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June 26, 2022

Political longevity

Marko Bela has been the president of UDMR for over 17 years. He is the longest reigning party leader in Romania, elected seven times consecutively by the formation’s congress. He has been Deputy Prime-Minister in several governments and survived the competition of rival factions in the party he managed to marginalise over time. Now, his authority in the party is almost flawless and a new candidacy is not at all far-fetched.

However, his almost two decades at the helm of UDMR do not give him life tenure and a change may bring a breath of fresh air the party now misses. The balance-sheet of the team headed by Marko Bela is more than positive. Almost all his political aims have been fulfilled. The fact that now mayors and policemen who speak in Hungarian publicly no longer cause outrage and purely Hungarian high-schools no longer seem like an unacceptable exception, that ministries, prefectures and government agencies are led by Hungarian ethnics, that bilingual sign posts can be seen pretty much everywhere in Transylvania is all thanks to the policy conducted by Marko Bela’s team. Of all other projects proposed, the setting up of a public university in Hungarian, the teaching of History and Geography in the national minorities’ mother tongues, the adoption of the law on cultural autonomy and the remapping of the regions of economic development so that one would coincide with the historical Szeckely Land have not been carried out. As for the political autonomy of the Szeckely Land, in Marko’s case, it has never gone over the border of pure rhetoric, his political realism being strong enough to discourage adventures without finality.

Such projects have nonetheless remained the task of other, more provocative and frustrated leaders, such as Laszlo Tokes. Without being a ‘lab developed’ strategy, the alternation of radical and a more moderate rhetoric has worked for the benefit of both sides. By that, Marko Bela gained his statute as a decent and pragmatic leader, while his rival Tokes gradually turned into the standard of people embracing maximal views. To his own electorate, the UDMR president appeared for a long time as the most efficient leader, Tokes being on the other hand esteemed for his more decisive spirit and more ambitious objectives. Although a competing party could not impose (PCM turning out to be a semi-failure from a political point of view), a kind of political fatigue can nonetheless be sensed in the ranks of a party seemingly unable to refresh itself.

The only new and younger leader of UDMR is Kelemn Hunor, currently Minister of Culture, ‘brought up’ by Marko as a possible heir. Zsolt Nagy, once a minister himself, is another young leader Marko seemed to be promoting as a future party leader, but he had to step back after his association with a few major scandals. The only members of the Marko team who have preserved a more distinctly contoured profile are Peter Eckstein, Gyorgy Frunda and Laszlo Borbely. The first has always supported the present of his party with rare critical positions, except for the last two years when he has been somewhat marginalised. He nevertheless played the card of the ‘political platform’ leader in UDMR, with more liberal views, mainly on matters of legislative reform. Appointed as presidential adviser on minorities matter almost a year ago, he has been associated with Traian Basescu’s attempts at attracting parties into his sphere of interest by concealed manoeuvring. His recent statement of intention regarding his candidacy for the candidacy as party president was not spared of the suspicion of a presidential endorsement.
The president would prefer someone more subservient than the versatile and yet uncomfortable Marko. However, it is little probable that the UDMR members may elect a leader who is too little impregnated by autonomist rhetoric, with modest connections in the Hungarian politics (the Hungarian Liberals are a relatively small opposition party) and not exactly popular. More popular is Gyorgy Frunda who once ran for Romania’s presidency. His opposition to Marko’s policy has become more determinate recently, the leader taking a stance against ruling at any price, under any conditions and with any partner. Laszlo Borbely is someone loyal to the UDMR president, distributed to all the governments where the Union was present and his election instead of him would just mean an extension of the Marko epoch. Kelemen Hunor has not yet proved any political originality, but the support of the president in office could be a plus making the difference.

He most redoubtable candidate is still Marko Bela. With major influence in a party that has known the good taste of power for an unexpectedly long time, without charismatic challengers or impetuous reformists, well integrated in the Romanian political system, with an enviable experience, Marko has one flaw: too many years at the helm of a party. His team’s political programme is already old and no new energies can be sensed at the top either. If at least he was encouraged by a young team, the shift of generations would have occurred in a more natural manner. But his determination to strictly control his party limited his choices today when he could lose power unless he runs for an eight time. However, he is still the favourite.

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