The MDF and Sólyom

First of all, I would like to thank Paul Hellyer for his kind words about my efforts on this blog; and, of course, I would also like to thank my growing number of readers (with special thanks to those who add value to this blog by writing insightful comments). By now I have followed Hungarian politics for 13 years. When I visited Hungary in 1993, three years after the change of regime, I realized that, although I was a diligent reader of the New York Times, I was totally ignorant about Hungarian politics. I immediately ordered three weeklies–in those days the internet was still in its infancy–and began to educate myself. Ever since I have been following events very closely. The reason I started my blog was to remedy the dearth of information on Hungarian politics in English. I thought there was a need. The positive responses seem to justify my decision. Thanks again to all my readers, and let’s hope we have a long, upbeat road ahead.

Well, not today. The surprise of the day, at least for me, was Ibolya Dávid’s negative reaction both to President Sólyom’s speech and to his way of dealing with political parties. After all, in 1989-1990 Sólyom was one of the spokesmen of the MDF at the Roundtable Discussions that led to a peaceful transition from one-party dictatorship (however mild) to democracy. I always thought that his political ideas were most akin to József Antall’s and now Ibolya Dávid’s MDF. (I’m now realizing that I was dead wrong.) The MDF members voted for him in his presidential bid in the last round, which resulted in a simple majority but a majority nevertheless. (The president is not elected directly but by members of parliament. The law governing the election states that in the first two rounds a two-thirds majority is needed but, I guess in desperation, the third time around a simple majority will do.) Ibolya Dávid’s critical words in today’s Népszabadság ( ) therefore surprised me. I can only interpret this as Sólyom’s total failure as a politician. By now even the moderate right of center party is dissatisfied with his performance.

Ibolya Dávid was very polite. She emphasized that she doesn’t want to get into a political discussion with the president via the media, but she nevertheless mentioned two things that obviously bothered her greatly.  One was Sólyom’s speedy retreat from the chamber. Dávid said the following: "How does the President expect the parties to follow his advice [on cooperation] when he leaves before the prime minister’s speech in which he outlined the government’s program; he gives encouragement to the Fidesz for its childish walk-outs." (A note of explanation: A year ago the Fidesz and Christian Democratic leadership decided that their parliamentary delegations, with the exception of the two leaders, Tibor Navracsics and Zsolt Semjén, would refuse to listen to Gyurcsány’s speeches. And the prime minister, as opposed to Viktor Orbán, talks every Monday. So when he talks they walk.) Dávid’s second point was that not once did Sólyom call together the chairmen of the five parliamentary parties for discussions. Or rather, he did it once but two days later he changed his mind–the leaders of the parliamentary delegations would suffice. It was obvious to everybody at the time that the changed agenda was the result of Viktor Orbán’s refusal to sit down at the same table with Ferenc Gyurcsány. Of course, if László Sólyom were even-handed, he wouldn’t have changed his plans. He would have called together the chairmen and, if Orbán refused to attend, it would have been obvious to everybody which party refuses to cooperate. But no, he gave in and offered a helping hand to Viktor Orbán.

The reaction was swift from Sándor Palace. Sólyom sent his spokesman Ferenc Kumin–whom lately the Hungarian media likes to call his "famulus" (in Latin "house servant, slave")–to explain. Ibolya Dávid’s statement needs "a bit of correction." The meeting in August about which Dávid was speaking was never intended to be a gathering of party chairmen but rather a meeting of the heads of delegations. This is not how I remember it, but then perhaps I’m suffering from early Alzheimer’s. Or perhaps the media didn’t report it accurately. Or perhaps this is classic "spokesman spin."

Whatever the case, I must conclude that László Sólyom is singularly unsuited for his job.