Gyurcsány’s program and its opponents in the MSZP and SZDSZ

A few days ago there was a cartoon in Népszava that depicted a common Hungarian perception: Gyurcsány charges ahead while fewer and fewer people follow him. The MSZP’s left wing headed by Katalin Szili opposes him. They look at the polls and find the results disheartening; moreover, they don’t believe that Gyurcsány is really a socialist. According to them, Gyurcsány’s policies put him in the liberal, not the socialist, camp.

But the leadership of the liberal SZDSZ doesn’t embrace his policies either. The leaders (Kóka, Horn, Eörsi) think–in my opinion mistakenly–that they can revive their party’s sagging popularity by opposing the government. The very government of which they are a part. Perhaps, they think, if they oppose the budget for 2008 they will be more popular.

The discussion of next year’s budget has begun in parliament. Not surprisingly, the Fidesz, being an opposition party, attacks it. They think that a few extra billion could be found for social welfare purposes (though they forget to tell where these billions would come from). This is a perfectly acceptable reaction from the opposition. It would be strange if they voted for the budget. But that János Kóka, SZDSZ minister of economics and transport, out of the blue suggests measures that would considerably reduce tax revenues while increasing expenditures, is more than strange. It’s Incredible! Unbelievable!

Thus, the left wing of the MSZP and the SZDSZ see eye to eye: let’s slow down, spend more money, and try to appease the Hungarian population. There is another point where these unlikely allies agree: demanding any referendum, including of course the MSZP’s, is a populist trick. It’s true that the whole referendum mania started with the Fidesz, but Gyurcsány, they claim, was just as bad when he threatened the parties with a nationwide referendum if there is no agreement in parliament on his eight-point legislative proposal. (And there’s no rush to sign these proposals into law.) Some of proposals could be passed by a simple majority vote, but it’s uncertain whether enough members of the government parties would rally round the cause. Moreover, other proposals need a two-thirds majority, which could never be achieved given the current makeup of parliament. Only a simple majority is needed to set the wheels in motion for the referendum, but the SZDSZ is at best a reluctant ally here (and possibly a no-show when it’s time to vote). Their argument is that, even if the Hungarian people approved the government proposals, parliament would still have to vote them into law–once again, some by a simple majority, others by a two-thirds majority. So the government proposals would have come full circle, no closer to being signed into law.

On the surface it looks as if the prime minister and his closest entourage is losing the battle. The members of the media definitely help solidify this perception. Every day there is a new article contemplating Gyurcsány’s demise as prime minister and speculating on who will replace him. Perhaps even before 2010. Because, after all, the MSZP’s numbers in the polls are pretty devastating. But, as I have said elsewhere, these polls are somewhat misleading. The situation is not good from the MSZP’s point of view, but not as bad as it looks at first. The size of those who are unsure how they would vote is huge, something like 40% of the population, and among the undecided there are more who previously voted for the MSZP than who voted for the Fidesz.

Of course, all will depend on whether 2008 and 2009 are better economically than 2007 was. If yes, the MSZP may still recover. One thing is sure, Gyurcsány will try his darndest. On Tuesday he begins a ten-day tour of the countryside. He will be visiting villages and talking to local political and economic leaders about how to take advantage of the billions coming from Brussels. He will be spending nights in the villages. Either in modest motels or in private homes, wherever it is possible. He is not a bad politician. Őszöd or no Őszöd.