Botka forces MSZP to back away from Fidesz political advertising bill

June 22, 2017

Photo: nyugat.hu

Jobbik’s nationwide billboard campaign about corruption is really causing a problem for ruling party Fidesz. Because the billboards are owned by a company owned by oligarch-in-exile Lajos Simicska, Fidesz came up with the idea of passing a new outdoor advertising law that would essentially limit Simicska’s ability to canvas for far-right Jobbik before the official start of the 2018 election campaign. Fidesz tried and failed to adopt the new law (which requires two-thirds support from parliament), prompting the party to open informal negotiations with the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP).  Online daily index.hu reports that some senior MSZP party members were in favor of working out a deal with Fidesz that would curb Jobbik’s ability to campaign in advance of next April’s general election. However, Szeged mayor and Socialist candidate for prime minister László Botka (pictured) shot down any such collaboration.

Fidesz’s political advertisement bill would have classified the discounted sale of advertising space to political parties outside of campaign time as “restricted party financing”.

In Hungary, campaign season officially starts three months before an election. However, in the past this has not prevented Fidesz from indirectly campaigning before that in the form of government information campaigns and ads run by Fidesz proxies.  According to the bill, any political advertisements sold for less than market value outside campaign season would have constituted unlawfully obtained wealth.

The most important part of the bill required a two-thirds vote in parliament. The parts of the bill requiring only a majority vote passed.  But because the main bill did not receive the two-thirds vote, President János Áder sent the law back to parliament.

At that point Fidesz started to wheel and deal with several leaders in MSZP, according to index.hu,

Last Friday, MSZP leaders, party chairman Gyula Molnár and parliamentary group leader Bertalan Tóth submitted their own recommendations for the bill.  As the Fidesz-controlled parliament is in the habit of rejecting opposition proposals out of hand, the fact that it did not do so raised a few eyebrows, as this opened the possibility of negotiations between MSZP and Fidesz over the bill.  Jobbik immediately responded by accusing MSZP of having entered into a pact with Fidesz.

Strategically, it makes perfect sense politically for MSZP to work with Fidesz. Simicska’s support of Jobbik gives Hungary’s radical right-wing party a leg-up. Jobbik has MSZP beaten in the polls, so from the point of view of the Socialists, any move that weakens Jobbik is worth considering.

According to Index, Fidesz contacted MSZP’s leadership and expressed their willingness to modify parts of the bill providing MSZP agreed to vote along with Fidesz in favor of restricting the placement of political advertisements outside of campaign season.

On Tuesday, MSZP’s executive board convened to discuss how to frame this narrative so that rather than coming across as a secret deal made behind closed doors, it would be perceived as an attempt by MSZP to carve out a more advantageous position for itself.  Attending Tuesday’s meeting, Botka reportedly shot down the idea of compromising with Fidesz, taking the position that MSZP should neither support nor propose modifications to the bill. The executive board accepted Botka’s position, and the party backed away from any collaboration with Fidesz.

However, the fact that certain MSZP politicians were willing to compromise lends credence to the notion that some kind of collaboration exists between Fidesz and the country’s largest left-wing party.

On Thursday, Hungarian weekly Heti Válasz published a story purporting to prove that Fidesz is keeping MSZP alive in the interest of preventing other democratic opposition parties from expanding their voter base. The weekly highlights three such examples in which Fidesz allegedly channeled funds to individuals and businesses with strong ties to MSZP, including lucrative state advertising contracts to print publications owned by former MSZP treasurer László Puch.