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Hungarian Olive Tree Coalition in the making

October 10th, 2011

According to a moderate conservative fact-finding journalist, the beleaguered former PM and Socialist Party chairman Ferenc Gyurcsány intends to set up a broad left-wing coalition, with his immediate successor, Gordon Bajnai as PM Viktor Orbán’s challenger.

“What is at stake in the recent Socialist infighting is not who will rule the party, but who will become the central figure of a future Olive Tree Coalition,” – an unnamed protagonist of the inner party struggle told András Bódis, a leading reporter at Heti Válasz.

The patent for broad left-wing alliances of extremely disparate political forces belongs to the former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who won the 1995 elections as head of a new coalition which emerged from the ruins of the traditional Italian Left. Ever since electoral support for the Hungarian Socialist Party dwindled to about half its former level, the idea of a Hungarian version of the Olive Tree Coalition has often re-surfaced in analyses by left-wing authors.

The investigative Bódis has discovered that this time it is more than just a pretty theory. Ferenc Gyurcsány is systematically building links with people who can attract moderate conservatives (Former MDF politicians, like Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy and MEP Lajos Bokros), as well as the remnants of the left-liberal Free Democrats (the former party chairman Gábor Kuncze). He also envisages an alliance with LMP, possibly without its most prominent leader András Schiffer, who is known for his antipathy to Gyurcsány. The reporter suggests that Gyurcsány and his friends have built potentially fruitful contacts with the Facebook movement “One Million for Press Freedom” that staged a 30 thousand strong demonstration in March and is planning a second gathering on October 23, to commemorate the anniversary of the 1956 revolution. Bódis is also  convinced that the former prime minister, who is currently under investigation for abuse of office (BudaPost, October 5), is on friendly terms with the organizers of the “Clown’s revolution” (BudaPost, June 19) and of the D-day demonstrations (BudaPost, October 4).

But “Gyucsány knows that he personally cannot lead such an alliance to victory, and is therefore building a joint strategy with Gordon Bajnai,” – Bódis quotes his unnamed sources.

Bajnai was the non-Party Prime Minister of a Socialist-backed government from the time of Gyucsány’s resignation in 2009, till the sweeping Fidesz electoral victory in 2010. Since then, he has set up a foundation called “Country and Progress”, with his former finance minister Péter Oszkó as chairman of the Supervisory Board.

The foundation – HetiVálasz reports – is closely connected to liberal US institutions, and its main sponsor is the Center for American Progress. In addition, two leading US universities, Johns Hopkins and Columbia have granted Bajnai visiting professorships.

Asked about the “Olive Tree” project, Péter Oszkó said the foundation has no political ambitions and quoted Bajnai as dismissing the allegations in a phone conversation as “bullshit.”

Gyurcsány himself told a left-wing audience (with Péter Oszkó among the panellists) that no negotiations were underway, but “the present government will have to be defeated by a broad coalition.”

Former Socialist Party campaign chief Viktor Szigetvári, a member of the board of directors of Bajnai’s foundation, has given the distinct impression that his ambitions are not merely of a scientific nature. In an article in Magyar Narancs, Szigetváry suggests that the left should occupy the political centre which has been abandoned by Fidesz. And in that political struggle, it “must courageously employ the tools of power and must not shrink from the conflictual nature of politics.”

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