“Every argument, battle for position, and stealing of voters among the democratic parties only serves to increase the . . . crises of credibility and trust, and will only set us farther away from victory. Nevertheless, this is precisely what he left-wing parties and their leaders are doing.” – Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy, (former) Democratic Coalition (DK) politician
The following opinion piece, authored by opposition politician Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy, was published on October 1, 2016, in Hungarian weekly 168 Óra. Shortly after the piece was published, Kerék-Bárczy was asked to resign from the executive board of the opposition party Democratic Coalition.
The general situation which is characteristic of Hungary today – on issues ranging from mass migration out of the country, the destruction of the education and healthcare systems, and systemic corruption – is simply unsustainable for every decent and freedom-loving person. NER (National Cooperation System) system, from the perspective of national interests, is a doomed system that has already endangered the European Union, and poses an immediate threat to the Euro-Atlantic community. The national interest of our homeland should be to sweep away this system and restore a constitutional republic. There can be absolutely no ambition greater than to serve this interest. Every single individual and party interest must support this ambition.
To defeat NER and restore democracy in Hungary, at least one hundred parliamentary mandates must be won in 2018. This means the democrats must successfully conquer more than sixty individual electoral districts. It also means
- The support of democratic parties must remain unchanged since the 2014 national elections. If elections were held today, the democrats would not get into government.
- Fidesz must not enjoy the support of an absolutely majority in Hungarian society.
- The democratic powers need between 500,000-1,000,000 new voters to achieve victory.
- In order to achieve this, the democratic powers must move beyond left-right catchphrases because the people today no longer live their lives along these lines, and the lines that divided these voters have not been defined along these lines for quite some time — just as is the case in the West.
- In 2018, the campaign should be focused on winning individual electoral districts (that is, doing what is necessary to find the best candidates and helping them win) and finding the best candidate to challenge Viktor Orbán.
In summation, while those who wish to see a democratic change are in the majority and the likes of Orbán can be defeated without Jobbik or a Fidesz-Jobbik coalition being the catalyst for that, the organized democratic opposition is currently completely incapable of performing this. Perhaps this is also because there is no opposition politician or intellectual who today would honestly claim that victory is achievable in 2018. Such is the case of my own party, whose executive board has on numerous occasions made the following three statements regarding the future:
- Fidesz can be defeated,
- The Democratic Coalition will be the largest opposition power, and, at the same time,
- There is no such script in which the Democratic Coalition would be capable of sending more than 15-20 MPs to parliament.
Taken together, all of this is absurd.
The democrats today are struggling to fight the crises of credibility and trust. The critical majority of citizens simply do not trust them — they do not even trust each other. Civil society cannot, by definition, provide solutions to the political crisis. (Our notion of democracy would lose its purpose if a system of checks and balances became the property of executive power. This, seeing what is underway today, is something that no civil society organization is working to achieve). The political class responsible for ushering in the crisis must be resolved by winning over the trust of civil society and the citizenry.
The 2014 opposition unity proved incapable of defeating this crisis and building bridges. Today, we have the same political actors that we had earlier. In other words, the same who are responsible for securing failure during previous the cycle will be around two years from now — with unchanged sympathies, grudgingly stubborn and unchanged ambitions. Another deadlock. The support of today’s democratic opposition, in the current circumstances, that is, from the perspective of the size needed for electoral victory, simply cannot be increased. Attempts on this side to defeat one another will have at least three effects on our homeland:
- It will not result in luring more voters.
- It will widen the chasm separating those forced to collaborate.
- It will cement the narrow voter-base of those fighting amongst each other, and, as a result, will forever drive away the centrist voters needed to secure a parliamentary majority. Every argument, battle for position, and stealing of voters among the democratic parties only serves to increase the two aforementioned crises of credibility and trust, and will only set us farther away from victory. Nevertheless, this is precisely what left-wing parties and their leaders are doing.
I am hopeful that among those who politicize in this manner, the number who are honest (but naive) outnumber those whose financial existence rides on this — or even those responsible for filthy dealings across parties lines, and those captivity by blackmail has compelled this type of behavior.
Only a well-rooted strategy can stop this doomed, downward spiral. I am convinced that the elections can only be won from the center, in manner where the self-proclaimed democratic side retains and increases its voter base, and by doing this in manner that recognizes the importance of winning over votes so desperately needed from the moderate conservative and conservative-liberal voter base (who, for various reasons, are scattered on the political spectrum). There should be no collaboration with with extreme far-right under any circumstances, and to suggest anything of the sort is completely unacceptable.
We cannot expect for Fidesz to simply implode, and for the group of leaders to emerge from the party capable of having enough credibility to reach out to the moderate centrist political voters who are unable to find their place. It appears that notable individuals who earlier had ties with Fidesz, those who have recently made incredibly sharp and correct statements in the press and intellectual circles, are still very low-key in their criticisms of the likes of Orbán — even they are unable to conjure some sense of political self-organizing. They must be given time, and we must engage, with the proper amount empathy, in dialogue with them. We must learn from them and we must build their trust. They are also look for an alternative, and there are those among them who do not consider the democrats to be of the devil, even despite all their apprehension. Although, it is true that some of them are simply unable to even consider forming an alliance with certain leaders on the democratic side. This is also the case for a significant number of voters within Fidesz. They voted for – and will again vote for – Fidesz if there is no better alternative, and that is primarily our fault.
In order for us to really address the center and win over its voters, it is of the utmost importance that we address the following issue. It is up to us to build the bridge out of nothing and to take the initiative to win over these new votes. Furthermore, we must put up walls between us and the opposition politicians interested in maintaining this status quo.
A paradigm shift is needed for victory. Every democratic party and their leaders must in the coming months turn their energy to figuring out how to change make the deep-rooted change in themselves and their own camps. Only when this is done should they explore how to collaborate with other parties and organizations, to prepare the conditions for collaboration and then execute. Then, before carrying out the most minute political stunt or most complex strategic plan, leaders must ask themselves whether and how the action would serve the attempt at a change in government in 2018. If the act would not serve this goal, it must be cast aside. No energy should be wasted, no resource misallocated.
The debates surrounding this paradigm shift must be conducted in the autumn of 2016, and the first steps toward this shift must take place by the end of the year — or by next February or March at the latest. Formally, the election campaign will begin next autumn (but it has already started!). The summer of 2017 will partially be dead, therefore, maintaining the current quiet status quo means that there are those who are deliberately trying to lose the election because that is their goal.
Regarding my own turf, the Democratic Coalition, with its current strategy of becoming the leading opposition party change government by first winning over the left and only then opening to center in hopes of winning the election, is a failure.
- We were not able to reach this goal alone.
- We have not significantly increased our own party’s trust within the democratic camp.
- The distance between us and our future partners has not decreased, in fact, it has widened. That is to say, we need to strike a friendlier chord with our future partners to ensure a closer cooperation in the upcoming election.
- The battles between parties on the left stir a sense of repugnance among those in the moderate center. It is causing those voters to not only turn away from the Democratic Coalition, but also from the entire democratic opposition whose support is needed to change the government.
We wasted our energy in recent months. We spent far too much time arguing over minute policy details and tactical question, such as who should be an MP or who technical details of an opposition cooperation. We need to reflect our expertise on policy, but this minimum alone is simply not enough to replace the deficits in credibility and trust. Today, more and more of our members feel there are several issues that we are concerned with – on a strategy and organizational level – that do not serve the goal of a victory in 2018, instead these issues serve to secure a spot for one or two dozen of our leaders. Except, the only significant benefit of being in parliament is the ability to receive budgetary support, which is important, but also expedient.
Receiving public funds is only interests, valuable, and beneficial if it can be used in a transparency and lawful manner to help the totality of the citizenry, that is, the whole of nation, which is nothing less than securing the 2018 victory and undertaking the work of rebuilding the country. Today, these public funds are used nothing more than wasteful spending to secure the positions of a few dozen political positions, and the abuse of public assets.
In light of all that I written, here are my general proposals:
- We should return to those fundamental values which were instrumental in the creation of the Democratic Coalition — let’s once again be a “coalition.” The prudent, pragmatic, and value-based team of idealists which is wants to, and is capable of, reaching to the full base of moderate democrats. If the voters who want change are there – and they are! – but we are unable to reach them, then the problem is not with this, it is with us.
- We should stop concerning ourselves with defeating other democratic political parties. We should not want to subjugate others, we should be focused on growing our base among moderate centrists.
- We must say we are not satisfied with seeing the Democratic Coalition as an opposition party after the coming national elections, and we should take responsibility for the outcome. We must state that if the current structure of the opposition, including that of Democratic Coalition, is unable to obtain victory, then those members of the national party who were granted mandates should decline to take their seats in parliament.
There is a desperate need for a real unification of the nation, but not through NER, rather on a democratic, freedom-party, western and patriotic foundation. The divisive line is not drawn between parties, rather on the values of the rule of law, respect for the dignity of man, openness towards the world, and democratic patriotism.
Defining the “democrats” is not a complicated task. We have unresolved debates with a few hundred people who want to keep us in Eastern autocratic clutches, those who have taken our country hostage captive for six years, the corrupt, the masterminds and orchestrators of NER — not the voters. The many million, who wish to leave in peace, those who wish to work and live honestly, our fellow Hungarians who love this country are those who are our partners.