Divided opposition parties united in call for change in government at May Day celebrations

May 2, 2017

Ferenc Gyurcsány at May Day celebrations in City Park
MTI Photo: Mohai Balázs

Each of Hungary’s opposition parties held gatherings Monday for International Workers’ Day, where the parties’ leaders called for the ruling Fidesz government to be defeated in 2018 elections.

But strategies differed among the parties with about a year remaining until the elections as Fidesz maintains a comfortable lead in the polls. Leaders of each of the major opposition parties gave speeches at May Day events (also the 13th anniversary of Hungary’s accession into the European Union), with some of them continuing calls for the formation of an opposition coalition to unseat Fidesz and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Former prime minister and chairman of Democratic Coalition (DK) Ferenc Gyurcsány spoke at his party’s event in Budapest City Park, where he promised that Fidesz would face a united democratic opposition in each of Hungary’s electoral districts in 2018. He said Orbán was mistaken if he believed infighting among the opposition would prevent the parties from coming together against him in the elections.

Gyurcsány pointed to last week’s victory of joint opposition candidate Bence Bitskey in by-elections for Budapest’s 14th District as proof that a united opposition could win in general elections, “not by a little, but a lot.” Bitskey won just over 50 percent of the vote and was supported by left opposition parties the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), Democratic Coalition and Párbeszéd (Dialogue for Hungary).

Socialist mayor of Szeged László Botka also spoke in City Park at a separate May Day event, where he appealed to Hungary’s workers in a left-populist speech which criticized Orbán and Fidesz for “betraying and ruining the country.” Botka said Fidesz had ridden a wave of dissatisfaction among workers following the global economic crisis of 2008-2009 and had since deconstructed the country’s democracy and pocketed the national wealth.

“The time has come for us to send the government packing,” Botka said, and called for additional protections for Hungarian workers, and the creation of a broad middle class through additional taxation of the ultra-wealthy. He called for the introduction of a minimum basic income for all Hungarian workers, and a rise in the minimum wage. He also proposed raising the wages of public workers to the minimum wage, and for introducing legislation to eliminate the pay gap between men and women.

Jobbik chairman Gábor Vona spoke at his party’s gathering on the Danube island of Hajógyári-sziget, where he too called for wages for Hungarians to rise to a European standard. Without wage increases, Vona said, Hungary would “empty out.”

“Hungarian young people love their home very much but they don’t want to starve,” he said.

Vona called for a two-term maximum for prime ministers, and for all politicians going back to Hungary’s transition from communism in 1989 to release information on financial support they’ve received from abroad. He proposed that politicians undergo “national security, asset and mental health examinations,” which he insisted he would also be subject to.

Vona said that while divisions continue between other opposition parties, Jobbik is “the most united and cohesive” party, adding that, in terms of cooperation with other opposition parties, even political rationality has a limit.

The Jobbik chairman responded to recent Fidesz accusations that his party is working for the interests of Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros by saying, “The creation of the political campaign that Jobbik stands on the side of George Soros obviously has the political touch of Viktor Orbán. He would like to reduce the world to black and white where people can choose between two things, to stand on Viktor Orbán’s side or on George Soros’ side. Well, in this situation there are still a lot of Hungarians, among whom I belong, who don’t want to stand on either Viktor Orbán’s side or George Soros’ side.”

The Momentum Movement also held a large rally and march on May Day, and you can read our coverage here.