Seven or eight points: MSZP and Fidesz

Today I had an opportunity to compare Prime Minister Gyurcsány’s seven-point anti-corruption suggestions and the Fidesz’s eight points that they initially offered for referendum consideration. The differences say a lot about the two sides. So, let’s take a quick look at these points, side by side for easier comparison. The Gyurcsány suggestions are followed by an "A" after the number and those of the Fidesz by a "B."

(1A) To enact new, stricter laws concerning the financing of parties and their campaigns. (1B) To reduce the number of parliamentary members from 386 to 200.

(2A) To put an end to the ambiguous situation of the youth organizations of the different parties. (2B) To make public the tax returns of members of the government and members of parliament.

(3A) To make civic organizations completely free of political influence. (3B) To forbid any political ads in the press and in public places.

(4A) To accept the strictest law in Europe regarding conflict of interest. (4B) Not to raise the salaries of parliamentary members until the introduction of the euro.

(5A) To have universal, regular and compulsory examination of high-level civil servants’ personal wealth. (5B) To set the salaries of members of the government at the 2002 level.

(6A) To ban parliamentary members from holding any other positions. (This would restore the status quo prior to 1994.) (6B) To examine the personal wealth of members of the government and parliamentary members.

(7A) To make the salaries of members of parliament more transparent and verifiable. (7B) To make public all the incomes of members of parliament.

(8B)To have stricter laws regarding political ads, including that government organizations could not advertise.

Well, even without going into the details it is apparent that the Fidesz is much more interested in controlling and checking the government while saying practically nothing about campaign finances. In fact, they propose going as far as to reduce the salaries of ministers and undersecretaries to the level of 2002, which would mean halving their current salaries. Admittedly, they also want to freeze the salaries of the members of parliament until God knows when since we have no idea when Hungary will be able to fulfil the requirements for the introduction of the euro. Their current salary is so low that it is not at all surprising that they try somehow to increase it by not the most legal means. To keep the current situation until perhaps 2014 is merely to continue to encourage corruption. They don’t want to triple or quadruple the current level of budgetary support for the parties that would be necessary to curb the illegal gathering of money for the campaigns but rather would forbid the current practice of reaching the public through giant posters and advertising in the media. The Fidesz also doesn’t touch on the civic organizations and their affiliation with parties. Of course, this is not surprising because these "civic organizations" are mostly associatiated with the Fidesz. After all, it was Viktor Orbán whose brainchild to create a whole network of civic organizations that would be in place when "the call" comes. I jokingly call them the "civic cells," since they remind me of the old Bolshevik "party cells." The last demand, that government organizations couldn’t advertise, is just plum silly. Let’s take an example. European Union subsidies arrive in Hungary. The government must make their availability public somehow. Let’s say that the Ministry of Health is reorganizing healthcare in Hungary and the parliament approves a series of bills concerning the healthcare reforms. Somehow the government must inform the people of the new rules and regulations. And I could continue. As for their chief demand–I think that’s why they placed it at the head of their list–the Hungarian electoral law is very complicated. The parliament is a combination of seats won by individual candidates in their district and those won, on the basis of the overall popular vote, by the different parties. The current system was carefully hammered out on the basis of a 386-member parliament. There have been several subsequent attempts to come up with a solution that would be acceptable to all five parties, but no one has ever managed. The Fidesz insisted on the smallest parliament of 200 members that apparently wouldn’t be good for anyone else. Continuing on down their list, I assume everybody will notice that there is not a word about forbidding parliamentary members from having jobs in addition to their work in parliament and in their districts. Today I heard Olga Kálmán of ATV ask Péter Szijjártó about this missing item on the list. Szijjártó muttered something about the Fidesz’s intentions for immediate action on this question. That is, those members who are also mayors must choose at this very moment. This flies in the face of basic legal principles. The parliamentarians were elected for a four-year term under the old rules; you cannot say half way through: sorry, the rules have changed. It is certainly understandable why the Fidesz would like such a solution. At the moment by-elections would heavily favor them. And more than half of the current members have more than one job.

However, in a way this latest brainchild of Orbán and Navracsics is already passé. After all, they have returned to the negotiating table because, yes, the prime minister’s blackmail worked. Now comes the SZDSZ whose recent politics are not to my liking. They don’t approve of Gyurcsány’s threat of a possible referendum on these very popular questions in case the Fidesz doesn’t play ball. One of their leaders, Gábor Fodor, minister for the environment, explained to Olga Kálmán tonight that these discussions belong in parliament and not at the ballot box. Kálmán very rightly pointed out that for years the parties have been discussing the financing of parties, a smaller parliament, campaign financing, and they don’t get anywhere. Doesn’t it make sense to tell them that if you don’t get somewhere with these vital questions then we will ask the people, who are tired of all these useless negotiations, to decide? Then comes an angelic smile on Fodor’s face (he specializes in angelic smiles!) as he explains that after all the five parties managed to agree on some kind of environmental question. To compare an environmental issue to party financing or to parliamentarians’ jobs is inane. The latter could deeply hurt the very people’s interests who are supposed to make the decisions. They could eliminate their own parliamentary seats, they could deprive themselves of a substantial portion of their own salaries, they could lose a great deal of influence in decision making on the local level. And one could continue. This is a very difficult proposition, and let’s hope that Gyurcsány managed to convince them that, in their own interest and in the long run, all these decisions must be made. (In the U.S. corporate world they would be offered a golden parachute–or, at least, decent severance pay. Perhaps there could be some incentive for Hungarian politicians as well, as long as it was transparent and met with public approval.)