Everybody is fed up with everybody and everything

Viktor Orbán says "it’s enough." Ferenc Gyurcsány has also had enough of Orbán’s accusations and said "that’s enough."  He is also fed up with the squabbles over health insurance between the experts of the MSZP and the SZDSZ. Katalin Szili, the speaker of the House, is most likely fed up with Ferenc Gyurcsány in general but right now in particular because the prime minister wants to have a bit of order in the House as well as in its members’ accounting practices. As it stands, parliamentary members now don’t have to show receipts for expenses incurred in connection with their jobs. Right now, says she, is the wrong time. But it always seems to be the wrong time. Interestingly enough, with the exception of MDF, all parliamentary parties are in perfect harmony on this issue of protecting their turf. The Fidesz and the SZDSZ–usually the greatest of enemies–wholeheartedly agree that, after all, it’s not the government that supervises the parliament but vice versa. And, of course, the radical right, however splintered, is totally fed up with this "dictatorship" and with Ferenc Gyurcsány. According to the "leader" of the Magyar Nemzeti Bizottság (Hungarian National Committee), László Gonda, he and his followers are so fed up with the prime minister that they will demonstrate until he resigns. All one hundred of them, who started off today at the statue of Mihály Károlyi and ended up at Gyurcsány’s house in the II. district (quite a hike). It is worth mentioning that Gonda’s followers are perhaps lacking the necessary persistence. By the time they got to the house, half of them became very, very tired and went home.

László Gonda and his demonstrators most likely couldn’t upset Gyurcsány very much. First of all, there was a cordon around the house and more policemen than demonstrators. Second, and this is more important, he most likely had a very good day at the first board meeting of the MSZP after the summer recess. He was apparently in good form, spoke for about an hour, and gave one of his best performances. There were no members griping about this or that. He was most critical of the endless "discussions" between the two governing parties over health insurance. They keep meeting, and after each meeting the participants repeat the same refrain: an "agreement is very close, but not quite." Meanwhile, the new system is supposed to be in place by the beginning of next year. As far as I can figure out, the topic of disagreement is over regional insurers versus freely chosen insurers. The MSZP’s original idea was to regionalize a single national insurance company. The other side argued–I think correctly–that this would eliminate competition and only expand the bureaucracy. Originally, the SZDSZ wanted seven or eight insurers (state and private combined) but no regionalization of their competence. Eventually, they had to give in, and they agreed to a combination of the two ideas. That is, the country would be divided into insurance regions and each region would have a default insurer. However, if a person thinks that an insurer outside of the region gives better service, he/she can change providers. This is where we stand now, but for some reason no agreement is in sight.

Gyurcsány rightly pointed out that this endless discussion doesn’t lead anywhere. The politicians involved in these discussion are "frustrated" because they feel that "this or that side dictates to them." He added: "Go home and and throw a tantrum there." No wonder, he said, that the people rightly feel that "these politicians have lost their minds because they are talking about spots of leopards, spots of cows, ribs of worms, stripes of tigers." No joke, some of these experts described the different schemes in those terms. "It is time to finish these discussions and come to a rational compromise." And finally he came up with his big gun: "It is not enough to be big, one has to have the majority in case 2005 didn’t teach us that." What he is referring to is that because of Katalin Szili’s ambitions for the post of presidency the country ended up with László Sólyom since the SZDSZ refused to support her and abstained.

If I were Katalin Szili, I would not stand in the way of changing compensation rules for parliamentary members. As it stands, the basic pay of the members is far too low. They can’t really live on it. So all sorts of tricks are employed. One is that members who are also serving on committees immediately get a 50% boost in their salary. Travel expenses and expenses for housing in Budapest for those from other parts of the country are compensated without showing receipts. One Fidesz parliamentary member as a result of these expense accounts managed to get 10 million forints while his basic pay is 230,000 per month! Committee meetings shouldn’t be scheduled when plenary sessions are held (Mondays and Tuesdays) but apparently they are. Committee members don’t show up at meetings and often send substitutes. These are the kinds of things Gyurcsány doesn’t like. Rightly so. The basic salary should be raised and compensation for fictive expenses eliminated. I am glad that the MDF is willing partner. I think this stance should boost their popularity. Because if anyone is really fed up it is the Hungarian public with the "political elite."

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Paul Hellyer

Katalin Szili strikes me as the most ambitious and competent of the current bunch of political elite. And I mean that without wanting to damn her with faint praise. Clearly she is angling for the top job and I predict she will one day be Hungary’s first Prime Minister, or perhaps win the second prize and be President. I notice that she now wears a prosthetic arm, rather than not. One doesn’t like to comment or be distracted by such things, but the fact that she has chosen to mask this fact, speaks volumes to her ambition.
She is very “European” and manages to please both the Right with her obvious “Hungariannes” (she actively visits Hungarians “beyond the borders”), and the Left with her commitment to democratic norms and abhorrence to all that nastiness that simmers barely below the surface of FIDESZ and its supporters. Clearly one to watch out for.

Paul Hellyer

I meant to say, “Hungary’s first woman Prime Minister”…..