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Will the Socialists break the broad anti-Fidesz coalition on the bill banning political billboards?

The opposition Socialist Party will submit a bill to parliament aimed at ensuring a level playing field among parties during election campaign periods, party leader Gyula Molnar told a press conference. The bill, a re-submission of an older proposal also submitted by the Socialists, would scrap public funding for election campaigns, Bertalan Toth, the party's group leader, told the same press conference. As Freehungary reported last week, the government bill seeking to prevent all political advertisements on billboards outside of the official campaign period failed to receive the two-thirds majority needed to pass. 

Jobbik, the party that ran this billboard campaign, hit Fidesz and personally Prime Minister Viktor Orban where it hurt. Orban wanted the billboards gone as soon as possible. In the beginning Fidesz activists were sent to remove or deface them, but, given the number of billboards Jobbik scattered all over the country, a better solution had to be found. In such cases Fidesz's usual response is to create a new, targeted law.
The bill also stipulated that in the campaign period, all political players should be charged the same for the use of advertising surfaces. The bill had been proposed by leader of the Fidesz party's parliamentary group, Lajos Kósa, together with three other Fidesz MPs, who claimed that the proposal aimed to thwart covert attempts by "billionaires trying to influence Hungarian politics" and to ensure transparency ("Kosa-Halasz bill").
Certain parts of the bill needed a two-thirds majority, and Fidesz at the moment is short by two votes. Fidesz couldn't convince any member of the opposition to vote for the bill. The opposition, both right and left, found it unacceptable. And although one of the DK members of parliament had such a serious attack of kidney stones that he had to be taken to the hospital and missed the vote, Fidesz still came up one short.

At the center of this billboard controversy is Lajos Simicska, Orbán's former friend and business partner. Simicska, in addition to owning Közgép, a construction company that once had a virtual monopoly on government infrastructure contracts, also owns several other businesses, including Mahir Cityposter and Publimont, which rent out billboard spaces and advertising kiosks. Jobbik's billboards and posters appeared on spaces owned by these two companies. It was suspected from the beginning that Simicska, who broke with Orbán and Fidesz about two years ago, provided space for the Jobbik posters at a cut rate, but until very recently Jobbik refused to divulge the cost. So, in addition to the bill and Orbán's decree, NAV, the Hungarian equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service, paid a visit to Mahir's headquarters. They had the right to check all financial transactions between January 1 and April 30. They were specifically looking for financial transactions connected to the Jobbik posters. When the price Jobbik paid Simicska's firm was finally made public last week, it was obvious that "Simicska had sold the surfaces at a ridiculously low price," as Népszava pointed out. Simicska, who until recently was the "financial genius" behind Fidesz's coffers, used to favor Fidesz by charging very little for advertising posters. Now he was doing the same for Jobbik.

This week the main opposition Socialists (MSZP) swung into action. They dusted off an old proposal that they had earlier submitted to parliament, which they now presented as an alternative to the Fidesz proposal. It would, just like the Kósa-Halász bill, forbid political advertising except during the campaign period by parties, municipalities, and the government, but, in addition, it would specifically forbid advertising by CÖF, the government-financed so-called civic organization, and Fidelitas, Fidesz's youth organization.
Referring to ongoing political billboard campaigns, Bertalan Toth, the MSZP's parliamentary group leader said it was "intolerable" that there was "a billboard war financed from stolen money" being "fought" across the country.
Party leader Gyula Molnar said that by supporting the Socialists' bill, ruling Fidesz could demonstrate that "it is not merely out to ruin" businessman Lajos Simicska, a one-time friend of the prime minister's and a former key figure of the party. He added that radical nationalist Jobbik, on the other hand, could prove that it is not pinning its election hopes on "a new secret weapon" relying on the services of the construction magnate and media mogul.
Commenting on the law aimed at preventing all political advertisements on billboards outside of the official campaign period which President Janos Ader has sent back to parliament for re-consideration, Molnar said it was "unbelievable" and "outrageous" that parliament was being "dragged around" and the president "forced" to "send back a law in record time" just so "the two right-wing parties can fight it out over Simicska's estate in public".

With MSZP's move Fidesz-KDNP was presented with an easy path to victory. Fidesz is "still studying" the matter, but it finds many aspects of the MSZP bill acceptable. Jobbik naturally is not game, and it looks as if LMP is also holding to its original position. According to LMP's spokesman, unity must be maintained against this bill, which would only help Fidesz. However if MSZP is ready to sit down and negotiate, there will be no problem on Friday. And in that case, Jobbik will have been outfoxed. Not surprisingly, Jobbik politicians are crying foul. János Völner, head of Jobbik's parliamentary delegation, described MSZP's move as one of the most obvious and brutal political pacts since 1990. He claims that the poster market was the only one where there was parity among the parties. MSZP with this move contributes to Viktor Orbán's media dominance. Alfahír, Jobbik's online news site, illustrates the mood in the party. The article reporting on MSZP's offer begins this way: "June 19, 2017. Please don't forget this date. Today is the birthday of the Orbán regime's Patriotic Popular Front. Today what we had suspected for years has become official: MSZP became the prostitute of Fidesz." The Patriotic Popular Front (Hazafias Népfront) was created in 1954 and was dismantled in 1990. It was supposed to be a body representative of the whole society.
Too little time has passed since the MSZP proposal to be able to gauge the reaction of the other smaller parties on the left. But most probably, similarly to LMP, they will not be thrilled with MSZP's special deal with the government party. They will be most likely strengthened in their suspicion that MSZP is not playing a fair game and that somehow it has a secret understanding with Fidesz. 

Source: index.hu; Hungaraianspectrum.org; boon.hu

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 06:48

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