Hungarian politics make for strange bedfellows

January 9, 2014

bedfellows

Three main opposition parties to run joint list of candidates and back joint nominee for prime minister.

Lajos Bokros told ATV’s Olga Kalman last September “politics is not about who you love or hate but about interests”.

Political newcomer and reformer Peter Juhasz has learned this lesson the hard way.

In October 2012 his Facebook-based movement, “One million for a free press” (Milla), joined forces with trade union movement Szolidaritas and former prime minister Gordon Bajnai’s Patriotism and Progress Foundation to form the Together 2014 alliance. Presenting itself as Fidesz’s main challenger in parliamentary elections scheduled to take place in 2014, Together 2014’s goal was not merely to replace  the government but to replace Hungary’s “corrupt political elite” with a new class of dedicated, honest public servants prepared to put the country’s interests ahead of their own–a process Juhasz referred to as korszakváltás or “ushering in a new era”.  Only politicians “owning up to their earlier mistakes” would be allowed to join the coalition of opposition political parties led to victory by Together 2014.

Enjoying 14 per cent support at the time of its political debut,  Together 2014’s popularity waned as prolonged negotiations yielded neither a united opposition nor a joint nominee for prime minister.  Despite Politics Can Be Different (LMP) breakaway party Dialogue for Hungary (PM) joining the alliance at the beginning of 2013, by December support for Together 2014 among those likely to vote had fallen to under 5 per cent.

Voters appeared to be punishing Together 2014-PM for obstructing the formation of a broader coalition of opposition parties over the issues of (1) whether Hungarian Socialist Partz (MSZP) chairman Attila Mesterhazy should be the joint nominee for prime minister and (2) whether Democratic Coalition (DK) founder and chairman, former Socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany’s name should appear on the list of joint candidates.

Juhasz_Peter

Juhasz (pictured here) blames MSZP and its former chairman Gyurcsany for the two-thirds parliamentary majority that has enabled the current Fidesz-KDNP government to transform Hungary almost beyond recognition politically, economically, socially, and culturally, and is adamantly opposed to Mesterhazy heading the joint list of candidates and Gyurcsany’s name appearing on the list of joint candidates.

When three party negotiations at the end of August collapsed, Gyurcsany announced DK would run its own candidates in all 106 electoral districts.   By the time of the joint opposition party political rally held on 23 October 23, DK had nearly caught up to Together 2014-PM.

Intended to be a show of opposition unity, the opposition rally turned into a show of disunity as opposition leaders took turns denouncing the agreement signed earlier that week between MSZP and Together 2014-PM ruling out any cooperation with DK.

In the weeks that followed left-wing voters continued to abandon Together 2014-PM in droves, so much so that by the end of December DK managed to overtake it, prompting economics weekly hvg to speculate that if DK gets any stronger, the MSZP-Together agreement will have to be overwritten.

And that is precisely what happened.

On Monday, 5 January 2014, Gordon Bajnai told ATV Start:

More people want to replace the government than keep it, but far fewer believe this is possible. The problem is that they do not see the unified opposition strength necessary to bring about change.  Faith in our ability to defeat the government must be restored.  For that we need a broad cooperation, one camp to which everyone who wants to change the government can belong.  

Bajnai told ATV that the key to winning the election was to make the election a “referendum” on whether the Orban government should stay or go.

At a press conference held yesterday afternoon Attila Mesterházy and Gordon Bajnai announced MSZP and Together 2014-PM will run a joint list of candidates for parliament instead of separate lists as previously agreed, and that the latter would accept the former’s recommendation as to who will be the joint nominee for prime minister.  “This is essentially a coalition that we are concluding before the election” said Bajnai.  “Our objectives remain the same but we are changing the means to adapt to the situation.”

Mesterhazy said the two parties would meet DK in the near future to agree on a joint list of candidates and to harmonize their programs.

DK immediately welcomed the development and agreed to open negotiations.  However, according to ATV the Hungarian Socialist Party insists Mesterhazy be the joint candidate for prime minister and remains opposed to Ferenc Gyurcsany’s name appearing on the joint list of candidates.

Shortly after yesterday’s announcement, Juhasz announced that he would resign from Together 2014 rather than allow his name to appear on the same list as Ferenc Gyurcsany’s.  Juhasz confirmed his decision today, stating that:

My name will not appear on any list headed by Attila Mesterhazy or containing Ferenc Gyurcsany.  Yesterday the Together-PM Coalition signed a new agreement with MSZP regarding the election cooperation.  While I agree that it is unavoidable that the opposition parties form a united front, and support this, I cannot support the solution that is being proposed.  It is my belief that such a solution does not increase the chances of changing the government or ushering in a new era.

I have tendered my resignation to the Together-Milla Platform, for which I was chosen as the delegate to the Together-2014 executive council.

The reason politics makes for strange bedfellows is that a warm bed is preferable to being left out in the cold.

Referenced in this article:

Ellenzéki tárgyalások Mesterhazy ministerelnök jelölt Gyurcsany a listan, atv., 8 January 2014

Programot hirdet az Együtt-PM, atv, 6 January 2014

Juhász Péter kiléphet az Együtt-PM-ből, index.hu, 8 January 2014