Monday, March 31, 2014


When Transparency International issued its report on election spending on Monday the section that captured the headlines was that showing that Fidesz would spend over double the legal limit – and get away with it. Fidesz stayed quiet on this revelation but needless to say the opposition parties took to the social media immediately.
However the last paragraphs of the report were ignored by all the parties. The simple reason for that is rightly or wrongly the majority of Hungarians believe their politicians are corrupt.
Commissioned by TI, the polling agency Psyma assessed public attitudes concerning the campaign. The findings show that only 8 per cent of the people expect a clean campaign, assuming that the parties will only make use of legal means before the elections. The conclusion has to be that up to 92 per cent did not.
According to the poll, the majority of the public thinks that both the ‘left-wing alliance to change the government’ (62 per cent) and Fidesz-KDNP (55 per cent) use funds from corrupt sources in their campaign, and every second person thinks the same about the far right Jobbik.
TI, the watchdog association K-Monitor and the investigative online portal (Hungarian for ‘transparent’) believe an anti-corruption minimum programme is needed and it is in everybody’s interest to have one.
They have developed their anti-corruption minimum programme which can be found at The recommendations of the programme have been drawn up so that a quarter of a century after the political transition Hungarians can finally take substantial measures against the misuse of public funds.
The aim is to gain the support of decision-makers with influence on legislation, and the broadest possible non-governmental cooperation for this initiative, overwriting political lines.
The programme makes recommendations primarily in the areas of party and campaign financing, public procurement, asset declarations, conflict of interest/revolving door, the management of national assets, and the rule of law.
Sándor Léderer, director of K-Monitor stated: “The country and the legislation have changed significantly over the past 25 years, but now breakthrough has been achieved in the fight against corruption.” 
TI and its partners argue that corruption causes immeasurable economic and societal damages; its elimination therefore needs to be in the interest of all political actors. No party striving to get into the parliament can afford to ignore this problem said Sándor Léderer.
Tamás Bodoky, the editor in chief of the portal reported: “The website is receiving reports uncovering wrongdoing linked to the election campaign.” He added that all substantiated reports will be dealt with using the tools of fact finding and investigative journalism.

Of course political corruption is not restricted to Hungary but is European wide. Surveys in Spain have shown that around 90 per cent of people questioned believed both their politicians and political system was corrupt. It is a perception the EU urgently needs to tackle across all member States.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on March 21 2014)


The Hungarian General Election takes place on Sunday April 6. The spotlight has been on the far right party, Jobbik, which will be fielding a national list at the polls and says it is seeking an outright victory (pun intended).
However it is extremely unlikely that Jobbik would win but instead the odds are Fidesz will be returned to power. The left alliance led by the socialists MSzP and including the country’s liberals obviously is fighting to prevent that from happening. Yet a victory for the left would be to slash Fidesz’s current massive majority, which has seen it abuse Hungary’s democratic and civil rights and indeed to mimic Jobbik in its populist statements and actions. This has caused outrage in Washington and EU capitals.
Hungary’s general election campaign might be free but it will be far from fair. This has been highlighted this week after a report from Transparency International Hungary (TI), K-Monitor and They have united their efforts to find out how much parties are spending on their campaigns.
At their press conference on Monday in Budapest, they have introduced the website (Hungarian for hypocrisy), where the public can continuously follow how much each party is paying for their campaign.
In a statement they pointed out: “It is already blatantly obvious that the Fidesz-KDNP party (with the help of the Civil Alliance Forum /CÖF/ and the government) will exceed twice the campaign spending limit of one billion forints prescribed by legislation. However, it looks like this excessive spending will go without any consequences.”
The election campaign has over two weeks to run but it is already clear that until the end of February, Fidesz spent more than 2 billion, the left-wing Kormányváltás (Hungarian for ’change of government’) 680 million, while Jobbik 650 million and LMP 310 million forints. The TI, K-Monitor and  figures do not contain all the spending of the parties occurred in March, so numbers will grow further in the run-up to the elections.
The spending limit set by law is 1 billion. TI’s programme for the assessment of campaign spending examines all means of campaigning, by monitoring public billboards, media advertisements, direct marketing tools (postal letters, SMS messages, phone calls, personal contact), and also party events. The anti-corruption organisation also calculated the expenditure of parties on their campaign team, opinion polls, and promotional items.
TI says it is clear from the figures currently available that Fidesz has already exceeded the legally prescribed limit, if the governmental and civil advertisements supporting the party are taken in to account. Parties may spend 1 billion forints on their campaigns, of which 700 million forints may come from public funds.
The campaign of governing parties is also aided by advertisements of pseudo NGOs (the so-called GO-NGOs), such as the Civil Alliance Forum (CÖF), which on paper is independent from any political force, but is in reality blatantly campaigning in support of Fidesz. According to TI’s calculations, the price of CÖF’s campaign between November and February amounted to 570 million forints.
Not only pseudo-non-governmental organisations, but also the government itself is sponsoring Fidesz’s campaign. The government gave Fidesz a gift of 540 million forints, as this is how much the 'Hungary is performing better' campaign and the campaign advertising the utility price cuts that lay the foundations of the governing party’s election campaign have cost since November.
The billboards commissioned by GO-NGOs and government have so far cost altogether about 1 billion forints. As these support directly the campaign of Fidesz, TI added this amount to the party’s campaign expenses. But even without the campaign costs of CÖF and the government, Fidesz-KDNP's campaign costs have already reached 940 million, which is very close to the legally allowed limit of 1 billion, even though elections are still more than one month away.
Miklós Ligeti, TI's Legal Director stated: The new legislation on campaign financing is not suitable for eliminating campaign-related corruption. The parliament managed to adopt regulations, which the parties do not even have to break, if they want to spend unchecked on their campaigns".
Ligeti explained, the new legislation that entered into effect on January 1st does not prohibit the outsourcing of the campaign, that is, it does not deal with the spending of NGOs with close ties to parties, and does not limit government campaigning in any way. Under the legislation, the tariffs of public billboards do not need to be disclosed, which immensely contributes to the lack of transparency in campaign finance. Political advertisements in electronic media are free of charge, a step forward TI would theoretically welcome, but the way this regulation is put into practice annuls all its advantages. There are signs that commercial TV channels do not want to deal with the advertisements of political parties (with one major commercial channel only broadcasting government advertisements), and in addition, public media is heavily biased towards the government parties.
A further incomprehensible element of the regulation on campaign financing is that while independent electoral candidates - rightly - have to account for all public subsidies to the last forint, and if unsuccessful, will have to repay these, political parties have no such obligation. As TI warned several times in the past, there is a possibility that several parties only participate in the election to gain access to the generous allowance ensured by the state. For parties to have a nationwide candidate list, they need to collect 500 signatures in each of the 27 constituencies, and in return they are entitled to almost 149 million forints in public subsidies, which amount - depending on the recommendations collected – may climb as high as 600 million forints. In addition, the Hungarian Court of Auditors does not investigate the spending of unsuccessful 'sham parties' ex officio, but only in reported cases. The only positive element of the new legislation on campaigning is that the tariffs of political advertisements in the print media are made public.
So far, the experience with TI’s campaign monitoring suggests that Fidesz makes the most use of the loopholes of the campaign financing regulation. As a result, TI believes that the elections will be free, but not fair on many points.
And of course the free does not apply in the financial sense.

(One Forint is equal to around 0.0027 Sterling, 0.0032 euro and 0.0047 US$)

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on March 18 2014)


The other evening, within a matter of five minutes, I sent messages to socialist colleagues in France, Spain, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania via Facebook and received answers back. The content was more social than socialist but I could have easily been organizing a Europe-wide campaign or demonstration.

This is of amazement to me because I grew up in the post-War era where there were two ways to communicate: by letter or by face-to-face contact. True telephones did exist but they largely were the preserve of upper and middle class families. Housing estates tended to have a red public phone box to serve the community: it was the days before vandalism struck. Companies and governments were restricted to the letter and the telephone too although the larger ones also had telex.

So in my lifetime we have seen a profound change in how we communicate. However how government works, in a creaking and remote top down fashion, has not altered at all.

Modern communications via the internet, the social media, smart phones and tablets might be viewed by some as the media of the young. They are wrong. Just as I use Facebook and Twitter it is not unusual to see men and women of the generation before mine on the streets or in the supermarket clutching their smart phones. You no longer have to buy a newspaper or rush home for the main news broadcast to find out what is happening in the world: your smart phone will tell you in an instant.

So how can this massive shift in how we communicate impact beneficially on our politics? The answer comes in a new publication by Compass Chair Neal Lawson and Danish MP Uffee Elbaek. Compass promotes the concept of the Good Society and here it meets our new flat world. It is entitled: “The Bridge: how the politics of the future will link the vertical to the horizontal”. It makes stimulating reading.

In an article in The Guardian on the day of the publication’s launch the two co-authors wrote: “So what does the age of the internet, the smart phone and social networks give us? It gives us informed, enabled and empowered citizens because we can learn, talk and act together to solve the critical challenges in our world because traditional politics can’t reverse inequality or climate change.

“The old icebergs of state and corporation are dissolving into a flat and fluid sea where action only becomes meaningful in concert with others. The waves of change demand interconnections to flow because we know that all of us are smarter than anyone of us. Kickstarter, Wikipedia, Open Source, Mumsnet, The People Who Share and Thoughtworks are some of the first movers in a future that is being co-produced.”

The Bridge makes a very strong point which I believe is of key importance. I fear that many people believe that these mass movements either on the streets or the social media can change the world hence political parties or governments will no longer be necessary.  We have seen people power at work in Egypt and now in Ukraine. However once the tyrants fall, what then? As the journalist John Harris said at the recent Change: How? (Un)Conference “you can’t redistribute income sitting in a tent outside of St Paul’s”.

The Arab Spring started in Tunisia and it is there that the public protests have followed through to profound democratic change with a new constitution and parliament. This is stressed by Lawson and Elbaek who write: “But in these ‘new times’ political parties will still matter. After Tahrir Square or someday soon Trafalgar Square someone has to stand the candidates, cohere the manifesto, set the budgets and establish the policy basis for capacity building and be the ‘bridge’ between the state and the new horizontal movements.”

The message of The Bridge is - there is hope. It tells us: “Instead of trying to fit people to a bureaucratic state or a free market – we can bend this increasingly flat world to our values and us. We are all particles in the wave of a future that is ours to make.”

Some governments, especially in small countries, are already responding to this communications revolution. Estonia has embrace e-government and e-politics. Gibraltar is about to follow suit. Other governments allow its citizens access via the social media to question ministers directly and to hold them to account.

The Bridge concludes: “For the first time in a long time, radical egalitarian democrats face a future in which there is hope, real hope. The advances made in the last century were secured through bureaucratic and top down structures that were at best remote, and at worst, elitist. A good society was never going to be constructed through them as means clashed with ends. As such they simply paved the way for the free-market revolution in the closing decades of that century.

Today and tomorrow we build in a different way. We start with human beings and our infinite capacity for love, empathy and connection. Instead of trying to fit people to a bureaucratic state or a free market we bend this increasingly flat world to our values and ourselves. We are all particles in the wave of the future. If we get it right, modernity can again be on our side.

“To paraphrase Marx ‘we make history, but not in conditions of our choosing’. The context of our actions strongly influences the effect of those actions. But the context for those actions has never been better aligned with our beliefs. As the earth is flattened, the prospects for a good society rise. So we stand at a threshold – an era in which means and ends can be united – the more democratic and equal society, which we desire, is being made feasible by democratic and egalitarian behaviour. The future is ours to make. Because we can.”

To read The Bridge – click below.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on March 7 2014)