Referendum on top of referendum in Hungary? Or perhaps not

Ferenc Gyurcsány’s announcement on Monday that if the opposition parties don’t play ball he is going to the “people” and will hold a referendum on his seven points (aimed at starting housecleaning in politics and at trying to eliminate corruption) must have created havoc inside of Fidesz and the Christian Democratic parties. First, they called Gyurcsány’s suggestion “blackmail.” I have no doubt that there was an element of coercion in the suggestion, but it seems that it worked.

Fidesz needed a few hours to collect themselves, and by this morning they came up with their own idea of a referendum. But if Gyurcsány had seven points they would have eight. The eighth is a much smaller parliament. That is certainly a popular demand, but the Fidesz proposal of 200 seats is far too obvious because the magic 200 number seems to be advantageous only to Fidesz. And, of course, they didn’t just attach this demand to Gyurcsány’s seven points. For instance, they did not suggest a thorough overhaul of party financing or a satisfactory solution to the finances of youth organizations attached to the parties. They did, however, call for a ban on advertising by parties in the election campaigns. But so-called civil organizations could campaign on behalf of parties. Thus, Fidesz couldn’t advertise but the Magyar Vizsla, a notorious publication that was allegedly published by a civic group but turned out to be financed by Fides, could. This, of course, is unacceptable to the other parties. The question of campaign financing had been already discussed by the five parties and failed precisely because of this last-minute Fidesz demand.

So as of this morning it seemed that Fidesz wanted to have a referendum of its own. However, according to most observers, Fidesz announcement of a referendum was an empty threat because, although the two largest opposition parties have enough members in parliament to initiate such a referendum with the Electoral Committee, they don’t have the necessary simple majority in parliament to approve such a referendum. They either didn’t think things through in their great hurry or they actually forgot the rather complicated rules concerning the issue.

In any case, a few hours later the whole question became moot. The Fidesz caucus, most likely under some pressure from above, decided not to initiate (more precisely they postponed for the time being) proceedings for holding a referendum. Perhaps someone discovered that there was no possibility of having one or perhaps they realized that this would not be a good way to respond. Blackmail or no blackmail, they decided to sit down and negotiate.

This is where we stand for the time being. To me it seems that Gyurcsány won the first round, but Péter Szijjártó, Fidesz spokesman, made the dire prediction that “your (meaning the government’s) governing of this country is coming to an end.” We will see.