The Neue Zürcher Zeitung on Orbán and Gyurcsány
Thursday, 08 December 2011 13:40
While public discontent with the governing nationalist–conservative government of Viktor Orbán is growing rapidly in Hungary, former Socialist premier Ferenc Gyurcsány is trying display himself as the leader of the political center.Mr. Gyurcsány enters the elegant, Art Deco style cafe with the dynamism of a young man; the cafe, which is located on the left bank of the Danube – the home of the upper middle class –, is very, very far away – and not only in a geographical sense – from the poor pubs that are mostly visited by the working class.
The former prime minister of Hungary and ex-Chairman of the Socialist Party is not able to create the impression of a discredited politician; a PM who fell into discredit due to corruption scandals and mismanaging the country's finances for several years. The man of the past now undoubtedly strives to re-brand himself as the man of the future.That is the reason why Mr. Gyurcsány emphatically turned away from the Socialist Party. Recently, he has stood up for liberalism and the social market economy. Thus, he approaches the political center with firm steps. So the choice of our meeting place might not have been a coincidence. Right now, Gyurcsány is certainly the only politician of Hungary whose charisma, intelligence and political intuition can be compared to that of the outstanding Orbán.The Democratic Coalition (in Hungarian: Demokratikus Koalíció; common abbreviation: DK) that was initiated by Mr. Gyurcsány and formally established on 22nd October last year by a secession from the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), is meant to be the alliance of all Democrats in Hungary, and is open to all Democratic political movements, including liberal and even conservative ones – the former PM said. Gyurcsány, being a savvy strategist, is aware of the fact that left–wing political parties are relatively unattractive amongst the Hungarian youth, which is why he is targeting the political center. Young political scientist Mr. Zoltán Kiszelly confirms the trend Gyurcsány is betting on. According to Mr. Kiszelly, supporters of the Hungarian Left are predominantly older than 55 years, and about two–thirds of them cast their ballot for a left–leaning political party at the latest general elections in 2010.Gyurcsány makes clear his conviction that the Socialists – who, by this time, posses only 49 out of the 386 parliamentary seats – will not be able to achieve anything much. Despite rapidly increasing public discontent over the performance of the nationalist–conservative Orbán government and growing protests, the number of MSZP's supporters stagnates at about 1 million – he explains. Recently published surveys state that supporters of the far–right Jobbik party already outnumber that of the Socialists; so Jobbik – since already 19 per cent of potential voters would vote for it – is now potentially the second largest political power in Hungary behind the ruling Fidesz party.It seems to be that neither Socialists, nor Greens were able to profit from the shrinking popularity of Fidesz, but only the right–wing – in common with the neighboring Austria. Surveys also say that the secession of Gyurcsány's Democratic Coalition has hit the Socialist Party quite substantially: in fact, they have lost almost half of their supporters. Before the schism, their support was 24 per cent, but now, pollsters say, only 13 per cent would still vote for the Socialist Party. In the meantime, the number of (potential) voters favoring the maverick LMP (“Politics Can Be Different” party) – which currently possesses 16 seats in the Parliament – has also plummeted, from 8% to only 3. However, the Hungarian far–right – embodied by Jobbik party – has seen a steady growth.The Democratic Coalition (DK) was able to gather 1,500 registered members in the first month of its existence, and another 3,500 indicated that they wished to join. Surveys show that immediately after DK's establishment, as many as 51 per cent of the Socialists supported Mr. Gyurcsány; however, as of now, there are quite a lot who are still hesitant to join the DK.10 Socialist MPs joined Gyurcsány's party. This means that the Socialists now have only 49 mandates, which is three more than Jobbik. It is obvious that Gyurcsány intentionally limited the number of dissidents in order to ensure his previous party's chairmanship in the parliamentary committee for national security. However, Mr. Attila Mesterházy, a rather pale figure – who was elected as Chairman of the Socialist Party in mid–July last year – did not say thank you to his ancestor (Mr. Gyurcsány) for this favor, but even frustrated him; claiming that “10 renegades” left their party, and that this was not a secession. This way he managed to block the acknowledgment of Gyurcsány's party as a separate parliamentary faction. As a result, MPs of the Democratic Coalition have to be satisfied with sitting in the benches reserved for independent MPs, and this has several disadvantages, for example, the limitation of speaking time.“It does not matter” – says Gyurcsány –, stating that he has enough time to wait until these things change. The once uber–powerful former prime minister has undertaken a rather difficult task: he wants to become a rival of Orbán's Fidesz, which has a two–thirds majority in the Parliament – much like a mouse would challenge an elephant to a duel.Even Mr. Ágoston Mráz, director of the Fidesz–friendly political research firm Nézőpont Intézet (literally: Viewpoint Institute) admits that Orbán's cabinet rapidly and unambiguously lost from its earlier popular support. His institute presented a survey which shows that the popularity of Fidesz has shrunk to a mere 32 per cent since last April's general elections – when Orbán's party had been backed by over 52 per cent of the voters. According to the estimate of Nézőpont Intézet, about 1.2 – 1.5 million out of the three million voters that had voted for Fidesz would not cast their ballot for Orbán's party once again.Mráz thinks that the main reason former supporters of Fidesz have turned away from the current ruling party is that the Orbán government implemented a lot of unpopular measures, which affect the populace very directly, starting from changes in the tax code, which also started to charge consumption significantly, and not only incomes; to a general decrease in pensions and to the curtailment of social transfers. The number of people who have become disappointed by politics in general has increased substantially; in other words, the number of those who said that they would not vote for any political party at the following elections. Thus, the proportion of potential voters amongst all the people who are eligible to vote decreased from 65 to only 40 per cent.The political scientist admits that even if these skeptics could somehow be convinced to cast their ballot, they would hardly vote for Fidesz – on the contrary, it is likely that they would be protesting (so called “donkey”) voters, so they would probably vote for the far–right Jobbik party. The next general elections are still far away from us (being scheduled for 2014), but should Orbán decide to call for early elections for whatever reason, it is obvious that he would risk his present two–thirds majority in the Parliament. However, he would still have a chance to gain and fix a simple majority for an additional term.The totally atypical rebel against the “authoritarian” government, as described by Mr. Gyurcsány, does not wear a military dress, but an easy–going sweater and worn–out jeans. He is called Mr. Péter Kónya, the founding member of the protest movement “Szolidaritás” (“Solidarity”) that was established this spring. And it is not just a coincidence that the movement's name resonates with that of the historic Polish political movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Mr. Kónya has much to say. In fact, it is a long list of complaints over the cabinet of Viktor Orbán. On 16 June, the Hungarian Szolidaritás managed to call more than 10,000 protesters to the streets, who demonstrated with painted clown masks against the pension policy of the government. The Lieutenant–Colonel diagnoses the steadily growing undermining of democracy in Hungary by the government and the ruling Fidesz–KDNP party alliance, and mentions the passing of retroactive laws, the restriction of press freedom as well as of the rights of trade unions, and the decrease of pensions, and also the problematic new constitution, which is about to enter into effect early next year. There was widespread political cleansing in the public media so that today, the only criterion is loyalty towards the government; even political jokes have become risky once again, like they were during the Communist era – Mr. Kónya says.The Lieutenant–Colonel criticizes the government's attitude towards the police in the first place. The Hungarian police raided supporters of Fidesz in 2006, during the protests that had been organized on occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian revolution and freedom fight of 1956, on the ground that numerous radical activists of the far–right Jobbik party had mingled with them. For these actions, PM Orbán is now taking vengeance on the police by curbing their earlier privileges.Szolidaritás gathers its supporters from the alliance of trade unions, but also from such organizations and institutions (always claiming for law and order), which should be the main pillars of a nationalist–conservative type of government like that of Fidesz: the army, the police, the fire service and the various national security services. “This is a dangerous game for Orbán” – emphasizes Mr. Gyurcsány; “a real national unity” – concludes Mr. Kónya. However, Fidesz–leaning political scientist Mr. Mráz says that Szolidaritás does not have competent leadership, adequate structure and a comprehensive political program.This holds true even more to another protest movement, a Facebook group called “One million [people] for the freedom of the press” (in Hungarian: “Egymillióan a sajtószabadságért”). From a digital one, this movement became a real phenomenon overnight on 15 March, when as many as thirty thousand people took to the streets to protest against the new media law. On 23 October, the group was already able to mobilize 40 to 50 thousand demonstrators.Gyurcsány commented on these protest movements a little bit disdainfully, claiming that these movements can only say “No”, and they cannot say “Yes” to anything. They are not able to offer alternatives to the policies of the government. In order to be able to do this, they should evolve and become real political parties – this is a perspective that was indicated by Mr. Péter Kónya as well, although in a rather ambiguous manner. It is obvious that Mr. Gyurcsány's aim is to make his party the collecting point of all those people who are discontent with the currently ruling government.http://www.nzz.ch/nachrichten/politik/schweiz/wachsendes_potenzial_an_protest_gegen_orban_1.13449474.html