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Opposition electoral pact under scrutiny

September 2nd, 2013

Left-wing commentators hope the agreement will put an end to destructive rivalry within the Left; liberal pundits are sceptical; professional analysts think Bajnai must now prove his ability to attract undecided voters if he wants the alliance to have a chance, while pro-government columnists are divided on whether or not the government can now lean back and consider next year’s election a mere formality.

After failing to agree on a common candidate for Prime Minister, the two main left-wing organisations decided to run on separate lists, while they avoid competing in individual constituencies where the “first past the post” system would doom them to certain defeat if they did not unite behind joint candidates. (See BudaPost, August 26, 27 and 31.) The socialists gave 31 constituencies to Together 2014 and will run with their own candidates in the remaining 75, except a few districts where they will support left-wing allies, first of all former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Democratic Coalition. Mr Gyurcsány told the press however that he will “not be bought with two or three constituencies” and is prepared to run separately both with individual candidates throughout the country and on his own party list. He is to start talks with MSZP chairman Attila Mesterházy this week.

In Népszabadság, Ervin Tamás writes “under the best case scenario it may prove beneficial to both parties that neither has managed to swallow the other”. He understands why Mr Gyurcsány believes the talks ended in failure, and why LMP leader András Schiffer ironically calls Bajnai’s party “Separately 2014”, but if the two parties to the pact do finally stop criticising each other and start concentrating on showing what they have to offer to the public, they can mutually benefit from running on separate national lists with separate messages.

In an unsigned analysis, the left-leaning Institute for a Democratic Alternative (IDEA), led by political scientist Balázs Böcskei points out that running on separate lists offers a better chance for Bajnai to win over undecided voters. There is a sizeable mass of citizens who dislike the government’s practices, but would not vote for the Socialists, and Bajnai’s own list will offer them an alternative. On the other hand, he understands that smaller parties would have found it more comfortable to merge into a common opposition list than to run as candidates of the Socialist Party (which may be the reason why Mr Gyurcsány, a former MSZP chairman would find that solution humiliating and still insists on the idea of a joint opposition list). IDEA warns them however that they should not jeopardize a possible left-wing victory by running separately. (If Gyurcsány runs with his own list, Bajnai’s alliance with PM might easily not reach the 10 per cent threshold set for party tandems.) IDEA believes the main problem the two large opposition forces must solve is how to compete and be mutually supportive behind each other’s individual candidates at the same time.

On Komment.hu, József Makai, a liberal commentator is deeply disappointed by the failure of the left-wing parties to agree on a joint list and candidate for Prime Minister. After repeating for months that they were ready to strike a deal for a joint list as the most elementary prerequisite of victory, they now came forth with two separate lists and two competing candidates, he complains. ”And these are supposed to be the statesmen that are expected to defeat Viktor Orbán’s efficient and unscrupulous regime!”, Makai exclaims in desperation. After what happened, he does not believe it is possible for the opposition to win the elections. “The strategy is in ruins”, he finds, and argues that the only hope of the left would have been to show that its disparate forces were ready to unite because they considered it vital to vote the present government out of office. He will not be surprised if the opposition gets an even more severe beating than in 2010: “the ultimate defeat is still ahead, for 2014 will be the year when the Hungarian Left will be knocked out”, Makai concludes bitterly.

Hirhatár, a new left-liberal news portal with dozens of regional and local outlets believed to be linked to Mr Gyurcsány’s Democratic Coalition (DK) asserts that it would be a mistake to believe that infighting within the opposition is over. He does not exclude the possibility that the DK will run on its own both in all the individual constituencies and on a national list. In that case they would be blamed for splitting the left further and would be urged to withdraw. But Gyurcsány’s followers would abstain from voting if the DK and Gyurcsány himself were not running, the author explains. The party has 7 thousand members and a nationwide network; therefore it would be “stupid of them to step aside”.

Political scientist Gábor Török, who never fails to post a quick analysis on his blog, whenever something important happens in politics, believes that the first thing the left-wing actors must avoid is bitter competition, but that will not necessarily be easy. If Together-2014 and PM, (the dissidents who broke away from LMP earlier this spring to join the left-wing alliance) run on a joint list and their minimum 10 per cent score is in jeopardy, both parties might find it necessary to campaign against the other. For Bajnai and Co. this would be a weapon of last resort, while for the Socialists it might appear as the only way to salvage left-wing votes otherwise destined to be scrapped. But nasty competition is not to be ruled out even if Bajnai does not feel he is in such trouble. If he feels he can catch up with Mesterházy in their race to be the strongest opposition force, he might be lured into presenting himself as the more competent, the more determined player. On the other hand, the 31 constituencies allotted to Bajnai’s party and PM, “are all impossible to conquer”, which will make it difficult for militants to enthusiastically campaign for each other’s candidates.

Török’s colleague, Kornélia Magyar, founder of the Progressive Institute does not exclude that Together and PM will have to merge and run as one single party, in order to reduce their threshold to 5 per cent. Bajnai will also have to “reinterpret” his party’s name, because “Together” originally meant that all left-wing opposition forces were to unite under that motto.

In Magyar Nemzet, Szabolcs Szerető believes the pact was a victory for MSZP chairman Attila Mesterházy, for his party list will probably get more votes than Bajnai’s, thereby the latter’s quest for the post of prime minster has already ended in failure. In addition, the agreement on the candidates in the individual constituencies guarantees to Mesterházy a future parliamentary group far larger than that of Bajnai. He warns Fidesz, however, that the opposition will fight a determined campaign and cannot be easily defeated.

In Magyar Hírlap, on the other hand, Gyula T. Máté strikes a much more confident tone. He takes it for granted that Fidesz and its allies, the Christian Democrats will win the next elections. He believes Mesterházy and Bajnai are fully conscious that neither of them will be prime minister next year and struck “an uncertain survival deal that may be extended to more or less all their friends”. The reason behind their scepticism, Máté thinks, is that they do not get any resolute support from the West. PM Orbán is not the West’s favourite, Máté continues, but he keeps the country’s accounts in order, and Brussels prefers an unruly government to one that has to be repeatedly bailed out. There may have been plans to oust Viktor Orbán earlier on, but “that is not a realistic option any more”.

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