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No enthusiasm on the left for the new electoral pact

January 13th, 2014

Liberal columnists are highly sceptical about a new opposition pact which incorporates Ferenc Gyurcsány into Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy’s alliance. Some blame leading progressive intellectuals for interfering with the political process. In a lone optimistic column, a political analyst linked to the Socialist Party suggests that all is not yet lost.

In Heti Világgazdaság, Árpád Tóta strongly disagrees with an analyst who claims that the left wing is doomed to failure because it has nothing better to offer than a return to the pre-2010 period (See BudaPost, January 8 ). He thinks the situation is far worse. Socialist leader Mesterházy is the right choice for Prime Minister, he remarks ironically, as ‘the biggest loser’ of the three, since he first pushed Gyurcsány ”out of the nest”, then proceeded to duel with Bajnai. In the end, they have reunited in a single team, which makes three years of separation and competition look like much ado for nothing. On top of it all, anyone who is unwilling to vote for Mesterházy, Gyurcsány or Bajnai is now left with no option but to vote for the right, he concludes. Whether Mesterházy and company like it or not, the only possible message the opposition is left with is a re-fried version of the pre-2010 era, which although far from being perfect, at least it did less harm than the present government. In any case, their performance in opposition over the last three years is a lot worse.

András Hont, another Heti Világgazdaság columnist could not agree less. “Gyurcsány reloaded” is not about the elections, he claims, nor is it about whether Hungary should move back to the pre-2010 era. The parties have simply caved in to a group of so-called progressive intellectuals who have always had it their way on the Left since 1990. What they want is not the restoration of anything other than money for their periodicals “which are not read by anybody at all”. These people never tried to consider why and how Fidesz could win a two-thirds majority, he fulminates, and to pick Gyurcsány as the opposition hero shows the opposition do not wish to win this election at all – they are simply fighting “for the role of the most prominent figure of a sham opposition”. In a final sentence full of despair, he remarks that Gábor Vona, leader of the extreme right-wing Jobbik party, can start preparing to take over.

László Bartus, editor of Amerikai Népszava (an online news and opinion site based in New York, on which he fulminates in long articles against the ”fascist” government) launches another missile against those progressive intellectuals who signed a letter calling for a new candidate for Prime Minister after Bajnai accepted Mesterházy claim to that post (See BudaPost, January 10). He suggests that Bajnai’s offer to step back came after a meeting with some of the signatories (well-known cultural figures who are vocal critics of the present government, including writer György Konrád, philosopher Ágnes Heller and conductor and musician Iván Fischer). He calls their interference in politics a scandalous overreach, all the more harmful since he considers that Bajnai would have been the only competent Prime Minister of all the opposition leaders.

In an interview in Népszava (the Budapest left-wing daily), one of the intellectuals concerned, literary critic Sándor Radnóti confirms that he and other prominent intellectuals met Bajnai and agreed that he should give up his quest for the candidacy, but expected that if one of the two was to step back, the other (Mesterházy) would follow suit.

In Beszélő, editor-in-chief Zoltán Ádám, in more polished language, criticizes the basic idea i of an overarching alliance. Proponents argued, he says, that the urgent need to beat Orbán overrides all other considerations. However, comments Ádám, a joint list is much more than a political alliance; it entails the loss of political identity. Gyurcsány, who might be a talented politician, alienated many Hungarians during his time in office. Now they will be on the same list with him, other less tarnished leaders will not have the opportunity to present themselves as credible political alternatives. Gyurcsány is certainly not the criminal Fidesz likes to picture him and he is entitled to form and lead his own party, yet his legitimacy became shaky during his premiership. The only reason why Fidesz can hold on to power,  Ádám writes, is that Orbán learned not to follow public opinion but to form it with new, hopeful narratives, such as the fight against multinational corporations or banks. No left-liberal group has been able to formulate such a narrative, only the tiny LMP had some, albeit muddled vision. When leading LMP politicians joined Bajnai, this potential, claims the author, was transferred to Together-2014 – until it was silenced by the great alliance.

In 444, Editor Péter Uj sums up these developments in a single sentence: “Rather than  embracing the undecided, Bajnai managed to transform the embraced into the undecided”.

In Népszabadság, political analyst Zoltán Lakner, a regular advisor to the Socialist Party attempts what he calls “a timid conclusion” that Fidesz may have exhausted its potential to boost its constituency. Despite repeated utility tariff cuts, the government’s popularity has not increased over the past 10 months, and he hopes a third wave of tariff cuts might leave it equally unchanged. On the other hand, he admits that by running on a united list, the left-wing parties will lose the advantage of offering alternative images to the electorate.  But by uniting their forces they can at least radiate the image of an alliance strong enough to challenge the ruling right wing. What they must urgently do is to put forward a strong united program that may give hope to those who look for an alternative to the present government. 


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