Gyurcsány versus Orbán: The second round

Three days ago (on October 10) I concluded my article by saying that, in my opinion, Gyurcsány had won the first round in the latest bout between the government and the Fidesz-Christian Democratic opposition. Confronted with a corruption scandal focused on an MSZP politician, Gyurcsány displayed great political acumen. Orbán has always been viewed as the great tactician; indeed, pessimistic Hungarians of left-liberal persuasion keep repeating that Orbán always wins, that there is no way of outfoxing him. (These people forget that, after all, Orbán has managed to lose two elections.) Well, I think he has met his match in Ferenc Gyurcsány. No wonder that Orbán’s main preoccupation for over a year now has been to remove the prime minister from office. He would be satisfied–says he–if the MSZP came up with a different prime minister and would talk to the new person. (He refuses to talk with Gyurcsány.)

While reporters and commentators predicted Gyurcsány’s failure within his own party, I was almost certain that that the rumors concerning the rebellion within the party’s parliamentary caucus was greatly exaggerated. I listened rather carefully to Ildikó Lendvai, leader of the caucus, as she answered questions concerning the mood within the caucus, because I trust her to offer only minimal spin. She said: "Yes, especially those who currently fill two positions and who would be deprived of one were unhappy. They didn’t like the idea that their situation is addressed in the seven points because these points are, after all, basically anti-corruption measures. However, the caucus supports the prime minister and his seven points."

And indeed. It took the caucus six hours to discuss the seven points (which actually turned out to be eight, because the MSZP decided to accept one of the Fidesz proposals, namely making public the tax returns of members of the government). In the end everything passed. Gyurcsány made a short speech at the beginning of the negotiations and then let the discussion flow freely among the different factions. One assumes that Gyurcsány knew before the negotiations began that his program had the support of the caucus. The only compromise, and that a minor one, is that sitting mayors can be candidates for a parliamentary seat in the spring 2010 national elections and for their local office in the fall 2010 municipal elections. If they win both elections, they have until the end of the year to decide which job to keep.

Gyurcsány worked on two fronts to enact his measures. First, of course, he had to gain the support of his own caucus. But, second, he squelched potential tactics by the other side to undermine his efforts. And so quietly, on the day of Gyurcsány’s speech in parliament about the seven points, a government employee submitted Gyurcsány’s seven points to the electoral committee in charge of referendum initiatives. This was insurance in case the Fidesz didn’t cooperate. The opposition called it blackmail; Gyurcsány and Lendvai referred to it as "a little pressure."  Well, perhaps it wasn’t exactly friendly persuasion (and, for those who get the movie reference, the Hungarian parliament isn’t exactly a Quaker meetinghouse either), but it was effective.

And what was the Fidesz’s answer? They unearthed an old case (1990-1993) involving a company where János Veres, minister of finance, worked as a manager handling such matters as loans. The case, however, involved VAT fraud (committed in a completely different department) and never mentioned Veres’s name. Nonetheless, the Fidesz demands that the minister of finance be sacked because of this old case. Gyurcsány already announced that he has no intention of letting Veres go. Veres is, after all, a very successful minister of finance, the architect of the convergence program; all of the goals he set forth for Brussels he has more than fulfilled. Brussels is very satisfied with him and thus with Hungary.

I’m afraid that this is a very feeble attempt at counterattack. Monday the detailed plan for the eight proposals will be ready to discuss in parliament. Round two for Gyurcsány!