- 27 Mar 2014 10:55 AM
Fidesz – Fidesz Hungarian Civic Party
Fidesz began its career as a liberal party, but over time shifted into a right-of-center entity. Then, over the past four years it underwent another makeover. The outcome of its current “fine tuning” is a gearshift away from support for a social market economy and towards advocacy for an economic policy favoring government control and ownership.
It has distanced itself from its one-time favorite Western model and now – spiced with vigorous European Union-skeptic rhetoric – it has been promising “an opening to the East.” The “world view” of the party-chief/prime minister [Viktor Orbán] – who is convinced that the rules governing politics and economics can be changed at will – has become dominant on national and local level alike, albeit less formidably on local level.
Party membership has not been unequivocally supportive of this turnabout in outlook that is essentially the brainchild of Orbán himself. Zoltán Pokorni, mayor of a Budapest district, and several other long-time Fidesz mayors have pulled out of national politics on grounds of incompatibility. They will not stand for seats in the post 2014 parliament.
Most of the people who once made up the traditional elite within the party have disappeared. A look at the politicians who originally defined Fidesz shows that János Áder has become Hungary’s president, László Kövér is Speaker of Parliament, and Tamás Deutsch is a Member of the European Parliament. Meanwhile János Lázár, of the “new generation” has become party vice-president and has pushed through the issues assigned to him (such as a contentious tobacco shop law that drew a firestorm of response) with a single-minded callousness characteristic of Orbán himself.
Fidesz has dropped the word “alliance” from its name. It has shaken off even the remnants of policies espoused by the political allies it once adopted – such as the now defunct MDF [Hungarian Democratic Forum] and Smallholders [Independent Smallholders’ Party]. Those adoptees who became full-blooded Fidesz advocates have now been offered winning slots on the party election lists [the political parties submit lists of candidates to fill MP seats based on voters’ party preferences – called national lists – so the top 25 or so candidates from each major party including the losers are essentially guaranteed seats in parliament]. One-time MDF founder Sándor Lezsák was given Fidesz’s No. 11 slot and former Smallholder Béla Turi-Kovács was put 14th on the national list.
KDNP – Christian Democratic People’s Party
This party has really been melded into Fidesz, retaining only formal autonomy. Zsolt Semjén, top man in the Christian Democrats, was given Fidesz’s No. 2 slot on the national list, while Péter Harrach got the No. 10 spot and János Latorcai the 21st. In the “division of labor” within the coalition, the Christian Democrats handle religious issues as well as the ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries, including the symbolic gestures and practical actions related to the “reintegration” of ethnic Hungarian citizens, particularly as regards the right to vote in Hungary’s parliamentary elections granted to dual citizens who are not Hungarian residents. KDNP was also made responsible for education management, but Fidesz took back higher education, leaving KDNP with just primary and secondary schooling.
Unity 2014 – Összefogás
The Unity coalition, which produced a joint list of candidates fielded by most of the left wing opposition parties, was established early this year after squabbling and hesitation underway since 2010, and it still lacks a common platform. The top names in this group, promising the start of a new era if elected are the MSZP’s [Hungarian Socialist Party] Attila Mesterházy, once a state secretary and parliamentary caucus leader, and ex-Socialists Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai, both former prime ministers. They are joined by two one-time chiefs of the now defunct liberal party SZDSZ [Alliance of Free Democrats], Gábor Kuncze and Gábor Fodor, and have been promised support from the outside by Lajos Bokros, once a finance minister in the MSZP and later on a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the MDF party.
MSZP – Hungarian Socialist Party
The Socialists suffered a crushing defeat in the 2010 elections, triggering a split in 2011, in which Ferenc Gyurcsány established another party, the Democratic Coalition. Following an iron-fisted effort Attila Mesterházy managed to restore the remnants into a viable party. He has chaired the MSZP since July 2010 – after having headed the parliamentary caucus from 2009 on and agreeing to run for prime minister in the 2010 elections, knowing he didn’t have a shadow of a chance.
MSZP has been on the political scene since 1990, and that includes a record three election victories, two of them back-to-back (2002–2010), but after 2010 the personalities defining the party for a quarter of a century were driven offstage, allowed into the weakened party’s parliamentary group with the understanding that they would be phased out in 2014. Their places were taken by thirty-somethings who were (and in many cases still are) unknown by the public although they are Mesterházy’s confidants. Nonetheless, MSZP, with its 30,000 members, is still the defining force of the opposition, even though it had only three more MPs (46 in all) in the outgoing parliament than the far right Jobbik party.
Granted, thanks primarily to infighting, the 59 seats they actually won in 2010 was cut back significantly when Gyurcsány and his followers quit the MSZP the next year, taking their seats with them. The number went down again this past February after former party chair Gábor Simon was found to have “forgotten” to include a huge deposit in an Austrian bank in his financial disclosure and stepped down from his seat. In fact, parliament was not the only venue to see MSZP go downhill over the past four years, since in local elections in late 2010 it won the race for mayor in just one city with county status [23 municipalities have county status] when László Botka was elected in Szeged. In addition it won district mayoral elections in exactly 3 of the 23 districts of Budapest, a city long considered MSZP territory.
Using the slogans “Chance for Change,” and “Hope for All,” the MSZP has been campaigning as “the largest opposition force” and has managed to take the top slot on the Unity group’s national list. Its candidates have been named for 42 of the top 60 spots. The members of Mesterházy’s inner circle (László Botka, József Tóbiás, Nándor Gúr, Tamás Harangozó and Zsolt Molnár) are among the shoo-ins. Meanwhile, Tibor Szanyi, who has been the left wing rank-and-file’s enfant terrible and was Mesterházy’s challenger for party chair in the 2012 party elections, heads the list of candidates for Members of the European Parliament. Mesterházy’s tactical skills also won him the candidacy for Unity’s prime minister over the two former PMs who follow him on the list.
Together – Party for the New Era – Együtt
Former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, speaking for himself at an opposition meeting on October 23, 2012, promised a new government when he announced his new party and declared his return to the political arena. But only the beginning showed any promise for Together, which had put a strong emphasis on its strong roots in civil society. Opinion polls soon showed that MSZP had remained the leading party of the left wing opposition while others copyrighted the name Together 2014, preventing Bajnai and his group from using it. In that October 23 address, Bajnai promised to move beyond not only the Orbán administration but to get rid of the entire political elite that has been running the country since 1990, keeping its distance from Fidesz first of all, but also from MSZP.
Initially this worked for voters, giving him a 14 percent following among decided voters, which was exceptionally high for a start-up party. Over the next few months however that popularity fell, leaving it just high enough to make it over the 5 percent threshold needed to get into parliament at all. Bajnai then formed an alliance with Dialogue for Hungary (PM), made up of politicians who had quit the LMP party, but it made no difference.
At this point Bajnai began talks with the MSZP on an alliance. Initially, they agreed on merely coordinating their candidates, but early this year they finally decided to submit a single list of candidates for the national list to include members of both their parties. At this point, the civil-society character of the Bajnai group which had been campaigning with “Homeland and Headway,” and “Solidarity and Europe,” starting going downhill. Together became just one member of the five-party Unity coalition, pushing it away from former cohorts Milla (One Million for Freedom of the Hungarian press), a group established on Facebook that kept its distance from party-politics, and the trade union based Hungarian Solidarity Movement. Another sign of their weakness is that although Bajnai got the number two slot on the national list, the next Together member on the list, Péter Kónya, was put in slot 16 while Viktor Szigetvári, the third Together member, was relegated to slot 36.
Democratic Coalition – DK
This group was brought about by Ferenc Gyurcsány following the 2010 election defeat, and it initially remained within the MSZP. Within a year however party chair Attila Mesterházy and the Gyurcsány group broke. Gyurcsány and a group of well-known politicians including Iván Vitányi, Ágnes Vadai, and István Kolber quit MSZP and took quite a number of party faithfuls along with them. At present DK, believed by many to be Gyurcsány’s one-man-show, actually has 10,000 members.
Fidesz treats Gyurcsány as public enemy number one, evidenced by the fact that Fidesz, buoyed by its two-thirds majority in parliament, made a quick rule change to keep the Gyurcsány group from becoming an official party caucus. The new rule was that a party with fewer MPs than prescribed – which they changed to 12 members from the original 10 – would only be allowed to form an official caucus if it had won at least three seats on its own party list, which excluded the DK since it didn’t exist in 2010. This forced the group to serve as independent MPs who have fewer rights than a caucus.
There was an underlying ideological reason for the party split – above and beyond Gyurcsány’s hyper-activeness and ambitions. Mesterházy and his circle wanted to push the social democracy aspect of the party while the group around Gyurcsány was thinking in terms of a collective left that could accommodate Tamás Bauer, formerly of the liberal SZDSZ, as well as József Debreczeni, of the one-time centrist MDF.
Gábor Kuncze, former head of the SZDSZ is running for an individual seat in DK colors. The party’s policies have in many respects remained loyal to Gyurcsány’s earlier promises. Its finances – those of both the party and the business it runs called DéKá LLC – are transparent and are made public from time to time.
Discounting the few committed Gyurcsány fans, the political arena failed to take DK seriously for quite a while, but by early 2014 it had made it over the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament. The outcome was not only DK’s admission into the Unity coalition but also the granting of the No.3 slot on the national list to Gyurcsány. DK has six of the top sixty slots. No. 19 went to Csaba Molnár and 26 to Ágnes Vadai, both formerly of MSZP. DK was also given 13 of the individual constituencies in which voters choose among specific candidates, not parties. Gábor Kuncze is the best known of these candidates. Kuncze won the Szigetszentmiklós constituency five times between 1990 and 2006 [he did not run in 2010], and will try for the seat once more in April.
Dialogue for Hungary – PM
This party is the result of a 2013 split in the LMP (Politics Can Be Different), and formation of an election alliance with Bajnai’s Together. The reason for the split was that LMP co-chair András Schiffer’s group opted to remain independent at all costs while the group that left, including Benedek Jávor and Timea Szabó who later became PM co-chairs, believed that defeating the Orbán administration was the top priority. PM even had to retract a number of its earlier statements when joining Unity and agreeing to support Mesterházy as the choice for prime minister and to cooperate with Gyurcsány’s DK. Szabó got the No. 5 slot on the national list but Gábor Scheiring, the next member of PM on the list, only got slot 48.
Hungarian Liberal Party – MLP
The Hungarian Liberal Party headed by Gábor Fodor, former chair of the SZDSZ, was included in Unity although no voter support for it was discernible. It was probably included because of the word “Liberal” in its name. Fodor, who began his political career in the Fidesz before switching to SZDSZ, initially tried to join the opposition movement under the liberal banner, but the name – Hungarian Liberal Party – had already been taken.
Then, in late 2013 Fodor became chair of the organization that had registered the name in 2010 and was headquartered in Szolnok. Fodor, who called for “compassionate liberalism” in the name of his new party, is certain to win a seat in parliament despite the apparent lack of supporters. He holds slot No. 4 on Unity’s national list. The next member of his organization to appear on the list is András Buruzs, another former member of SZDSZ and currently MLP’s program manager, who got slot 56.
Movement for a Better Hungary – Jobbik
This parliamentary party of the Hungarian far right has increased its membership by 60 percent in the past four years. As of April 2010 it had 10,000 registered members while as of late February 2014 it had nearly 16,000. However, its caucus within parliament has gone down. Jobbik had 47 members following the 2010 elections, a number that has been whittled down to 43 in the outgoing parliament. The party, which re-elected Gábor Vona as its chair with 98.8 percent of the vote, has undergone several crises.
Vice-chair Csanád Szegedi, their strongman in Borsod County, left Jobbik in a firestorm when it was learned that he was ethnically Jewish (and when some of his financial affairs were deemed iffy). Then, ultra-radical party members tried establishing a new party called Hungarian Dawn. The effort failed but several members including András Kisgergely, an MP candidate for the city of Ózd in 2010, are running for election within the National Revolutionary Party (NFP), which will compete for the far right vote.
Vona and company, campaigning under the slogan “Make a Living, Establish Order, Demand an Accounting!” will also find themselves in a bind because Fidesz has become a direct competitor on a number of platform issues, for instance, with their one-upmanship in hissing and booing at the banks. However, Jobbik has been trying to attract disillusioned former MDF and MIÉP (Hungarian Youth and Life Party – a defunct far right group) supporters. For instance, it has named former MDF MP Árpád Miklós as its candidate for the Sajószentpéter district.
Jobbik’s strongest support is in the northeast. It has mayors there in 11 settlements including Tiszavasvári, a micro-regional center with 13,000 residents. More recently it has toned down its rhetoric. While the key performers in its 2010 campaign were members of the Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary organization since banned, its current message is pro-youth, pro-family, and pro-spirituality. At the same time, the content of its platform is more radical than in 2010.
It has a “Seven Leader” [a reference to Hungary’s historical leaders] plan suggesting possibly quitting the EU, limiting voting rights to people with a minimum of 8 grades of education, “renegotiating” the national debt, and eliminating parliamentary immunity. One promise, to make public the names of one-time Communist informers, is something the Liberals give a thumbs-up to.
Jobbik, just like Fidesz, is calling for a reduction in “dependence on the West” and supports the “opening to the East.” In a plan named after Hungarian King Béla IV., it notes that while the population of Hungary is declining, there is a “population explosion among the Gypsies,” and that offering benefits that end up being incentives to having children need to end.
LMP – Politics Can Be Different
This first-generation party in parliament won 7 percent of the vote in 2010, more than had been anticipated. Now it might easily happen that the group, calling itself a green party, will see the end of its party history with the current election. LMP was founded in 2008 by activists in the green movement and civic movements out to protect rights. Its full name, Politics Can Be Different, was meant to signal that there was political life beyond the Fidesz Party and the MSZP.
In parliament, it criticized the government on professional grounds by repeatedly submitting alternative budgets and by pointing to the absence of ecological considerations in legislation and decrees. It also was behind a number of political performances (its MPs chained themselves to the railings of parliament building, prepared huge signboards which MPs hung in parliament’s assembly chamber, and they turned on sirens to protest the enlargement of the Paks nuclear power plant).
Its MPs were the most vocal in their charges of “oligarchies” within government and on one occasion, held a demonstration at the Közgép holding company [winner of many government contracts] known to be an interest of Fidesz "eminence grise" Lajos Simicska [a high school and college friend of Orbán].
Translated by Budapest Telegraph