Tag Archives: Gyula Molnár

The only good answer to Orbán’s referendum is a boycott

Ever since mid-July, if not earlier, a fierce debate has been going on about the best strategy for voters of left-of-center parties to follow at the forthcoming referendum. The question that will face Hungarian voters on October 2 will be: “Do you want the European Union, without the consent of Parliament, to order the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary?” The government is campaigning for, and expects, an overwhelming “no” vote.

Fidesz voters are an obedient lot who will follow the instructions from the party chief and prime minister, Viktor Orbán. Jobbik voters are perhaps a little less enthusiastic, but the majority of them will still vote “no.” On the other side, as usual, there is a lot of confusion.

Since the referendum is such a hot topic in Hungary, it’s not surprising that three separate public opinion polls have been taken in the last three weeks trying to predict its outcome. All three come to more or less the same conclusion: there is a good likelihood that the referendum will be valid and that the question will fail (where failure is the desired result from the government’s perspective). That is, at least 50% plus 1 of all eligible voters will vote and more than 50% of all votes will be “nays.”

No one has ever doubted that the referendum question would fail given the tremendous public rejection of the refugees, but at least at the beginning there were doubts about the validity of the referendum. Analysts doubted that half of the adult people would bother to vote on a referendum question which most legal scholars consider outright unconstitutional. If Viktor Orbán hadn’t eliminated all the checks and balances from the political system, this referendum couldn’t even have taken place. It would have been scotched already by the National Election Commission because there are just too many things wrong with the question. Starting with the obvious, the European Union cannot make any binding decisions without the consent of the European Council, which is made up of the prime ministers of the 28 member states, which naturally includes Viktor Orbán. Equally obvious is that Hungary, when it joined the European Union, gave up part of its national sovereignty and therefore will be obliged, if a joint decision is reached, to take some refugees. Finally, the parliament doesn’t have a central part to play in the Hungarian government’s dealings with the European Union. For example, Viktor Orbán doesn’t have to consult parliament before he travels to Brussels to vote on an EU decision. Conversely, laws enacted in national parliaments have no direct effect on the workings of the European Union. Admittedly, the Hungarian government could enact a law that would tie the hands of the prime minister by insisting on a parliamentary mandate, but this would be a law that no prime minister would ever want. In brief, perhaps more than four million Hungarians will vote on a structurally meaningless referendum question.

The question may have no binding consequences, but it has huge political value for Fidesz. The liberal-socialist side of the Hungarian political spectrum has been struggling to formulate a cohesive response. The basic question is whether its followers should participate in the referendum. Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) from the start has championed for a boycott with the slogan “Stay Home, Stay in Europe!” After some hesitation MSZP followed, but instead of using the word “boycott” they chose “abstention,” apparently because the party is planning to send observers to the polling places. A fine and, in my opinion, needless distinction that only confuses the would-be boycotters. The two smaller parties, Együtt and PM, are also for a boycott. LMP is offering no guidance to its followers; they can vote (or not) their conscience.

There is only one party on the left, the Magyar Liberális Párt of Gábor Fodor, that has been campaigning with great gusto for people to participate in the referendum and to vote “yes” to the question. This would be, Fodor argues, the courageous thing to do. It would mean that Hungarians stand up and say “yes” to taking in refugees. It would mean that Hungary is a constructive member of the European Union ready to share the burden of the refugee crisis facing Europe. Sitting at home, Fodor says, is simply cowardly.

The counterargument that participation legitimizes an illegitimate and unconstitutional referendum doesn’t seem to impress Fodor. He claims that Viktor Orbán doesn’t give a hoot whether the referendum is valid; he cares only about the percentages. If, let’s say, 30% of the voters say “yes,” this would not be good news for Orbán. If, on the other hand, Fodor contends, 80 or 90% of the votes are “nays,” it will be a great victory for the government quite independently of whether 40% or 55% of the eligible voters cast their ballots.

yes no

Meanwhile, some people think they should take part in the referendum process but should invalidate their ballots by, for example, ticking out both the “no” and the “yes” columns. This solution seems to be favored by the few liberals or socialists living in small villages who think that their not voting would be too obvious. They would like to avoid being labeled.

Of the three opinion polls on the referendum, only the Republikon Intézet included questions about “yes” and purposely invalid ballots. Its analysis showed that 74% of the voters would vote “no,” 7% would say “yes,” and 3% would cast an invalid ballot. However, among those Republikon Intézet describes as “preferring a left-liberal government,” 17% would be ready to say “yes.” For Fodor, whose MLP has only 1% support among the voting population, this 17% must be music to his ears. Since MLP is the only party advocating participating and voting “yes,” it looks as if MLP’s support is much larger. Fodor’s critics suspect that his real agenda is not so much taking a courageous pro-Europe stance as the much more self-serving goal of gaining recognition for a party hardly known to the public. And in the process he is splitting the ranks on the left.

One more observation about Republikon Intézet’s poll. One of its conclusions is that if the left-liberal parties can’t convince their voters to boycott the referendum, they will be the ones responsible for an outcome that will further boost the popularity of Fidesz. And indeed, according to their findings, 66% of people who would like to see a liberal-socialist government after 2018 will most likely vote and only 28% will stay at home. Moreover, 60% of those who plan to participate will vote “no.” Therefore, according to Republikon, the left-liberal voters will be the ones who will bear the burden for a valid and successful referendum for Viktor Orbán. Republikon blames all parties equally for not being able to convince their followers to respond appropriately to the referendum–that is, to boycott it.

The problem here is that lumping all the opposition parties (minus Jobbik) together is misleading. An earlier poll by Závecz Research was more granular. It showed that MSZP and LMP voters were terribly confused. DK, however, was successful at convincing its voters to boycott.

Two days ago Gyula Molnár, chairman of MSZP, and Ferenc Gyurcsány of DK agreed to work together to promote a boycott of the referendum. They will urge their followers to participate in each other’s demonstrations. Both parties will use the slogan “Stay at home, stay in Europe!” Mind you, a day later István Nyakó, MSZP’s new spokesman, backpedaled, stressing that “there is no question of cooperation” between the two parties. They simply share the same opinion on the boycott.

It’s hard to understand why DK has to wait three weeks to start its campaign on September 2 when the government has been campaigning nonstop from the moment Viktor Orbán came up with his brilliant idea of a referendum. There is no time to waste.

August 16, 2016

Harmful politicians in the Hungarian democratic opposition

It’s time to vent my wrath against some of those politicians who allegedly want to win the 2018 election and free the country from a semi-autocratic leader who has introduced an illiberal political system in Hungary.

A couple of days ago György Bolgár invited me to outline my ideas about what the democratic opposition should do to put an end to the rule of Viktor Orbán. Among other things, I emphasized the need for one large opposition party, which would necessarily mean the disappearance of those parties that have only minimal support. As it stands now, none of them would receive 5% of the votes, so any ballots cast for them would not only be a waste but would boost Fidesz’s electoral position.

There are some very good people in these parties. People like Ákos Hadházy (LMP), Gergely Karácsony (PM), Tímea Szabó (PM), and Péter Juhász (Együtt) would be real assets in a large left-of-center party. But others should disappear from the political scene because they are obstacles to any kind of joint action and mutual understanding. The two most prominent people in this latter category are the chairman of Együtt, Viktor Szigetvári, and the co-chairman of LMP, Bernadett Szél. Szigetvári accuses MSZP of being in bed with Fidesz and wanting to lose the election as the result of a secret pact. Szél just assured Fidesz of her party’s support for the anti-refugee referendum and, while she was at it, joined the anti-Soros chorus of Fidesz.

Let me start with Viktor Szigetvári. Back in March 2014, just before the election, I wrote a critical article about him. For years, ever since he graduated from college, he was affiliated with MSZP in one capacity or another. He served under Péter Medgyessy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gordon Bajnai. Because he was one of the organizers of the 2006 MSZP election campaign, he acquired the reputation of being an election guru with a magic touch. But, as his efforts in the 2014 election campaign showed, a magic touch was not enough. In 2013, after he left MSZP, he became co-chairman of Bajnai’s Együtt-PM which, despite promising beginnings, today has the support of only 1% of the electorate.

I freely admit that I have been following Viktor Szigetvári’s political career with growing concern. He appears on ATV frequently, and each time he lessens the chances of a unified democratic opposition. He tries to discredit and undermine the two larger parties, MSZP and DK, and puts himself forth as the only man who could engineer a democratic opposition victory in 2018.

Szigetvári’s latest foray into backbiting was an interview with András Hont of HVG where he said that “Együtt has an existing hinterland and an intellectual radiance which might not be as large as that of a party with 40% support” but the party isn’t tainted by those who were discredited in the days before 2010. Of course, Szigetvári conveniently forgets about the large role he played in the service of that “rotten regime,” whose other participants should be banished from political life.

Behind Viktor Szigetv'ari: "For Hungary"

Behind Viktor Szigetvári: “For Hungary”

The whole interview was full of contradictions. On the one hand, Szigetvári is convinced that only someone who had nothing to do with political life prior to 1990 can unseat Viktor Orbán. On the other, he indicated in the interview that his great hope for the premiership would be László Botka (MSZP), who came from exactly the kind of family Szigetvári talks about so scornfully. Both parents were MSZMP members; Botka’s mother was one of the founders of MSZP, mayor of Szolnok, and a member of parliament. And surely László, given his family background, was a member of KISZ. He became a member of MSZP at the tender age of eighteen.

László Botka is Szigetvári’s hero. The most popular MSZP politician who, due to some mysterious internal party conspiracy, was prevented from setting the agenda of MSZP for the next two years. Since MSZP blackballed Botka, the only conclusion one can draw is that the socialists don’t want to win the election, Szigetvári insists. Well, in my opinion, there is a more plausible explanation for Botka’s failure at the last party congress. It was well known inside and outside the party that Botka wouldn’t be willing to cooperate with anyone, especially not with Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose party, the Demokratikus Koalíció, cannot be ignored as a factor in the present political constellation. My take is that the representatives who voted for Hiller instead of Botka were thinking in terms of the inevitable electoral failure if MSZP tries to run its own slate in the 2018 election.

Szigetvári himself also wants to meet Fidesz head-on, and it was at this point that he revealed his true position. “We will not sacrifice our community on the altar of ‘Down with Orbán!’” This is as clear as it can be. It doesn’t matter what Viktor Szigetvári says, it is not the politicians of MSZP and DK who want to lose the election for some unfathomable reason. It is Szigetvári’s politics that will weaken the forces of the democratic opposition and help Viktor Orbán remain in power, perhaps for decades.

The interview stirred up quite a controversy, but Szigetvári is not the kind of man to back down in the face of criticism. He accepted an invitation from Olga Kálmán of ATV to elaborate on the accusations he had made in his earlier interview. There he tried to explain the inexplicable with miserable results. Those who know the language should take a look at that encounter.

And now let me turn to Bernadett Szél’s performance at the 27th gathering of the Fidesz-inspired Bálványosi Nyári Szabadegyetem (Bálványos Summer Free University). It is no longer held in Bálványos/Cetățile Păgânilor. It moved to the larger Tusnádfűrdő/Băile Tușnad, so nowadays they call the event Tusványos. Every year Fidesz invites the leaders of the parliamentary caucuses of the opposition parties for a friendly chat with the Fidesz top brass, but last year only András Schiffer of LMP showed up. This year his former co-chairman, Bernadett Szél, also accepted the invitation. Neither Jobbik nor MSZP went.

Bernadett Szél and Lajos Kósa discussing the migrant issue

Yesterday morning I read an MTI news item from Tusványos. Lajos Kósa (Fidesz), Péter Harrach (KDNP), and Bernadett Szél (LMP) were having a friendly chat, mostly about the refugee crisis and the referendum. Kósa went on and on as is his wont about Hungarian sovereignty and that only the citizens of Hungary can decide who can settle in the country. No one from the outside can force Hungary to do anything. “I can invite anyone into my house but I won’t allow my neighbor to make such a decision.” Pope Francis is correct that we have to help our brethren, but “we should be the ones who decide the form of assistance.”

Bernadett Szél chimed in. According to her, “migration and immigration have always been within the competence of the member nations in the European Union and they must remain there. No nation must succumb to blackmail.” Therefore, Hungarians must vote “no” at the October 2 referendum. As you know, MSZP, DK, Együtt, and PM have urged their followers to boycott the referendum while Gábor Fodor recommended that the followers of his liberal party vote “yes.” Until now, LMP had said nothing. Szél finally clarified what most people had already suspected: that despite all the noise they make in parliament on other matters, LMP is not a serious opponent of Fidesz. In fact, LMP, with its refusal to cooperate with others, is an enabler of Fidesz’s political agenda.

And if that wasn’t enough, she decided to say a few ugly words about George Soros. LMP rejects Soros’s meddling in Hungarian affairs. It is unacceptable that some influential person from the outside tells us what the right attitude or position is in certain matters. He should be spending his time in other endeavors instead of giving advice in the matter of immigration. The Pope couldn’t be left out either. According to her, politicians misinterpret the Holy Father’s words.

Ákos Hadházy, who replaced András Schiffer as co-chairman of LMP and member of parliament, is an excellent man. Just like Péter Juhász of Együtt, he is doing a tremendous job unveiling government corruption involving EU funds. Quietly but fairly persistently he has talked about the necessity of “common thinking” and “discussion” among the democratic parties. But Bernadett Szél intervened and said there is no change in policy: LMP will go against Fidesz alone in 2018.

Gyula Molnár, after learning about Bernadett Szél’s shameful performance, announced that MSZP will have nothing to do with LMP. Szél won’t be upset. She has more powerful frenemies on the right.

July 23, 2016

New MSZP leadership: New strategy and tactics?

While the whole world, including readers of Hungarian Spectrum, are preoccupied with the most unfortunate decision of a slight majority of the citizens of the United Kingdom, an important domestic event has taken place that may change the political landscape in Hungary. Today MSZP delegates from all over the country gathered in Budapest to elect a new leadership. The stakes are high: will the new officers be able, together with other democratic forces, to build a political force capable of successfully competing with the flourishing and self-confident Fidesz under the iron fist of Viktor Orbán? Now that the congress is over and almost all the more important leaders, including the chairman of the party, have been replaced, MSZP has another chance to demonstrate that it can be one of the leading democratic forces in Hungary.

A few days ago, while discussing the Hungarian national football team, we talked about “the players’ lack of self-confidence and will to win.” Someone in the course of the discussion remarked that one could say the same thing about the non-Jobbik opposition to Viktor Orbán’s government. It was this exchange that came to mind when I was reading some of the comments made by the four candidates for the party’s chairmanship in the last few months. For example, there is a strong tendency in MSZP to indulge in self-flagellation. What a total misunderstanding of politics. That is the job of Fidesz, not MSZP. Such statements as “we are unable to escape from quarantine until we face our past” (Tamás Harangozó) don’t inspire much confidence. Or, also from Harangozó, the MSZP supporter learns that by remaining in power between 2006 and 2010 the party went against the wishes of its electorate. I guess they should simply have thrown in the towel and resigned. Or, “MSZP by now is not the party that the people trust with the leadership of the country.” Then why should anyone vote for them? József Tóbiás, the chairman who just lost his position, is no better. What about this for inspiration? “MSZP must understand that we are not a big party.” And yet, he says, “on the left there are no competing parties. There is only one party, which is called MSZP.” Well, if MSZP itself is not a big party and it has no competition on the left, Viktor Orbán will have a very, very long tenure. Tibor Szanyi is a true democrat: “MSZP must get rid of the left-liberal little parties.” Instead, he generously offers a place for all democrats under MSZP’s umbrella.

I left statements by Gyula Molnár, today’s winner, to last. He is, as opposed to his mealy-mouthed comrades, a combative sort who back in 1999-2000 wanted “to take up the kind of political tactics characteristic of our opponents.” This is something that the left in general has been unwilling to do. Molnár, because of his forced absence from politics between 2010 and 2016, has a great advantage. He doesn’t bear any responsibility for the things that went wrong with the party in the last six years. Among the candidates Molnár is the only one who doesn’t think that MSZP can single-handedly defeat Fidesz in the coming elections. I think he puts his finger on the problem when he claims that “the rejection of cooperation [with the other parties] is good for only one thing. To leisurely build the party with the result of losing the election.” A few days later he complained that “MSZP committed the left’s classical mistake: when we are in opposition we want to build the party, not win elections.”

Photo: MTI

Photo: MTI

So, I really think that with the election of Gyula Molnár a new chapter opens in the history of MSZP. At least now, I think, there’s a chance. The chairman of the board, László Botka, mayor of Szeged since 2006, was also replaced by István Hiller, chairman of the party between 2004 and 2006 and minister of education between 2006 and 2010. Hiller’s lead over Botka was surprisingly large. Hiller received 201 votes against Botka’s 134. This very poor showing by Botka who, according to Medián, is the most popular socialist politician in the country, is something of a mystery. Only a few days ago there was talk of Botka as a possible prime minister one day. Now the word is that Botka’s retirement from national politics, at least for the time being, is pretty certain.

We will not see much of József Tóbiás either because he announced his intention to resign from his post as leader of MSZP’s parliamentary delegation.

There were two rounds of voting. From the start Molnár was leading with 121 votes against Tóbiás’s 99, Harangozó’s 67, and Szanyi’s 45. However, since Molnár didn’t have 50% + 1 of the votes, a second round took place where Molnár won 121 votes against Tóbiás’s 99. There will be three deputy chairmen: István Ujhelyi (262 votes), András Nemény (234 votes), and Nándor Gúr (197 votes). I’m pleased by the good showing of Ujhelyi, one of the two MSZP EP members, whom I think highly of.

We know relatively little about what the candidates for the various posts had to say for themselves because the congress was held in camera. I’m relying here on a short description that appeared a few hours ago in 168 Óra. Predictably, Tóbiás tried to convince the delegates that the present course is successful and should be continued. As we know from the outcome, he wasn’t convincing. Harangozó promised that he will be a reliable and hardworking chairman, and Szanyi offered himself as “the captain” of the ship in these troubled times.

Molnár talked about “the fear in our soul. We are afraid to change, we don’t dare to risk. It would be nice to have a messiah who is not afraid of Viktor Orbán. But we can have a general only if there is an army behind him. As [Gyula] Horn said, with bowed head one cannot see far. One needs a new program, new tactics.”

After the congress closed, Molnár gave a short press conference in which he said that he will subordinate everything to the preparations for the 2018 elections. He also emphasized that “only one single challenger can defeat the Fidesz regime,” which means that he is open to negotiations with the other democratic parties. Compare that to László Botka’s speech at the congress in which he announced that “there is life after Gyurcsány and Orbán.” One cannot ignore and insult DK which, as far as electoral support goes, is not too far behind MSZP. Anti-Fidesz voters want cooperation, not strife. I wonder whether Botka’s poor showing has anything to do with his rigid attitude toward other parties on the left.

Fidesz’s “congratulations” to the winners of the MSZP election says a lot about what kind of people the opposition faces. Immediately after the first congratulatory sentence, one reads that both Molnár and Hiller held important positions during the “Gyurcsány era.” In fact, Hiller helped Gyurcsány become prime minister. In any case, it doesn’t matter who the chairman of the party is because MSZP will continue where it left off: “the socialists want to carry out Brussels’ plan of forced immigration, continue their pro-immigration policies, and cover up their corruption…. The new chairman, Gyula Molnár, already indicated that he wants to strengthen the Gyurcsány coalition, which already ruined the country once.”

I hope Molnár will find the right tone to answer such “congratulatory” notes from Fidesz.

June 25, 2016

By-election in Dunaújváros and its lessons

In the middle of February a local internet site reported that the Tolna County police were investigating an old murder case. Two years earlier, a well-known businessman had been reported missing. His body was eventually discovered, cemented over, in the backyard of a house in Dunaújváros. One of the men accused of the murder was Roland Gál, a Fidesz member of the Dunaújváros City Council. Soon enough, he was stripped of his party membership and removed from his position as a member of the city council. Hence, the necessity of a by-election, held yesterday.

The result in a nutshell. Fidesz’s candidate won, but only because MSZP, DK, and PM, the three democratic opposition parties, ran separately. If they had agreed on a common candidate (assuming he got the same number of votes as the total of the three opposition candidates), Fidesz would have narrowly lost the election. Everybody anticipated a Fidesz victory considering the fractured left. That was no surprise. The Fidesz candidate received 405 votes (39%), DK 241 (23%), Jobbik 199 (19%), MSZP 97 (9%), and PM 84 (8%). The very poor MSZP showing most likely sealed the fate of József Tóbiás; he is unlikely to be reelected chairman of MSZP. Tóbiás sacked the local party chairman, who was against a joint ticket, even though he himself apparently encouraged the locals to run on their own.

The DK leadership is convinced that their failure to reach an agreement with MSZP is the sole fault of MSZP. Their argument rests on a 2014 agreement between the two parties that stipulated that, in the event of a new election, the right of nomination would belong to the party whose candidate originally ran. Since at the 2014 municipal election the united opposition’s candidate was a DK politician, DK expected their man to run again. However, the local MSZP leaders refused to recognize the existence of such an agreement, arguing that it applied only to national, not to local elections. The top leadership decided to support the locals, who claimed that their candidate was more likely to succeed than DK’s man. As it turned out, it was a very bad decision.

One could ask why DK’s leaders insisted on such a confrontational strategy. For the sake of peace, why didn’t they simply go ahead and support the MSZP candidate? Apparently, Ferenc Gyurcsány himself was inclined to let MSZP have its way, but other top leaders of DK argued that such a conciliatory attitude would be a sign of weakness. DK was not aggressive enough when it came to bargaining for better positions on the party list in 2014, the result of which was a lopsided parliamentary representation in favor of MSZP. DK ended up with four members who have sit with the independents because the party didn’t meet the threshold for having a recognized parliamentary delegation, while MSZP has a 28-member caucus. And the ratio of their vote totals was at the time three to two.

The DK activists at work / Source: 24.hu / Photo by Márton Neményi

DK activists at work / Source: 24.hu / Photo by Márton Neményi

Once the decision was made that the democratic parties would go their own ways, the die was cast. Fidesz would undoubtedly win the election. The relatively low turnout (32%) was most likely due to the pessimism that greeted the decision against cooperation. Reporters who visited the city prior to the election came back with the distinct feeling that “the majority is sick of Fidesz but this way they will surely win.” So, it would be a waste of time even to bother to vote.

Even with the fractured democratic opposition, Viktor Orbán was worried enough about the outcome to schedule a campaign trip to Dunaújváros only a few days before the election. On May 31 he and the Fidesz mayor of the city signed an “agreement of cooperation,” which consisted of 20 billion forints the central government, or more precisely the European Union, would invest in Dunaújváros projects. It would take too long to list all the goodies Orbán promised the city for those measly 400 some votes. Clearly, this election was important to Fidesz and personally to Viktor Orbán because the lost by-elections of the last two years have become not just embarrassing but also worrisome. Reports written on the spot before the election yesterday noted that the Orbán trip made a real impression on the local Fidesz community. Although they know that support for the party is on the decline in town, “now that Viktor Orbán came to see us things have changed,” one Fidesz supporter remarked.

Apparently, Fidesz activists also put an incredible amount of effort into getting out the vote. While DK and MSZP activists campaigned on the streets, Fidesz representatives quietly visited reliable Fidesz voters, urging them to vote.

DK’s strong showing surprised everybody, as did the very poor performance of the socialists. Their degrading loss was interpreted as a wake-up call for the overly self-confident socialist leadership. This seemingly unimportant by-election, where only about one thousand votes were cast, may be a milestone as far as the future of MSZP is concerned. Within a few weeks MSZP will hold its congress and elect a new chairman. Vying for the post are three serious candidates: the current party chairman, József Tóbiás, whose chances even without the failure in Dunaújváros were slim; Tibor Szanyi, who wants to move the party farther to the left and believes that in a head-to-head confrontation MSZP can win against Fidesz; and Gyula Molnár, to whose candidacy I devoted a whole post. A few weeks ago the consensus was that Molnár was the favorite, but then he made the mistake of revealing his plans to approach the other democratic parties, specifically DK, in the hope of closer cooperation. The anti-Gyurcsány forces within the party were less than enthusiastic. Some people feared that Molnár might have blown his chances by taking a conciliatory approach to the man who in October 2011 left MSZP to establish a party of his own. After the debacle of Dunaújváros, however, there is a good possibility that the delegates might realize that “going it alone” is not an option.

The funniest reaction came from the party leaders of PM. One young PM member, who is a council member in one of the Budapest districts, already envisages PM sailing into parliament in 2018 with 10% of all the votes cast. Dunaújváros, in his opinion, is the very beginning of PM becoming an important force on the left. Gergely Karácsony, the co-chairman, sees the results as a confirmation of the party’s belief in the necessity of holding primaries before the actual election as a means of finding the “right person” to head the ticket of a loosely united opposition. Three of the opposition parties support the idea: MSZP, PM, and Együtt.

And the socialists, headed by the candidate himself / Source: 24.hu / Photo by Márton Neményi

And the socialists / Source: 24.hu / Photo by Márton Neményi

So, let’s talk about this notion of primaries. When I first heard about the idea of introducing primaries into the Hungarian political system I was less than thrilled. Although I dutifully cast my vote in my state’s primaries, I’m not at all sure they are the best way to pick candidates for the U.S. presidency. I don’t want to dwell on U.S. domestic politics, but the fact that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate doesn’t speak well for the process which, by the way, has been uniformly used only since 1968.

Mátyás Eörsi, a former SZDSZ politician and now a DK supporter, wrote a good opinion piece in Népszabadság in which he outlined his objections. “Elections—just as primary elections—are by nature divisive.” So, primaries will only sharpen the ideological and personal differences between the candidates. Moreover, primaries in the United States are held within one single party and not among three or four or perhaps five different ones. Thus, a primary would in fact be a full-fledged election, after which voters whose candidate lost would be asked to abandon their party and vote for the leader of another. A hopeless idea. Especially since in Hungary the political culture is totally unsuited to the practice of burying the hatchet. Eörsi is so convinced about the lethal effect that primaries would have on the opposition’s chances that he fairly confidently announced that its already small chance of success in 2018 would be totally annihilated by holding primaries.

In the last few months, four times a week, György Bolgár, the host of the popular radio call-in show “Let’s Talk It Over,” poses the question: “What’s To Be Done?” Callers as well as politicians, political commentators, and intellectuals interested in politics have an opportunity to share their thoughts on how to save Hungary from another six years of Fidesz rule. At the beginning I enjoyed the exercise, but by now it is becoming tedious. I could count on one hand people who came up with truly insightful suggestions.

Perhaps what we should do is to strive for the ultimate, the maximum, the ideal. The one which at the moment is just a dream but which is actually the only sure way to stand against the Fidesz onslaught. Eörsi talks about this solution briefly, saying “If we dream, let’s dream big. In order to be able to take up a battle with the Orbán regime what we actually need is not cooperation but one big left-of-center party.” Indeed, this should be the ultimate goal. If the parties repeat their sorry performance of what they called “cooperation” in 2014, failure is guaranteed.

They should work very hard to create a brand new party. Forget about MSZP, DK, Együtt, PM. Create what could be called, for example, Magyar Demokraták Pártja. I would certainly include the word “democracy” in some form in the name of the party because it is no longer a struggle between left and right but between the adherents of democracy and the supporters of autocracy. Right now the formation of such a party seems impossible, but it is impossible only until the leaders of the opposition decide that it is worth working for in order to remove a cancer from the Hungarian body politic.

June 6, 2016

Will the MSZP congress elect a new chairman with a new strategy?

I haven’t written anything about the internal affairs of MSZP, Hungary’s socialist party, for ages, mostly because there has been nothing much to say about the party, especially nothing good. I did appreciate the party’s clever handling of the referendum scandal, which somewhat improved its standing. Bertalan Tóth’s efforts to acquire documentation regarding the spending of the Hungarian National Bank’s foundations also added to a rise in the popularity of MSZP, which according to the latest poll now surpasses that of Jobbik. However, a lot of people inside and outside the party have been dissatisfied with the current party chairman, József Tóbiás, under whose leadership the party has been languishing since July 2014. Soon MSZP will have the opportunity to elect a new chairman when it holds its biennial congress on June 25. Four people, including Tóbiás, will be vying for the position.

Already in February two people announced their intention to challenge József Tóbiás: Tibor Szanyi and Tamás Harangozó. Szanyi is viewed as the enfant terrible of the socialist party, someone who is obviously smart and well educated but who often finds himself in impossible situations of his own making. Perhaps because of his cantankerous disposition he ended up as MSZP representative to the European Parliament in 2014. Szanyi has been preaching for years that the problem with MSZP is that it is not really a leftist party. When he talks about the left, Szanyi thinks of a socialist party of yesteryear. This is not the first time that Szanyi has tried to capture the chairmanship. In 2014 he lost out to Tóbiás. I suspect that he will not be any more successful this time around.

Tamás Harangozó is currently deputy whip of the socialist caucus in the Hungarian parliament. He has relatively little political experience, but he appears a lot in public, representing the views of his party. These frequent public appearances may have something to do with the fact that he completed “communication training at the Dale Carnegie Strategic Workshop.” Harangozó is one of the young Turks Attila Mesterházy recruited with a view to changing the image of the party as a collection of old-timers who, in his opinion, were responsible for the decline of the party. As a result, the most experienced people in the party were forced out of leading positions. Real greenhorns took their place and also appeared on the party list for parliamentary seats. I don’t give Harangozó much of a chance of winning this race.

A latecomer to the contest is Gyula Molnár. Unlike Harangozó, Molnár is an old-timer. He started his political career immediately after the regime change as deputy mayor of District XI (Újbuda). From 1994 to 2010 he was a member of parliament. In 2002 he became mayor of District XI, where he was reelected in 2006. Most likely he would have won again in 2010 if Viktor Orbán’s favorite prosecutor hadn’t charged him and his SZDSZ deputy with fraud a few days before the election. It took him five years to clear his name. While he was under a cloud he remained outside of politics, but a few months ago he decided to run for the party’s chairmanship.

Source: Népszava / Photo József Vajda

Gyula Molnár / Source: Népszava / Photo József Vajda

Molnár announced his candidacy in an interview he gave to ATV’s Start program in early April. Since then he has outlined his program which, in my opinion, is a step in the right direction. Instead of Tóbiás’s totally unrealistic idea that MSZP will win the election running separately from other opposition parties, Molnár stands for “peace within the family.” What does he mean by this? If I understand him correctly, he considers the ideological differences among MSZP, DK, PM, and Együtt so minimal that they all belong to the same ideological “family.” He would open channels of communication with the other members of the “family” while also approaching the very active civic groups and the trade unions. In an interview with Népszabadság a few days ago Molnár claimed, I think correctly, that the real action is on the streets, not in parliament. Finally, Molnár indicated that he would like to build bridges to liberal intellectuals and professionals whose services are of vital importance to any political group. One problem with Fidesz is that the party lacks talented professionals who can assist the work of the government.

According to the latest survey, Molnár has a good chance of getting the most votes at the congress. The congress is made up of 290 elected delegates from Budapest and nineteen counties in addition to seventy ex officio delegates. At the moment it looks as if most county delegates in addition to the huge Budapest delegation of 63 men and women support Molnár. But this projection is tentative. It all depends on how dissatisfied the delegates are with the status quo. If the reformers are in the majority, Molnár will be the winner.

This morning Népszava published an article about Molnár after he had a conversation with one of the newspaper’s journalists. During the conversation he said: “We believe in the openness of Ferenc Deák, the humanity of Árpád Göncz, and the pragmatism of Gyula Horn.” I find this statement significant. You may recall an old post of mine about prominent MSZP politicians, 22 in all, who established the Ferenc Deák Circle right before the 2014 party congress. They feared that under Tóbiás’s leadership the party would not choose the best path. Ildikó Lendvai, one of the leaders of the group, wrote in a post on Facebook that the political dividing line is no longer between left and right. “Today in Hungary that line is between openness toward Europe and inwardness, between progress and boorish conservatism.” She wrote that there are impressive politicians on the left, outside of MSZP, and said that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party is here to stay, “whether we like it or not.” MSZP “must make peace with them and cooperate.” The group’s choice of the name “Ferenc Deák” was significant because Deák was the architect of the famous Compromise of 1867, which was one of the wisest political moves in modern Hungarian history. Molnár is ready for a compromise. Equally important is the mention of Árpád Göncz, who before his election to the presidency was a liberal politician. Surely, Molnár is ready to embrace the liberals as well to form a united opposition against Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. And Gyula Horn was MSZP’s most successful politician and, according to many commentators, the best Hungarian prime minister since 1990.

I’m glad that Molnár has returned to politics despite having been dragged through the mud by Fidesz.

May 17, 2016