Look at this poll.
Doesn’t matter when or who took the survey. Just look at it from a distance. The orange bar (left) is the governing party that has by now established a quasi one-party system where only they can win. On the right, the gray bar represents the undecided voters and those who don’t even plan to vote this year. These are the only two force that could win the election in Hungary in 2018 – and one of them is not running.
In a normal country, only geeks are knowledgeable about political parties under 10 percent. In Hungary, that covers ALL opposition parties. You must be a nerd to even tell them apart. I am supposedly such a nerd but even I keep scrolling when I see a headline about them. Apart from the mandatory oppositioning and accusing Fidesz with corruption (correctly), they don’t do anything that looks like they are preparing to govern one day. They aren’t only inconsequential because they are small. They seem to be doing it on purpose.
- Every time the so called “left” throws in a candidate for prime minister, the rest of them embark on character killing.
- A candidate announces his resignation suddenly, only weeks after announcing it, blaming Fidesz-spies within his own party, but no actual explanation.
- The confusing web of who doesn’t go on coalition with whom is more complex than the daily lives of high school girls.
- Every time they announce whom they hate and definitely never cooperate with – they also put their political credibility on it. And then change position, because reality.
- One tiny, new party wants to stay so pure, they refuse to go on coalition with anyone. But one party in particular. Then it turns out that their major benefactor doesn’t allow them. Then they offer cooperation to one of the parties, anyway.
- The party most desperately in need of a face, the former governing party, cancels its conference to select a candidate.
- One party wants to keep its distance from others, but welcomes their members and hires their spin doctor.
- A liberal party is so obviously inorganic and doing whatever is good for Fidesz, liberal voters don’t even contemplate them.
- One party breaks up with its tentative coalition partner unexpectedly, and on live TV.
- Two parties ask a third in an open letter to please agree on its candidate already.
- One party’s front man appears on top of the other party’s list – just to confuse voters even further. But the parties still squabble.
- Don’t get me started on their protesting habits. Their leaders are primadonnas when it comes to sharing the stage with others, who gets to speak first, who stands where.
- When asked about the Hungarian opposition during a press conference at Davos, Soros dismissed one of the parties as being bought by Fidesz.
- When Jobbik, the “nazi” opposition party got hit by a fine that put its existence at risk, other opposition parties squabbled whether they should join the protest against the arbitrary fine. They only have a few days to make a standpoint, but they used it to character kill each other based on their opinions. All Fidesz had to to is sit back and enjoy the pitiful show.
And so on, ad infinitum.
Only a compulsive collector of ‘self-defeating moves of Hungarian opposition parties in the late 2010s’ would even bother to follow their shenanigans. They put so much more effort into trashing each other than defeating Fidesz, one cannot help but suspect that they must be paid to be this stupid. And some definitely are – after all, it wouldn’t be a first in history that a quasi state-party keeps its own, controlled opposition.
But there is more to the story than that. Here are some speculations that have already crossed voters’ minds – and columnists’ columns:
1. It is comfy to be an opposition politician.
You throw some mud on Fidesz, occasionally gently pull the lion’s whiskers in parliament – but without consequence. (Nothing of consequence happens in parliament, including voting.) But you look like a freedom fighter from abroad and if you manage to believe it yourself, you can even look in the mirror. You can pose as anti-authoritarian hero, and if the mafia state ever disappears from above your head, you will be seen as obvious successor. Just like Orbán was in 1989. But it won’t be your doing.
An MP’s life is a no-risk, high potential, comfy lifetime career. Living on an MP’s salary (and with immunity) is not that bad, after all. Journalists and activists may lose their jobs or worse, but in any case, you will be the last one still free to emigrate if things turn (even more) sour. And why wouldn’t they, since there is no resistance to Fidesz anymore.
2. They couldn’t govern, anyway
And not just because they are incompetent.
Fidesz created a new institutional landscape in 2011 (when they turned the constitution into a basic law) without any counterbalance to the government’s political will. On superficial reading it may sound like it is a great amount of power to go into one had – and that it would be a great amount of power in the hands of anyone else, if they won the elections. But it’s not quite true.
The current political system is designed to only run under Orbán. He is not only the boss of all bosses institutionally, he is keeping his people personally dependent – and not just his oligarchs.
The institutional system may be one centralized seat of power with all the buttons and levers concentrated in front of the prime minister – but only if that prime minister happens to be Orbán. Power in Hungary today virtually requires Orbán’s personal fingerprint and iris scan to run. Heads of institutions that are technically still independent depend on Orbán personally – and will do so even if Orbán would somehow disappear from power.
Just two examples: The central bank governor simply doesn’t want to be independent and said so. (He runs adverts on TV stating that the “central bank is finally not in opposition”). Or take the chief prosecutor who simply cannot find any reason to investigate Fidesz-linked corruption. Ever. And he is cemented in his position for 9 years, until 2021, his wife and daughter making a killing in their cushy central bank jobs. So is the powerful president of the judiciary office (who has the power to reallocate cases to judges that are expected to make a more government-friendly decisions, wherever they are in the country). She also happens to be the wife of a Fidesz vice president and MEP.
3. They are blackmailed – paid off by Orbán
4. Petty positioning
This journalist made a list of what he believes are the real goals of opposition parties – and he makes sense. If we look at their behavior assuming they actually want to win or even weaken Orbán, we will never understand what they are doing and why. But if we look at it like this, it all makes sense:
- DK, the new party of the former populist PM, Gyurcsány, only really wants to defeat his old party, MSZP
- Párbeszéd, a tiny party that came to life when LMP split into two, wants to keep existing. Having a party and fraction in parliament is a great perk, after all. Their main politician had, however, accepted the PM candidacy of MSZP – right after MSZP’s former candidate dropped out of the contest. Confusing, I know…
- Együtt was the party of the interim PM, Gordon Bajnai, who governed through the financial crisis and the last year of the pre-Orbán era. He was a popular figure, but Együtt was not really a party (still isn’t), so he had no chance in 2010, when MSZP insisted on running a relatively unpopular candidate at election and split the votes. Today they squabble over technical details of collaborating for the elections of not, and that’s about it.
Shoot me if I know what they stand for. On second thought, that applies to all the opposition parties.
- LMP wants to dominate the Left, so it is not in their interest to cooperate with anyone. (They may still do it, but things change every day, ask me again on election day – maybe I will know what they are up to. But maybe not.) They keep pushing well-practiced leftie cliches, such as the basic income, and hired the spin doctor to boost a female (!!!) candidate for PM. (Yes, that’s weird here.)
- Momentum is the newest player. They shot into Hungarian politics last year when they unexpectedly managed to thwart Orbán’s Olympic delusion with the simple act of collecting signatures. It wouldn’t be a big deal in any normal country, but if you realize that Hungarian authorities never let any referendum question through that may provide the opposition with a campaign topic, Momentum’s feat becomes apparent. Sadly, however, they couldn’t find any topic since. (Rest assured, authorities will not let another question slip through.) Plus, their benefactors are pretty peculiar as to whom they are allowed to cooperate with. They openly admitted that they can realistically win elections only in 2022 – that may be true and wise, but still not a winning tactic to communicate.
- Liberals – A party that is considered a joke, a farce, a statistical glitch by those who give them the benefit of doubt. Others merely regard them as Orbán’s court opposition, a pressure valve for liberals who are dumb enough to cast their vote into this pit. They – no, scrap that, it’s a one-man show – he only wants a mandate for himself. About the comfy-cushy MP life see above.
- MSZP – The former governing party (called “Socialist”, but labels don’t help thinking) is really an enigma – even to itself. It’s members are famous for all having their own agenda and murdering each other politically. The polar opposite of Fidesz, where discipline and servility is paramount, in MSZP every politician is a potential little prime minister and undiscovered gem.
Make no mistake, the state capture by one party, Fidesz between 2010-14 and the following shameless redistribution of the entire economy to oligarchs (2014-today) is unforgivable. But that doesn’t make their opposition more appetizing. Or even recognizable.
This chaos is partly the work of Fidesz, no doubt. Another part is general incompetence. Some are no doubt blackmailed – or have reason to worry if they really start rocking the boat. And there are too many primadonnas who had already pictured themselves as prime minister in the mirror, during shaving. And yes, some of them must be paid to be this stupid.
And as for the voters – can they feel any more helpless?