First published on 11 November 2012 through Policy Network.
A new political opposition has presented itself in Hungary, calling for an electoral alliance of grassroots and political entities to challenge the hegemonic rule of right-wing party Fidesz
‘Together 2014’ (Együtt 2014) was announced October 23rd at the large opposition rally against the government, founded by three civil society organizations. With largely divided and conflicting opposition facets competing in Hungary the question remains: how together will Together 2014 be?
What is Together 2014?
Together 2014 is the alliance of three civil organizations joining forces to win a two-thirds majority in the next National Elections. This is the majority needed to override many of Fidesz’s recent controversial laws. Leading the alliance is Gordon Bajnai, the interim Prime Minister in 2009 and 2010 for Socialist Party, MSZP. Bajnai remains one of the most popular politicians in Hungary as a non-partisan technocrat hoping to bring together disgruntled voters from the centre-left and centre-right. Bajnai brings with him the Patriotism and Progress Association (Haza és Haladás Közpolitikai Alapítvány), a public policy foundation he leads, formed after the 2010 elections developing biannual policy packages.
Co-founding the opposition alliance are grassroots organizations Milla (One Million for the Freedom of Press in Hungary) and Szolidaritás (Hungarian Solidarity Movement). Milla began as Facebook group in December 2010 opposing Fidesz’s controversial Media Law that threatened the freedom of speech and press. Since then the group has grown to be the largest opposition movement, bringing out over a hundred thousand people to protest numerous Fidesz mandates, including recent changes to the constitution, voting laws, and citizen rights. While Milla can be characterised generally as a younger, liberal support network, Szolildaritás is a social trade union movement, created in October 2011 by mainly union activists and older cohorts. United in demonstrations and activism in the last year the two organisations have been able to draw a diverse spectrum of support on and offline. Their decision to unite with Bajnai and his association is the first time the groups have shown directly political intentions, turning their defensive opposition into an offensive political movement.
United or divided?
It will take a strong united opposition to overpower Fidesz and its unwavering right-wing coalition, but it is still unclear whether Together 2014 will be able to rally together the clashing personalities of other opposition parties. These include Socialist Party, MSZP, newer liberal party Democratic Coalition (DK) and green party LMP (Politics Can Be Different). Getting these parties to work together will not be an easy task. Democratic Coalition is a splinter party that broke away from MSZP in 2011, led by the controversial former Socialist Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány. Although Bajnai has good ties with DK leaders and the party has shown open willingness for cooperation, bringing Gyurcsány on board could deter centrist voters that typecast him with the old regime. While DK showed strong support of Together 2014 on October 23rd, it is still unclear if the union will risk their future on a party holding remnants of a tainted past.
While unions with DK and MSZP remain uncertain, green party LMP has already made their stance towards the alliance official. Holding a party congress on November 17th LMP voted against uniting with Together 2014’s opposition efforts. While many LMP representatives welcomed the union the decision to remain separate, supported by party chairman András Schiffer, led to the immediate resignation of key LMP representatives. It is believed that this decision will have crucial repercussions for the party. LMP has created its own minor networks with green organisations and newer youth-based party 4K!, who have also declined joining Together 2014, but the party has lost support in their attempts to remain outside of the traditional right-left divide in Hungary. United opposition forces could overcome old political divisions and LMP risks expulsion from parliament with a low electoral turnout if they run alone (LMP is supported by only 3% in current polls).
From virtual to voting
The coming months will determine the new face of the opposition. Together 2014 might have the two largest grassroots oppositions backing it but the group’s ability to unite political forces is still questionable. Although blending activism with political concentrating will help unify forces, right wing and radical right parties have been doing this for years already. Fidesz is the forefather of blending civil and party politics in Hungary, having developed its success around topic oriented civic circles throughout the country. Radical right party Jobbik also used this tactic with its strong ties to the Hungarian Guard and the 64 County Youth Movement (HVIM). The Hungarian Guard are the, now illegal yet still active, civil paramilitary group known for marching in the countryside protecting against ‘gypsy crime’, while HVIM is a nationalist youth movement, ultimately looking to restore the pre-Trianon boarders of Hungary.
Fidesz has already begun to analyse its new enemy. Recent polls put Together 2014 as the second most popular political force in Hungary with support from 22% of decided voters (compared to Fidesz’s 38%). The previous main opposition, MSZP, is nowhere near this with only 15% of the decided vote, 1% less than radical right Jobbik. Fidesz has already launched a campaign reminding voters of the political failures of the left. Public ads can be found on busses and around Budapest showing Bajnai with Gyurcsány. The caption accompanying the photo reads, ‘Together they ruined the country. We will never forget’. The left has been late to mobilise its more unofficial networks until now. Despite large followings on Facebook, social forums and street demonstrations it will take more to bring out the masses on Election Day. With LMP already announcing their unwillingness to align with Together 2014 the support of MSZP and DK are needed to make a worthy opposition.
A contribution to State of the Left – Policy Network’s monthly insight bulletin that reports from across the world of social democratic politics
Erin Marie Saltman is a graduate researcher at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies