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The landscape ten months before the elections

July 29th, 2013

A centrist political scientist believes that whoever wins next year’s elections, the outcome will be catastrophic, and a catastrophe is perhaps what Hungary needs to find the right path. A moderate conservative columnist suggests it will be extremely difficult to forge a united left-wing opposition before the elections.

In Magyar Narancs (print edition) Gábor Török strikes a sombre note, although he has a reputation for refraining from value judgements in his analyses. Although most political analysts work for political parties, he explains to the liberal weekly, he himself cannot find one whom he would find it morally appropriate to work for. He recalls meeting several analysts in television debates who immediately called their political bosses after leaving the studio. He would simply not like to be like them, he says, and prefers to prepare analyses for private companies and their CEOs, including OTP chief Sándor Csányi, Hungary’s number one banker, who was recently reported to be at loggerheads with the government (see BudaPost July 24) and Zsolt Hernádi, CEO of MOL, the Hungarian oil and gas multinational, who is known as an ally of Csányi. Until 2010, Török offered advice to President László Sólyom, a conservative who is highly critical of the constitutional changes introduced by the right-wing administration. When asked what he expects in the 2014 election year, Török suggests that “terrible things are coming”, whoever ends up winning. Fidesz can rely on a base of 2 million voters, but after an election victory its voters might face swift and bitter disappointment, comparable to that of the left-wing voters between 2006 and 2010. If they lose, it is highly questionable whether their left-liberal successors can run the country within the legal framework set up by Fidesz. “A catastrophe is in the making but this is not a bad thing. This country needs a catastrophe” – he says. As to what sort of catastrophe Hungary needs, Török explains that Hungarians still do not follow political processes and cannot see the stakes in various political moves. All Hungarians care about – he adds ominously – is to have someone to despise and hate. While in Germany voters could pressurise leading parties into a grand coalition, Hungarian voters are unlikely to realize that writing new constitutions every four years is not a good idea. Some say – he continues with a clear hint at the ruling right-wing – that 2010 was the beginning of a new era, but in fact it looks more like the very last agony of an old epoch. As to why Fidesz is still successful while their opponents are not, Török rejects the ‘Orbán is a genius’ interpretation. Only the lack of a credible alternative gives Fidesz its chance to win the next elections, he thinks. Török concedes Fidesz some advantages, one being that they “always put political priorities first” – and enforce that principle in everything from legislation through communication “and the spoils system”. A second advantage he suggests, is that “they have a story,” and Orbán is a gifted storyteller. As for the left, Török finds the mere existence of MSZP a success in itself, after the rout it suffered in 2010, and thinks that party chairman Mesterházy is widely underestimated, perhaps because his main concern so far was to hang on to his chair. Bajnai, he thinks was picked by Fidesz as the main enemy because he is easier to attack, but in reality – he concludes – Bajnai does not have what it takes to win, “you can see he’d rather sit in his garden with his family instead of running the political mill”.

In centre-right Heti Válasz (print edition) Bálint Ablonczy also scrutinizes the latest developments of the MSZP-Together 2014 saga. He notes that while the parties are discussing the elements of their joint programme and hope to name joint candidates, all they are able to offer is the old slogan of “ousting Viktor Orbán”. Add to this the claim that in power they will put through a new constitution and would disband the Parliamentary Guard (a new body set up on an initiative by Speaker László Kövér). Meanwhile, the very foundations of their putative alliance are still unspecified. Socialist Party leader Mesterházy’s selling point is that he has kept his party together and that the MSZP still musters the largest support among opposition voters, while Bajnai’s fans argue that the 2009-2010 crisis management under Bajnai’s guidance at that time as Prime Minister, is far more acceptable to non-Socialist voters. Parties which put forward joint candidates but also maintain separate lists, Ablonczy explains, are not penalized by the electoral system. They need at least 27 candidates in at least nine counties to have a national list. This is why, he explains, Together 2014 want at least one third of the 106 individual constituencies. However, he points out, there is an important strategic difference between the partners. The MSZP is convinced that a general election in Hungary can only be won on a leftist platform, while Together analysts estimate that a leftist project can only attract some 15%, and a change in government requires the votes of centrist Hungarians, among them former Fidesz voters.

Socialist politicians, on the other hand, are less enthusiastic about the double-list strategy. This would confuse voters, they fear. On top of this, Together 2014 – at the moment – is not a party but an alliance of three groups, which requires 10% of the vote under the current regulations to make it into parliament. If Together proves unable to meet this target, all the votes cast for its list would end up wasted. (As a matter of fact Together, with its new allies, Dialogue for Hungary, has been registered as a party since July 11 under the name of Korszakváltók Párja – the Party of Epochal Change.)The separate list option, Ablonczy claims, is a reaction to the stalled negotiations, and is an attempt by Bajnai to save face. It is obvious by now, he concludes, that the only scenario under which Bajnai can run as a candidate for PM is if Mesterházy finds it impossible to win. If the election seems hopeless, the Socialist leader might decide that it is in his best interest to wait for a better opportunity instead of burning himself up in a failed attempt.

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