Lajos Simicska, one of the wealthiest and most influential businessmen in Hungary, has often boasted that he was the one to lift Viktor Orbán–once his close friend and former college roommate–to power. (HFP reported on last year’s stunning and very public falling out between the two men here.) According to a report in the Népszabadság daily, based on sources close to Mr. Simicska, he has now decided to attempt to first weaken and then remove Mr. Orbán in the 2018 national elections. After mulling whether to help the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) or Jobbik, he has decided that Jobbik stands a better chance against Fidesz than the country’s largest centre-left party. Jobbik may benefit greatly if Mr. Simicska gives them a boost from the background. There are some signs that the media mogul has already started to do just that.
I already indicated in 2015, that Mr. Simicska’s flagship daily newspaper, Magyar Nemzet, made Jobbik leader Gábor Vona come across as decidedly prime ministerial. It turns out that this was not just my subjective opinion, but perhaps already part of Mr. Simicska’s longer term strategy. That said, Mr. Simicska was apparently not comfortable with some of the more extremist and out-of-control voices in Jobbik, most notably Előd Novák, who recently resigned from his position of Jobbik Vice-President, which he held from 2009. Mr. Vona’s efforts to change Jobbik’s tone and to moderate its message (at least at the national level, while many of the same extremist rhetoric is often used locally) is paying dividends, in terms of bringing Mr. Simicska on board.
But as Népszabadság points out, there does not appear to be much in terms of a personal relationship and certainly no close friendship between Mr. Simicska and Mr. Vona. The two men are believed to have only personally met on one occasion. Additionally, Mr. Simicska reportedly disagrees with Jobbik’s pro-Russian and pro-Putin politics. Instead, Mr. Simicska’s apparent decision to assist Jobbik from the background is simply a calculated move aimed at getting back at the prime minister and ensuring that he is not able to damage his business interests–and as we know, Mr. Orbán and his entourage certainly attempted to cause damage, shortly after the notorious falling out.
According to one source close to Mr. Simicska, speaking on the condition of anonymity:
“He fears that if it is not possible to at least weaken Mr. Orbán’s monopoly on power by 2018, then society will simply resign itself to the situation and the remaining autonomous economic players will get in line–even their hold-outs will collapse.”
Mr. Simicska had hoped that an anti-Orbán opposition may rise to the surface within Fidesz, but he is apparently no longer holding his breath. Mr. Simicska also explored the possibility of assisting, again from the background, a left-centre opposition party, most notably MSZP. In fact, MSZP’s newly elected president, Gyula Molnár, is not unfamiliar with Mr. Simicska. It would be a mistake to assume that the Socialists did not have connections in the past with businessmen who were closely affiliated with Fidesz. According to Népszabadság, MSZP would have been quite pleased to receive assistance from Mr. Simicska. But the media baron apparently believes that MSZP has no momentum and, failing any other options, is now preparing to assist Jobbik.
But what might this assistance mean? In addition to, and even more important than, positive exposure in Magyar Nemzet and on the country’s largest cable news network, HírTV, Mr. Simicska also controls a large number of the billboards across the country that parties can rent during election campaigns. This is one way that Fidesz had an important edge over the left-centre opposition: in many cases, the Socialists or the opposition coalition in 2014, were simply locked out of the market and could not rent anywhere near the number of billboards that Fidesz secured.
Mr. Vona also had some kind, but guarded words about Mr. Simicska as of late. “There is vitality in him. He is determined. He has considered what happened to him, and around him,” remarked the Jobbik leader.
Yet his media empire is hardly out of the woods. Magyar Nemzet is now being managed by his son, Ádám, but the paper’s revenues and those of HírTv as well have fallen, after his dispute with Mr. Orbán, whose circle launched a new, loyal daily, Magyar Idők.
So perhaps Mr. Simicska sees his survival as a businessman in doing whatever it takes to remove or fatally weaken Mr. Orbán. Whether he teams up with the Socialists or with Jobbik makes little difference. He will do what is expedient.