Bajnai on past mistakes, Orbán’s popularity, election

Elections

Austria-based Die Presse yesterday ran an extensive interview with current opposition party E14-PM president Gordon Bajnai in which the former prime minister comments on the left-wing coalition’s problems with Ferenc Gyurcsány, the popularity of current PM Viktor Orbán, mistakes of previous administrations and just how the left can win the 2014 national and European Union parliamentary elections.

An extrapolation of the interview runs below. For the full (German-language) version, click here.

Die Presse: When you returned to electoral politics one year ago, you were considered a beacon of hope for the Hungarian opposition. Now you’ve lost popularity. What went wrong?
Bajnai: We were [involved in in-fighting with fellow opposition party MSzP] for too long.

Is the alliance complete? There is debate as to whether former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány should join the opposition coalition.
The two largest opposition parties, MSzP and Together 2014-Dialogue for Hungary [E14-PM], agreed to this alliance. Current polls show that we have more than 30% of the vote together. Gyurcsány’s party [Democratic Coalition/DK] at the moment is getting between 3% and 4%. If other parties share our goals, they are welcome.

As a controversial figure, it would not make sense to have Gyurcsány aboard, though. Our alliance has recently lost a lot of confidence in him.

With 30% of the vote, you still have no realistic chance of beating Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz.
The undecided voters are the largest group at the moment: They will decide the election. We need not explain to them why the Orbán government has failed; that’s pretty clear. Fifty-seven percent of Hungarians want a change, because they believe that are worse off than they were four years ago. We must become again a normal, prosperous European country.

How do you explain Orbán’s success?
Orbán is sacrificing Hungary’s future with short-term populist motives such as the recent nationalization of pension funds and introductory of extraordinary taxes on foreign investment. Without a change of direction, Hungary will face serious problems. Hungary must become predictable and must return to rational economic policy. We must offer a deal to investors: tax cuts in exchange for investment.

On the other hand, this government has managed to reduce the deficit and the national debt. And there are even signs of economic recovery.
That’s not true. This government has not reduced the national debt.

According to Eurostat, the national debt has fallen from 82.2% in 2010 to 79.8% in 2012.
If you account for the nationalization of pension savings at 10% of GDP, the debt should be 70%. Hungary’s economy shrunk by 1.7% in 2012. … Poland and Slovakia are growing much faster, but Hungary has been stagnant for years. Five percent of the Hungarian population – 500,000 – have left the country in search of work.

What part did the failure of socialist governments play in Orbán’s ascension?
In the eight years before 2010, when Orbán came to power for a second time, the governments committed many errors. Now it is not enough to get rid of the Orbán regime; we need to get rid of the problems that led to the rise of Orbán.

What problems do you mean?
First, the political elite was very corrupt – which was worsened in recent years within the current government. Second, we need to find a national consensus on how to deal with the Hungarian minorities outside the country. Third, classified files from the communist era must be disclosed, which Orbán has not done. Fourth, we need a wise economic policy. We admit expansion of the debt was a terrible mistake.

But now you’ve formed a coalition with those responsible for the mistakes.
MSzP has signed a coalition agreement which guarantees this error will not be repeated.

Wouldn’t it be advantageous for the coalition to run with a common candidate for prime minister as a clear alternative to Orbán?
I do not believe in a two-tier system; our society is too complex for that. My personal victory would it be to return the consensus policy to the heart of our society. We need to change the policy of polarization that has brought so much trouble in Hungary, but we have to win the elections.

Even then, changes to the Constitution cannot be undone.
The Constitution is not supported by the majority of the people. Therefore, there was no referendum. We need to make corrections on tax, pension and labor market laws which have been set in the constitution … by consensus. Otherwise we cannot cope with the future.

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