Hungary’s left-centre opposition is in shambles 9 months before elections

Some of the smaller “new left”-style parties are planning a joint, mass protest for August 20th, Hungary’s national holiday, in support of investigative journalists who will become official targets of the Orbán government’s vitriol in the coming months. The small Együtt party is spearheading the demonstration along Budapest’s Szabad Sajtó (Free Press) boulevard, with support from Zugló Mayor Gergely Karácsony of the Párbeszéd (Dialogue) party, Gábor Vágó of the Politics Can Be Different party (LMP), prominent left-wing activist Márton Gulyás and even former Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) politician, Katalin Lukácsi, who quit her party in April. The government MP decided to break ranks with the Orbán regime over the Hungarian right’s tasteless attacks against Pope Francis, the regime’s destruction of Hungary’s largest national newspaper, Népszabadság, and the attempted shuttering of Central European University. Ms. Lukácsi is now joining forces with the left.

While cooperation among small opposition parties of different political stripes is positive news, it may also be deceiving. Even if tens of thousands march in Budapest on August 20th, the fractured Hungarian left is further than ever from being prepared to jointly fight elections in April 2018, with Socialist leader László Botka even trading public insults with fellow Socialist politician Zsolt Molnár. Mr. Botka labelled Mr. Molnár a “traitor” and suggested that the MSZP MP was an “agent” of Fidesz. Mr. Molnár retorted that Mr. Botka’s accusation could lead to a civil war within the Hungarian Socialist Party and he added that this type of accusation was reminiscent of the pre-1989 one party state.

While MSZP, still the largest party on the left, has decided to tear itself to shreds in public, right before national elections, former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány of the Democratic Coalition could not simply sit out the Socialist internecine warfare, especially after Mr. Botka also suggested that the smaller opposition parties were populated by incompetent politicians. Whilst Mr. Gyurcsány called for immediate unity among all left-centre opposition parties, he also published a photograph showing Mr. Botka, as mayor of Szeged, welcoming Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to his city. The implication was obvious: who is Mr. Botka to call anyone a traitor?

The most recent Tárki poll, taken before the politicians of the left decided to really go after each other’s throats in public, suggest that Fidesz is almost certain to win a two-thirds parliamentary majority in April 2018.

Among decided voters, Fidesz stands at 55%, up from 51%. If Fidesz wins 55% on voting day, Prime Minister Orbán can count on a two-thirds majority in parliament. In contrast, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) is at 11%, down from 15% in Tárki’s previous poll early this year. Jobbik support remains unchanged at 17%.

Mr. Gyurcsány’s Democratic Coalition has also seen a marked decline in its popularity, from 8% to 5%. The Politics Can Be Different party (LMP) is down from 4% to 3%, while Együtt’s support remains unchanged at 1%. The Párbeszéd party’s support does not even reach 1%, while only the fledgling Momentum party is showing modest signs of life, going from 2% to 3%.

The logos of Hungarian opposition parties.

With numbers like these, Fidesz is not only on track to surpass its 2014 election results, but it may very well do even better than it did in 2010, when it won a historic super majority in parliament. Meanwhile, every party on the left, except MSZP, stands the real risk of not even passing the 5% threshold required for parliamentary representation.

Open internecine warfare among the left’s prominent politicians may seal their fate.

6 Comments

  1. I do not live there, thank God, but all the international data suggests that the present party likely will win. Simply because there is some sign that the economy is on the slight upswing. Economics is what rules. Voters follow their pocketbooks. Beside, this so called “left” has actually nothing new to offer. Actually, it is like “back to the past”. That’s not so popular. But, like the saying; only time will tell.

  2. It is not so much the scorn the competing politician pour upon each other that is the problem, though admittedly that kind of behavior within the Democratic Party had a lot to do with Donald Trump’s electoral victory, quite apart from Vladimir’s helping hand. The real problem in Hungary is, that the democratic political parties are utterly unable to work, to organize grass roots presence, through volunteers, in the local communities, ridings, towns and villages. They simply have not learned how mass political parties work in a democracy. Mr. Botka will win his town, but lose the country. As for the rest, they’ll go on speaking tours to Georgetown University, under Charles Gáti’s tutelage, write a few articles here and there, that hardly anyone will read, and complain about not having enough money to mount a campaign. The liberal democratic opposition is as inept at opposing Orbán, as it was in running Hungary. And the reason for their ineptitude resides with them rather than with Fidesz.

  3. I’m saddened to read this, but not the least bit surprised. There seemed a glimmer of hope this spring for the opposition, but like so many times in the past 7.5 years, it was a passing blip. Remember the sense of potential change during the internet protests–which dominated the cover pages of western papers? Or Bajnai’s resurrection in fall 2012? Or the mass protests of Hungarian teachers, parents and high school students? It all felt like impending change, like something was really going to happen this time. Then, like clockwork, it all fizzled.

    It’s time to face the unfortunate facts: Fidesz will rule until at least 2022.

  4. @ Lanark

    I don’t think it is necessary to lament, or to attribute finality to the status quo. Politics is the art of the possible. One thing is certain, a lasting turn towards sustainable economic development, and a just society is not possible in places where civil society and political parties cannot function according to the principles that were developed for them over the centuries, as agents for maintaining the rule of law and public scrutiny over those who rule.

  5. Response to Gollner’s remark;

    Hungary gave up all that they have developed and experienced for over a millenia. Only their endless mistakes they hang on to. That is to be always a “csatlos”!

    Just as prince Vajk gave up even their language, religion, their writing system, past history and culture. And surrendered to Christianity and feudalism. The tribal leaders become nobles, but the warriors become surfs. The nation become subjected to Rome. Just like today subject to the foreign lawyers in Brussels.

  6. @ Bendeguz79

    What do you get if you take the “f” out of “bread” ?

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