A new Hungarian referendum or something else?

Perhaps the faithful readers remember that a few days ago I mentioned a caller to György Bolgár’s KlubRádió program who came up with a brilliant idea from the point of view of the governing coalition: if the Fidesz refuses to vote for the prime minister’s seven points aiming at making Hungarian political life cleaner and more transparent, then he personally is ready to propose a referendum on the question. Bolgár liked the idea. So did I. I predicted that if such a referendum took place, Gyurcsány "would be the hero of the day" because the overwhelming majority of the electorate is sick and tired of the current situation. Sick and tired that parliamentary members don’t have to show receipts for their expenses, sick and tired that parties spend ten to fifteen times more money on campaigns than is allowed by law and no one knows where this money comes from, sick and tired of some members having a second job and not doing either well because they are physically incapable of fulfilling all their obligations. After all, the day has only twenty-four hours.

Of course, there are many objections, especially from those who are also mayors. Losing one of their jobs would mean losing money and influence. Their numbers are pretty high and roughly equally divided between the government parties and the opposition. The MSZP members were not at all happy. One of them, József Karsai, also mayor of Battonya, a small town close to the Romanian border, got himself into such a state that a physician had to be called! The SZDSZ was less emotional, but the proposal that being a member of parliament is a full time job bothers them too: after all, a university professor should be able to give lectures while serving as member of parliament. (I don’t know why. I can’t imagine, for example, that Tibor Navracsics can properly prepare his weekly lectures at the law faculty of the University of Budapest [ELTE].)

The media loved the rebellion in the MSZP ranks. One could already hear that Gyurcsány would be ousted by the revolting caucus because a certain parliamentary member–known for his often irresponsible statements–said that there is no such thing as an irreplacable man in politics. Of course, the honorable member is right in theory, but at this moment I can’t think of anyone in the MSZP who could possibly stand a chance of leading the party to victory in 2010 except Ferenc Gyurcsány. If the MSZP wants to commit political suicide, they can follow those who once already led them down the garden path when they insisted on Katalin Szili’s candidacy for the presidency.

However, over the weekend newer information began to reach the public that, after all, the intra-party rebellion is not so serious. Only the mayor of Battonya, whose blood pressure did not respond well when he heard that he might have to give up one job or the other (and perhaps there might even be problems with his very substantial agrarian business), remained a public voice against parliamentary reform. And even he, when I saw him on Saturday on television, was in a less belligerent mood than at the meeting of the MSZP caucus a couple of days before. Perhaps the MSZP lawmakers rethought the party’s situation, the electorate’s very low opinion of politics and politicians in general, the latest scandals, and changed their minds. If they don’t want to go down to defeat (and maybe lose both jobs instead of just one), it may be time to follow the prime minister. By Sunday evening, Gyurcsány apparently had his people behind him. They might not like the situation, but they don’t have a choice.

Gyurcsány, as opposed to former prime ministers, makes a speech in parliament every Monday, and every week he has some surprise. This Monday was no different. In a very eloquent speech he announced that if those proposals that need a two-thirds majority to pass are not supported by the Fidesz, the government will make a "meta-proposal"–to hold a referendum on the questions. In one of Orbán’s "constructive opposition" moves, when Gyurcsány speaks the Fidesz and the Christian Democrats walk out. Only the two leaders–Tibor Navracsics and Zsolt Semjén–remain in the chamber because they are supposed to respond to what the prime minister had to say. I must say poor Navracsics was in agony today. It was not easy to say something that would be both appropriate and acceptable to the Hungarian public that does want these reforms. He muttered that the ministers and undersecretaries should also make public their financial situation. But most of the ministers and undersecretaries are also members of parliament and thus their financial situation is already known. Moreover, I doubt that the few who are not parliamentary members would oppose submitting yearly financial statements.

Although I heard only part of Gyurcsány’s speech, he is (especially when the situation is serious and the business on hand is urgent) capable of giving brilliant speeches. This was one of those. First of all, he usually speaks without notes. He holds a piece of paper in his hands but never looks down. I heard him talk about his preparation for his speeches. Everything is in his head. He apparently sorts out his thoughts, walks up and down in his study, and that’s that. There are some people who are just born orators. I have met a few like him and they are impressive.

The question is whether Gyurcsány is really serious about this referendum or whether he is just using the threat of a referendum to achieve his aims in parliament. I suspect the latter. Whatever, it is a brilliant move.