Tag Archives: party program

The Hungarian opposition shows signs of life

Momentum’s victory

The major news of the day is the overwhelming success of Momentum’s signature drive for a referendum on holding the 2024 Olympic Games in Budapest. They needed 138,000 signatures; they collected 266,151. Although the young leaders of the movement don’t seem to be overly grateful, about 60,000 of these signatures were collected by political parties on the left. LMP and Párbeszéd were especially active.

Momentum’s plan at the moment is to become a self-sufficient party. But I wouldn’t be surprised if closer cooperation among Momentum, Párbeszéd, and LMP would materialize, especially now that Párbeszéd has withdrawn from negotiations with MSZP and DK.

Viktor Orbán, who a few months ago considered hosting the 2024 Olympic Games “a matter of national significance,” a couple of days ago instructed the Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary delegation to refrain from any comment in the event that Momentum gets the necessary number of signatures. His position now is that the central government supported the idea only after the Budapest City Council, including opposition members, voted to submit an application to the IOC.

Budapest mayor István Tarlós, although initially against holding the Olympics in Budapest, now stands by Viktor Orbán. He complains about “the betrayal of the opposition,” which a year and a half ago supported the idea heart and soul and now portrays itself as the defender of the people and the country. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of truth in this charge. Csaba Horváth (MSZP), József Tóth (MSZP), and Gergely Karácsony (Párbeszéd) supported the application. Even Erzsébet Gy. Németh (DK), who verbally disapproved of it, had the courage only to abstain. The sole person to vote against it was Antal Csárdi (LMP). Bravery and consistency are not the strong points of the Hungarian socialists and liberals.

Granted, given government pressure and the general Fidesz enthusiasm for the project, it was guaranteed to sail through the Budapest City Council. Still, those opposition city fathers who have been so loud of late in their disapproval of the project would look a great deal better if they had not bent under pressure and had instead voted their conscience. MSZP is especially hesitant to take a stand when its leaders believe, rightly or wrongly, that its voters might not approve of the party’s actions.

Tarlós indicated that once the final verdict on the number of signatures is announced, he “will think very seriously about withdrawing the application.” Given the enormous number of signatures collected, there is no doubt that the referendum request will be valid. And if the referendum were actually held, the “no’s” would carry the day. Tomorrow Publicus Intézet will publish its latest poll, according to which 76% of the total population would use the money for something much more important. The respondents could pick from several categories and obviously, since the numbers add up to more than 100%, could choose to allocate the saved funds to more than one urgent need. 65% of them opted for healthcare, 32% for education, 16% for the elimination of poverty, 11% for the creation of new jobs, and 8% for better infrastructure.

András Fekete-Győr proudly displaying the fruit of Momentum’s labor

The leaders of Momentum will embark on a two-month tour of the countryside where they plan to establish local party cells. András Fekete-Győr announced a few hours ago that the new party will have candidates in all 120 electoral districts. It intends to compete against the other opposition parties, although we know that fracturing the anti-Orbán forces is political suicide. Under the current electoral law, which is designed for a two-party system, a divided opposition can only lose. Nonetheless, for the time being Momentum is planning to follow in the footsteps of LMP, which doesn’t bode well for either Momentum or Hungarian democracy. László Bartus of Amerikai Magyar Népszava has already written an opinion piece in which he expresses his fears that Momentum is glossing over the distinction between Hungary prior to and after 2010.

László Botka’s program is shaping up

The anti-Orbán forces got some good news yesterday when Republikon Intézet published its poll on the popularity of current candidates for the post of prime minister. Viktor Orbán and László Botka are essentially neck to neck. Botka is only two percentage points behind Viktor Orbán (46% to 44%). What is especially significant is that Botka is by far the more popular candidate among undecided voters, 44% against Orbán’s 29%, a result that didn’t surprise me as much as it seems to have surprised the media. I have been convinced for a long time that if someone could inspire this group to vote, the majority would vote for a candidate on the left.

Many voters who sympathize with the “liberal” democratic parties in Hungary have been impatient with László Botka’s relative inaction since he announced that he intended to throw his hat in the ring. For example, although he promised to visit the chairmen of the smaller parties, he hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Yesterday I read that the first party he will visit will be LMP, an odd choice, I would say, since LMP’s willingness to negotiate with Botka is about zero.

On the other hand, Botka at last came out with an article, published in 168 Óra, in which he spells out at least part of his program. He embraces the idea of introducing a guaranteed basic income on an experimental basis in the most underdeveloped and poorest regions of the country. I assume that would be the northeastern corner and the County of Baranya along the Croatian-Hungarian border, both with large Roma populations. He also envisages introducing a supplement to pensions that do not provide enough income for survival. He would like to alleviate the difficulties younger people have in gaining access to affordable housing. He proposes that municipalities build apartment complexes, with apartments to be rented out at reasonable prices. He wants to change the flat tax system introduced by the second Orbán government to a progressive one. Moreover, he wants to introduce a property tax on high-priced real estate and luxury cars. In addition, Botka emphasized that education and health will his government’s priority.

I am curiously awaiting the reaction of the media and the general public. I’m sure that most of these goals will meet the expectations of the majority, although I don’t know how people will feel about the idea of a guaranteed basic income. I assume that MSZP will fully support these goals, but they will also have to be approved by those parties that are ready to stand behind Botka. The way things are going, very soon it will be only DK that Botka will have to negotiate with.

We already know the reaction of the government media to Republikon Intézet’s poll on Botka’s popularity. Here are some headlines: “Few people support László Botka on the left,” “Botka is not supported even on the left,” “László Botka is not popular.” The source of this information? Fidesz’s own pollster, Századvég.

February 17, 2017

Jobbik’s new centrist strategy

It’s time to turn our attention to the right-radical Jobbik party, the bogeyman of some naïve West European observers who are convinced that it is the real threat to Hungarian democracy and not Viktor Orbán’s government. Some of us who are more familiar with the workings of Fidesz know better. While Fidesz was rapidly moving to the right, Jobbik, in order to distinguish itself from the government party, moved toward the center. This change of strategy, however, hasn’t paid off. Jobbik, which in March 2015 had almost caught up with Fidesz in popularity (18% versus 21% in the electorate as a whole), is today a shadow of its former self. It has lost about half of its supporters.

So, one would have thought that Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, recognizing the failure of the policy, would change course and go back to the far-right ideology that made Jobbik popular in the past. Yet, judging from his speech delivered last Saturday in front of approximately 2,000 people, there seems to be no change of strategy in sight. On the contrary, if possible, the party chairman sounded even more moderate than at any time before.

I have to admit that this was the first time I had the patience to listen to a Vona speech in its entirety. He is actually a very good speaker. That was surprise number one. The other surprise was the well-dressed audience and the absence of the nationalistic garb Jobbik politicians and followers have been infamous for. Apparently there were a few of the old extremist types present, but they were in the great minority. Gone were the old historical flags, including the red-and-white striped so-called Árpád flag, named after the first Hungarian ruling house, which was once favored by the extreme-right Arrow Cross Party of the 1930s. In fact, this Jobbik gathering didn’t even have the dozens of red, white, and green flags that we are accustomed to from Fidesz’s mass meetings. Instead, in the background were red and green bridges that will allow Jobbik supporters to visit the “other side” of the Hungarian political divide. Instead of political warfare, Vona wants to build bridges and unite all those who believe themselves to be the victims of Hungary’s twentieth-century history. Those who still bemoan the injustices of Trianon, the sins of communism, and the lost security of János Kádár’s regime.

The caption says: "The real people's party

The caption reads: “The real people’s party”

Those present reported that the Jobbik audience can’t really be roused by this new moderate program. The people who were originally fired up by Jobbik anti-Semitic, anti-Roma rhetoric are not enamored with the idea of building bridges to leftist voters. As Origo’s journalist reported, an older man at the end of Vona’s speech said: “It was a good speech, but I don’t agree with many of his points.”

What is the essence of this new course? If I understand it correctly, Vona envisages a party in the center of the political spectrum that wants to attract not only disappointed Fidesz voters but also those who are currently uncommitted, most of whom, as we know from public opinion polls, sympathize with the left. But can that kind of approach, especially the party’s decision to court potential leftist voters, possibly succeed? I personally doubt it. I am also not at all sure whether a strategy based on extolling the virtues of “civic” Hungary, a society based on middle class values, which Vona announced, can succeed. This formula was tried back in the 1990s by Fidesz, only to be abandoned and forgotten. It was brought back to life recently by Gábor G. Fodor’s revelation that “civic Hungary” was simply a “political product” to be sold to the naïve electorate. It was also useless, I believe, for Vona to talk about “real national consultation” as opposed to the kind the Orbán government offered to the electorate. Why would Hungarians be more excited by “national consultations” conducted by Jobbik than they have been by the ones offered by Fidesz?

Vona spent a fair amount of time on the two sectors, education and healthcare, that are in serious trouble. Jobbik sees opportunities here, especially since, as last year’s by-election in Tapolca showed, a healthcare issue can mobilize the locals. Since the Fidesz mayor of Tapolca supported closing the hospital and the Jobbik deputy-mayor stood against it, Jobbik’s candidate won. It was a lesson to be learned on both sides. It further strengthened the view in government circles that “reforming” healthcare is deadly and that it should be left undisturbed. In the last year, however, it has become obvious that the problems in the sector are too great to be ignored. Although in the last few days the revolt brewing among teachers in the country’s elementary and high schools has dwarfed complaints from the doctors and nurses, both areas are potentially dangerous for Fidesz.

For the problems in education Fidesz alone is responsible. Most people were convinced that it would be a cinch to pacify the teachers, but they turned out to be wrong. The teachers are threatening a strike. Any party worth its salt should keep a very close eye on developments in both the healthcare and the education sectors. If Jobbik could make headway here, it would get a much-needed lift. I suspect that Jobbik party activists are already hard at work contacting dissatisfied teachers in their neighborhoods. Whether other parties are paying enough attention to the ever-growing dissatisfaction of educators and healthcare workers is not at all clear.

February 2, 2016

The ideal new republic?

A few days ago I heard a man who lives in Austria complain bitterly that although he asked the left-of-center parties for their programs, none of them could produce one. How can anyone pick among the four or five democratic parties, he asked, if the electorate has no idea what they stand for.

This situation is going to change, at least in the case of the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), which will officially release its program on February 13 when the party has its next congress. Two days ago Origo got hold of the 107-page document, which describes the party’s program in an “ideal situation.” The emphasis is on “ideal.”

The program assumes a political constellation in 2018 that would allow a future democratic government to undo all the harm Viktor Orbán’s illiberal policies have inflicted on the country. For that, an individual party or a coalition of several parties would need a two-thirds majority in parliament, something that at the moment no sane person could possibly fathom. So it is not surprising that the far-right site Pesti Srácok, commenting on the DK program, titled its article “DK is dreaming of two-thirds.” Indeed, but one could argue that for a party to present its political vision, it has to assume an absolutely free hand. And it should be noted that the present document is not the party’s electoral program. That program will undoubtedly be much more limited in scope.

First of all, let me say a few words about the latest opinion polls. In the last few days four different polls were released: those of Nézőpont, Tárki, Századvég, and Publicus. According to Nézőpont and Publicus, Fidesz’s rapid gain in support came to a halt between November and January. But Tárki and Századvég found that Fidesz had recovered its earlier voters and is now back to where it was more than a year ago. Both Publicus and Nézőpont registered considerable losses for Jobbik and gains for MSZP. When the results of these four opinion polls are combined, in the electorate as a whole Fidesz has 32%, Jobbik 11%, MSZP 9%, DK 5.5%, LMP 3.2%, and Együtt 1%. The undecided make up 39%.

Thus, at the moment the opposition is in very bad shape. Yet opposition politicians can’t conclude that since the situation seems hopeless, the only realistic option is to do nothing. They have to act. Since a coalition of the smaller democratic parties is outside the realm of possibility at the moment, I believe the only sensible course of action is for each party to work assiduously to build itself up and see whether in the next couple of years one of them can get the lion’s share of opposition support, preferably with more than 20%.

The sad reality

The sad reality

Origo didn’t write the DK program off as pie in the sky. Instead, it praised “its good assessment of the situation and its accurate pinpointing of problems.” I can’t cover all of the political, legal, economic, financial, and social aspects of the document. I will offer as material for discussion only DK’s view of the most important legal underpinnings of the “New Hungarian Republic.”

DK would insist on the removal of Fidesz party cadres from all responsible and allegedly independent positions. They should be called to account for any alleged criminal activities. In addition, all concessions of tobacco shops, casinos, and land sales must be examined for their legality.

A new constitution should be written, which should then be accepted or rejected by popular referendum. The Orbán government’s restrictions on holding referendums are so strict that at the moment practically none can take place. DK suggests a formula that would change this situation.

DK would return to the former right of “actio popularis,” the option for any citizen to turn to the constitutional court claiming that a law, legal provision, or regulation is contrary to the constitution. One of the first acts of the Orbán government was the abolition of this right. The party would also like to remove those judges of the constitutional court who were appointed by the government parties alone. DK plans the complete elimination of the National Judiciary Office, currently headed by the wife of József Szájer, Fidesz MEP. (Earlier, Professor Kim Scheppele wrote several articles touching on the importance of “actio popularis” as well as on the National Judiciary Office’s negative impact on the judiciary.)

DK would get rid of the new law on churches and would restore the status of churches as it was prior to 2012. DK never hid the fact that it has serious reservations about an agreement with the Vatican signed by Gyula Horn that gave the Hungarian Catholic Church special privileges. The party would demand a re-examination and possible revision of that 1997 treaty. DK would also abolish compulsory religious and/or ethical education in schools, which in the party leaders’ opinion should be ideologically neutral. DK would declare equal rights for LGBT people, including their right to marry.

The present electoral system is so unfair that it must be replaced by a so-called mixed system of individual electoral districts and party lists. Moreover, the borders of the present gerrymandered districts must be refashioned in a more equitable way. In addition, the totally unfair electoral system introduced in Budapest should be replaced by a city council whose composition would be determined by the relative strength of the parties, as it was prior to 2014.

Not everything that Fidesz introduced will be thrown out. For example, DK supports Fidesz’s decision on the incompatibility of being a member of parliament and a mayor at the same time. But close relatives of politicians would be forbidden to compete for government tenders, something the government found perfectly acceptable only a few months ago.

Another Fidesz idea of long standing that DK accepts is the subordination of the prosecutor’s office to the ministry of justice. It was something Ibolya Dávid (MDF), minister of justice between 1998 and 2002, supported, but at that time the opposition strongly opposed it. In 2010 Fidesz tried bringing up the topic again, but it was once more met with an outcry. As it stands now, the whole prosecutorial system is “independent,” even though we know only too well that this is not the case. Subordinating the prosecutor’s office to the government would have the benefit of supervision from above, which at the moment is impossible. Finally, DK would recognize the validity of dual citizenship, though the document says nothing about the right to vote. I suspect that in DK’s ideal world that right wouldn’t have a place.

As you can see, I’ve said nothing about taxation, the economy, energy, or social policy. Perhaps in a few days we can return to these topics.