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Friendly war on the left

August 29th, 2011

It might be an appeal for a friendly gesture or the beginning of a war for the left-wing vote, it depends on your choice of commentator. The fact of the matter is that the left-liberal Democratic Charter has written an open letter asking the floor leader of LMP, András Schiffer to withdraw the criminal complaint he lodged two years ago against the then PM Ferenc Gyurcsány.

While in office, Mr Gyurcsány resolutely supported a project personally submitted to him by international investors, to build a casino town on the northern shore of Lake Velence, 45 kilometres South-West of Budapest. The scheme involved the swap of two plots of land. The plots were judged to be of unequal value by the authorities after Mr Gyurcsány’s resignation in 2009, but while the country was still governed by a left wing parliamentary majority. Authorisation for the land-swap was originally pushed through by bypassing the usual administrative procedures, thanks to Mr Gyurcsány’s decision to declare the casino scheme a “project of national importance.” At that time András Schiffer, then a lawyer running a civil rights NGO, demanded that the government decree concerning the casino be made public, and when his request was rejected, he lodged a criminal complaint against Mr Gyurcsány for “abuse of office.” The prosecution is now asking Parliament to suspend Mr Gyurcsány’s immunity in order to subject him to a criminal investigation.

In the latest development, the Democratic Charter (an organization close to Ferenc Gyurcsány) wrote to András Schiffer asking him to withdraw his complaint because the former premier, as “PM Viktor Orbán’s political opponent, cannot count on the impartiality of either the investigative bodies or the judiciary.” To withdraw his complaint would save the floor leader of LMP from becoming part of a show trial, the Charter letter claimed.

In his reply, Schiffer described the letter as “extremely hypocritical and provocative,” and added that Ferenc Gyurcsány and his political friends are “not in a position to lecture anyone on constitutional norms in this country.”

Zsolt Gréczy, a former senior advisor to Ferenc Gyurcsány, regards the Charter letter as a political gesture towards András Schiffer. “His answer was not unexpected, but with it he discredited himself, as expected”,  the left-wing commentator and journalist writes in his blog. He does not fail to mention that András Schiffer used the same words (“not in a position to”) as Viktor Orbán’s spokesman, Péter Szijjártó had in his comment on US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia’s criticism of  certain legislative practices in Hungary (BudaPost, August 2nd and August 15th).

Zsolt Gréczy criticises Mr Schiffer for positioning himself at an equal distance from “the Hungary of Orbán and (far right Jobbik party chairman) Vona” on the one hand and the “democratic centre” on the other, “although since 1990 the Socialist Party always respected constitutional norms.”

“Orbán only needs LMP in order to scatter the democratic opposition,” – Zsolt Gréczy suggests in his blog.

Political scientist Ferenc Kumin, a former spokesman and strategic advisor to former conservative and “green” president László Sólyom believes that András Schiffer gained political capital by denouncing Ferenc Gyurcsány to the prosecutor’s office. What the letter really asked him to do was to jettison that capital by directly supporting the Socialist politician – and the authors knew from the start that their appeal would fall on deaf ears.

Kumin, now leading analyst at Századvég (an influential conservative think tank) suggests in his blog that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s political supporters are fighting two parallel wars. One against those Socialist Party members who do not support Gyurcsány, and another against LMP – because both pose a real threat to the political ambitions of the former Prime Minister.

“The Charter’s open letter tackles both problems by reminding the left wing public that LMP is “not a fully acceptable option,” and by “making life harder for all those Socialists opposing Gyurcsány who might begin to make common cause with LMP,” – writes Ferenc Kumin. What is really at stake, he believes,  is who will lead the left-wing forces at the next parliamentary elections.

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