And here comes the linguist

There’s a huge upheaval in Fidesz circles. Just when the door seemed to be wide open for holding a nationwide referendum on six different questions, all formulated so that they would serve the party’s purpose, someone had the audacity to come up with three differently formulated questions. The topics are the same, but it is clear how a different formulation of the same question can change the possible answers. The first Fidesz reaction was, as usual, that Prime Minister Gyurcsány was personally lurking behind this impertinent move. As if only the Fidesz could go to the National Election Committee and ask them to decide whether or not a question is appropriate to be put on the ballot. This is, of course, a rather bizarre interpretation of the constitution.

The government spokesman denied that the government knew anything about the unknown person’s petition to the committee. They learned about the whole affair only from the media. The National Election Committee is not supposed to make public the petitioner’s name, but by this morning HírTV (a Hungarian CNN), basically a Fidesz mouthpiece, knew not only the name of the petitioner but also his address as well. Although HírTV refused to give up its source, there is no question that the leak had to come from the National Election Committee. And since the information was sent to HírTV, it seems obvious, at least to me, that the information came from either a Fidesz delegate or a Fidesz sympathizer.

The petitioner is László Kálmán, a distinguished linguist, whose curriculum vitae is most impressive. ( ). He found the Fidesz’s questions so badly written and so misleading that he felt he had to do something. Here are the results of his labor:

(1) Fidesz version: "Do you agree that medications available without a prescription should be sold only in pharmacies?" Kálmán’s version: " Do you agree that medications available without a prescription could also be sold outside of pharmacies?"

(2) Fidesz version: "Do you agree that medical facilities and hospitals should remain in the hands of the state or the local governments?" Kálmán’s version: "Do you agree that local governments should freely decide on the manner in which they dispense health care?"

(3) Fidesz version: Do you agree that–as it is laid down in the Act of 1994/LV which was still in force as of June 15, 2005–the family farmer should have the right of first refusal in case of purchasing of arable land or homestead?" Kálmán’s version: "Do you agree that the cultivator of the land should have the right of first refusal in case the land is up for sale?"

Now, the Electoral Committee can start the whole ridiculous procedure from the very beginning.They have to decide which version to accept or perhaps should they approve both versions. Ildikó Lendvai, the parliamentary leader of the MSZP, already expressed her personal opinion that if Kálmán’s questions are approved, the party perhaps could support them.

It would be interesting if at the end there would be no referendum at all. It is not an impossibility.

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Amazing how language can affect the way we form our opinions and choices. Kàlmàn’s redesign of the questions certainly helped revealing the Fidesz agenda in the original questions. Great post!