particulars. For example, MSZP and DK must talk to the other smaller parties about the allocation of districts.

The way I see it, DK has tried to undermine MSZP’s credibility by choosing to interpret what constitutes an “understanding.” As a result of DK’s denial, the alleged chaos within MSZP has been magnified, and the public perception of the incompetence of the MSZP leadership has been strengthened. DK is counting on the further weakening of MSZP and the growth of DK as a result of a promising signature drive against the voting rights of dual citizens. Apparently, in the first five days DK collected 70,000 signatures. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if these negotiations drag on until the end of November, when new opinion polls are available. Perhaps, if DK closes the gap with MSZP, even the 60-40 split will have to be renegotiated. Of course, with Fidesz support among committed voters standing at 61%, these negotiations will have at best only a marginal effect on the outcome of next year’s election.

November 7, 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