news letter

Weekly newsletter

Here’s What Might Be Going On Behind-The-Scenes In Hungarian Party Politics

By Tamás Székely // 2017.06.26.

A fact-finding journalist has discovered examples of surprising albeit indirect financial help from the conservative government side to the Socialist Party, while an independent commentator dismissed the idea that the MSZP is kept afloat by Fidesz as just one more conspiracy theory. Radical nationalist Jobbik’s new moderate strategy, however, may play a role in the strategies of these two parties, according to another journalist. Meanwhile a conservative daily reported that ‘the air was getting thin” around the Socialist PM candidate, while a left-wing pundit believes that László Botka must confront ‘the shadows of his own party’ if he wants to be successful. Hungarian press round-up by

In Heti Válasz, András Bódis describes how personalities and institutions linked to the MSZP have enjoyed favourable treatment by government agencies and a bank linked to government circles, and believes that the government side is determined to keep the agonising Socialist Party alive in order to contain a strengthening Jobbik, the right-wing radical party which has been moving towards the centre for the past two years. The government successfully sued the leaders of the former Communist Pioneer’s Association who had converted the main Pioneers camp situated at Csillebérc in the Buda hills. But the latter demanded over a billion forints in exchange for the improvements they had performed there over the past two decades. Bódis remarks that they never deducted from that sum the rent they charged to outsiders for the temporary use of the camp. Nevertheless, the government unexpectedly accepted their claim in order to build Olympic champion Katinka Hosszú’s swimming academy in the Csillebérc precincts. Another case Bódis considers strange is the surprisingly lavish flow of full page ads to Népszava, the socialist daily, which is owned by an Austrian based company which belongs to former MSZP treasurer László Puch. In addition, Mr Puch’s two companies have been granted a total of almost a billion forints in credit by NHB, a bank owned by Tamás Szemerey, brother in law of National Bank president György Matolcsy who is widely considered as being very near governing circles.

On Reflektor, however, Lőrinc Tálos does not think such facts amount to financial connivance between Fidesz and the MSZP. He recalls that similar accusations are very fashionable among left-wing organisations in their competition for the narrow space available on the left side of the political arena. He mentions the Democratic Coalition as particularly inclined to accuse its potential allies of conniving with the governing forces. While it urges the MSZP to form an electoral alliance, Tálos continues, the Democratic Coalition accuses the Socialists of being too accomm-odating towards Fidesz. DK also spreads rumours of secret links between new parties, like LMP or Momentum and Fidesz and even suspects that those two parties have been brought into being by the governing forces. Tálos admits that Fidesz does not treat all opposition parties equally and believes that there are obvious tactical considerations behind that. But he warns that such differences do not substantiate the thesis of MSZP or any other opposition party collaborating with Fidesz.

168 óra runs a detailed account by Péter Cseri on how Jobbik is consistently trying to rebrand itself as a centrist party. That drive is seen as a potential game changer in Hungary’s political landscape where Fidesz rule has been guaranteed by its centrist position between the left wing and the radical Right. If Jobbik succeeds in its search for a new moderate identity, the Left will have to choose whether to consider it a competitor or a potential ally. In the first case, left-wing parties would have a common interest with Fidesz in containing Jobbik, but even in the second, both may well regard it as a dangerous rival. In an editorial preceding Cseri’s article, 168 óra thinks Jobbik’s strategy has been partially successful. The elite of the party has spectacularly abandoned racist discourse over the past four years, but the rank-and-file find it often difficult to keep pace with them. The left-wing weekly remarks that Jobbik is following a west European trend in its drive for moderation. Several formerly extremist radical right-wing parties are in fact becoming more presentable, although that process is accompanied by internal rifts, which for the moment are very limited within Jobbik, at least within the national leadership.

In Magyar Nemzet, Mariann Katona quotes unnamed Socialist sources suggesting that László Botka is running into growing resistance within his own party, less than a year before the next parliamentary elections. He has replaced the team of campaign director  (and former party Chairman) József Tóbiás with his own people, surrounds himself with newcomers who used to work for other parties and has disowned Socialist floor leader Bertalan Tóth for his approach to the ‘Poster Bill’ (See BudaPost, June 21). In addition, local MSZP officials who co-operate with the Democratic Coalition and other left-wing groupings are dismayed, she reports, by Botka’s refusal to even talk to potential allies.

Népszava’s Róbert Friss, on the other hand, believes that Mr Botka was right to overrule the floor leader’s idea to negotiate with Fidesz on the ‘Poster Bill’. He argues that the only way to increase the Socialist constituency is to confront Fidesz, rather than striking deals with it. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that Botka has ignited dangerous conflicts within the MSZP – yet he cannot avoid confronting ‘the shadows of his own party’.  Friss warns those within the Socialist Party who want to sit it out and then take revenge on Botka that their attitude will only prolong the party’s agony. ‘The force is with him’, he writes – borrowing a famous sentence from George Lucas’ iconic Star Wars – but for how long, ‘will depend on Botka himself and on his party’s sobriety’.