Party congresses of Hungarian opposition demonstrate deep divisions

Party congresses of Hungarian opposition demonstrate deep divisions
Democratic Coalition party leader Ferenc Gyurcsany making his annual state of the nation speech on February 4. / Facebook/DK
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest February 6, 2023

Political events in Hungary over the weekend showed that major frictions still hamper Hungary’s leftist-liberal opposition after the election rout of April 2022.

On February 4, two opposition parties, the Greens (LMP) and the liberal Momentum party held congresses, while the Socialist (MSZP) and the liberal-leftist Democratic Coalition (DK) parties, with the largest fraction in parliament, gathered for year openers. The events were scheduled a week before Prime Minister Viktor Orban's annual state of the nation address.

Hungarian opposition parties suffered their largest election defeat since Fidesz swept into power in 2010, even though they ran on a single ballot with a joint candidate, selected after a historic primary. The media dominance, the tilted election landscape, and the single-round system forced parties to join forces.

Centre-right mayor Peter Marki-Zay, running on an anti-corruption and pro-market platform backed by his own Movement for Hungary movement, was unable to forge parties together and after the election, he was made to take the blame for the historic failure as the coalition behind him collapsed overnight.

The massive election defeat brought the underlying fractures within the divided opposition camp out into the open.

Leftist and liberal parties questioned the viability of a centre-right candidate, saying that Fidesz can only be defeated with a leftist programme. Although the primaries turned out to be an innovative political product, it is now being questioned by most opposition parties, although the political reality is that without cooperation they will be doomed.

The political events over the weekend also exposed the growing division between the opposition’s leading force, DK, led by former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, and all other parties.

DK, with the largest resources and supporter base, is clearly seeking to fortify its leading position on the opposition landscape. The party has been successful in luring politicians from other parties, which has sparked discontent from its peers. It has established a shadow cabinet led by Klara Dobrev, the runner-up in the prime ministerial primaries behind Marki-Zay. Dobrev, the wife of Gyurcsany, mainly focuses on political issues, while the strategy remains in the hand of his husband.

The opposition has to overcome the deeply rooted antipathy against Gyurcsany. Many observers say the opposition can’t find a winning formula against Fidesz so long as the former prime minister, with the lowest approval rating, remains active in politics. He is widely blamed for the mismanagement of the economy before the 2008 global financial crisis hit Hungary and the bloody opposition riots in 2006. Fidesz has exploited Gyurcsany’s unpopularity, saying he is the person that is pulling the strings.

Green LMP kicked off the political weekend with its congress. Co-chair Peter Ungar said "the opposition coalition is dead". He said LMP would not field a joint prime ministerial candidate in the future.

Momentum MEP Anna Donath, who is returning to politics after maternity leave, took a jab at DK, saying that whoever promises to prematurely replace the Orban government is also telling lies.

Donath, the former party chairman, said the elections showed that the Orban regime cannot be overcome by a "colourless, odourless alliance based on the smallest common denominator ". This system will also end one day because it is based on lies, she added.

Momentum, which started out as a youth movement, burst into the political arena in 2017, collecting more than 266,000 signatures to force the government to hold a referendum on the 2024 Olympics. Instead of holding a referendum, the government withdrew the bid. In 2018, LMP, Momentum and Jobbik, which turned from a radical-right to a centre-right agenda with the financial support of Lajos Simicska, who deserted Fidesz in 2015, forged stronger ties. 

They defined themselves as parties both opposing Fidesz and the pre-2010 era, led by Ferenc Gyurcsany.

The co-chair of the Socialist party Agnes Kunhalmi also sent a blunt and unequivocal message to DK to leave "our mayors" alone, after two leading Socialist mayors from two Budapest districts left the party for DK. MSZP has accused DK of pressuring opposition politicians in leading positions to switch sides. To make her message clear, Kunhalmi said she agrees with Klara Dobrev that the will of no party leader can be imposed on anyone.

The lesson of the 2022 elections is that a government that is on an extreme right, authoritarian and fascist path cannot be replaced from the right, but only from the left, with a genuine social democratic candidate, Kunhalmi said.

But unity and agreement are inevitable in 2024 local government municipal elections to be held concurrently with the European Parliament elections.

The DK closed the weekend with the regular annual state of the nation speech by party leader Ferenc Gyurcsany. According to Gyurcsany, in the current political climate one has to pick sides and whoever is not against the Orban regime is supporting it.

"Serving this regime is more than a sin: it is shameful, and Fidesz voters should be ashamed of themselves", the 61-year-old said, adding that the current government is "against the homeland, unlawful, immoral, dishonest and criminal".

He blasted Orban's alliance with Russia, saying the prime minister "has lost his independence and isn't a sovereign person but a serf to Russian power".

"Hungary is cooperating with a war criminal, and what's more, it does so without reaping any advantages," he noted. 

At the opening of the congress, the crowd applauded new members of the party as they stepped onto the podium with party leaders.

Hungary has but one left wing, and that is led by Gyurcsany, Fidesz said in a statement.