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Opposition losing ground before the election run-up

December 9th, 2013

Various commentators – including even some who otherwise deem the government’s performance appalling – believe that the opposition hardly stands a chance at the elections scheduled for next spring.

In a front page lead article in Élet és Irodalom, editor Zoltán Kovács excoriates the government for what he describes as policies which are wrecking the future, but blames the opposition for not putting forward any coherent programme to confront “this horrible world”. The few theses that “circulate” are too abstract and are of little interest to the electorate. The only programme available is Ferenc Gyurcsány’s 16 point document, which should therefore be discussed, or another should be put on the table to replace it. Until then, supporters don’t know what would happen “if by some miracle, the left won the elections”. The Socialist Party  would not even have anything to talk about, were it not for András Horváth, the Tax Authority defector who appeared “out of nowhere” with his story of a colossal tax fraud system. But his story (see BudaPost, November 29 and December 3) by itself will not be enough to rescue the Socialists”, Kovács complains.

In Heti Válasz, Gábor Török is also convinced that the tax fraud scandal will not be the one to bring the government down. It lacks two features to cause lasting damage. Firstly, a powerful opposition capable of keeping it on the agenda and building initiatives around it. The right-wing opposition was no stronger in 1996 than the left-wing is today, yet it was able to capitalise on the Tocsik scandal (Márta Tocsik, a lawyer mediating on behalf of the Privatisation Agency poured hundreds of millions of Forints into funds linked to the then governing Socialists and Liberals.) On the other hand, what Török misses is facts and figures. In the Tocsik affair the concrete data came very quickly to the surface, while in András Horváth’s case the public has only heard very general statements, while names or exact figures remain unknown.

In his customary weekly comment, the otherwise fiercely anti-Fidesz editor of Magyar Narancs is sceptical about Horváth’s allegations. The former tax agency official claims that 1800 billion forints of VAT are missing from the entries each year, due to a colossal conspiracy between evaders and leading officials. The editor’s first objection is that while Mr Horváth asserts that such a huge fraud is taking place in the food trade, such an amount of VAT would suppose a volume of food consumption well above the known figures. He also quotes a fresh European Union analysis that puts the total VAT gap in Hungary at one thousand billion, but that figure includes all spheres of economic activity and extends, in addition to tax evasion to many other causes, such as tax rebates, legal tax optimisation practices and company failures. Nevertheless, even if only a tenth of Horváth’s figures were to withstand close scrutiny, Magyar Narancs concludes, his announcement will have been worthwhile.

In Népszabadság, sociologist Pál Tamás describes the slow meltdown of the left-liberal movement in Hungary as part of the disintegration of the left-wing opposition. The left-liberal alliance, he claims, was a Hungarian specialty, a product of the nineties and will disappear as the generation that concluded the strange pact between Liberals and Socialists departs the public scene. The former dissidents and their urban intellectual followers were strongly anti-Communist at the outset, but gradually sought protection under the wing of the Socialists as pre-war right-wing discourse surfaced on the governing right wing side (from 1990 to 1994). József Antall, the first democratically elected premier managed to evict a racist founding father, writer István Csurka from his party in 1993, but “that was not sufficient to reassure the urban layers, including, let’s put it plainly, people of Jewish descent”. In 1994, the Socialists won sufficient seats to govern on their own, but only a few years after the fall of   Communism, they needed the legitimizing presence of the former dissidents in their government. As a result, the Liberals lost their autonomy and the Socialists fell hostage to the liberal opinion leaders. When, as a result of unpopular liberal fiscal policies, they lost more and more of their constituency, the Socialist started relying more and more on the liberal media élite, drawing legitimacy from their support. After the crushing defeat in 2010, annihilating the remnants of the Liberal Party and relegating the Socialists to a second rate position, the latter did not need the liberal intelligentsia any longer. The surviving liberal media élite tried to put its hopes into rebellious NGOs at first, then into Gordon Bajnai, but now seem to have become disenchanted with him as well. Ferenc Gyurcsány is trying to institutionalise the left-liberal current within his own party, but does not seem able to convince leading liberals. Veteran readers and viewers may keep the liberal media élite alive for a while longer, Tamás thinks, but the left-liberal current as a political force will most probably disappear as the generation that gave life to it withdraws from the scene.

On 444, Péter Ujj sarcastically blames a probable sweeping Fidesz victory on the “marvellous strategists” of the Left. The latest, he writes, is András Istvánffy, founder of 4K (Fourth Republic), an NGO that staged, along with Milla (One million for Press Freedom) the first big anti-government demonstrations in 2011. Istvánnfy has now decided that the right person to target was not one of the government luminaries, but rather Péter Juhász, one of Bajnai’s companions in Together 2014. (The leader of 4K staged a “private flashmob” by smoking a joint in front of the Budapest Police headquarters and posted a letter to Juhász, condemning him for having abandoned his struggle for the legalisation of marijuana. Juhász replied that unlike Istvánffy, he considers marijuana a drug, but intends to decriminalise its use.)

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