Grand coalition in Hungary: a singularly bad idea

Lajos Kósa, mayor of Debrecen, member of parliament, and one of the deputies of Viktor Orbán in the Fidesz, surprised a lot of people when in his speech on October 23 he, against the proclaimed aims of his party leader, suggested that instead of constant opposition to the government, the Fidesz and the MSZP should actually form a grand coalition. After all, the country–according to him and his fellow Fidesz politicians–is in real economic and political crisis. It took Viktor Orbán a few days to recover from hearing this blasphemy, but then he categorically refused to entertain such an idea. Not that I could see much enthusiasm for a grand coalition on the other side either. Idle talk, I said, and it would be really foolish of the MSZP to form such a coalition. One is only too familiar with Orbán’s behavior toward his coalition partners: soon enough there would be no MSZP, I said only half jokingly.

György Bolgár, on the other hand, was enthusiastic, not about the grand coalition per se but about the cooperation offered by Kósa. Bolgár is a man of peace. He is a man who always urges dialogue. The two sides should talk each other and perhaps then there would be a solution to the problems. No one can doubt Mr. Bolgár’s good intentions, but his own attempts at having intelligent conversations with right radicals on his own talk-show normally end in total fiasco. The right-wing caller usually raises his voice and rarely allows Bolgár to say a word. Neither side can convince the other. The two sides’ positions are too far apart.

Tamás Bauer, an economist and former SZDSZ politician, wrote a piece in today’s Népszava in which he devoted considerable time to the analysis of Kósa’s mistaken ideas about the German grand coalition which, according to the mayor of Debrecen, "was forced upon the politicians by the German intellectuals and the German media." Kósa talked about the "German miracle," which is the result of this cooperation between left and right.

Bauer first of all corrects some of Kósa’s misconceptions concerning the origins of the German grand coalition. He rightly points out that the formation of the grand coalition had nothing to do with the German intellectuals or the members of the press; it was forced upon the CDU-SCU and the SPD because neither side could convince the smaller parties (the liberals and the greens) to join them to form a government. Moreover, the "German miracle" is not the result of the grand coalition; rather, favorable economic forces are responsible for the improved German economic numbers of late.

The Hungarian political situation cannot be compared to the German emergency situation that was responsible for forming the grand coalition. The MSZP-SZDSZ coalition has a comfortable majority in parliament, and therefore there is no need for such a solution. Moreover, says Bauer, there is another problem with a grand coalition in Hungary. In Germany the CDU-SPD grand coalition has a fairly large three-party opposition. In Hungary, if the MSZP and the Fidesz formed a government, there would be practically no opposition. It would work almost like a one-party system where the government can do practically anything it wants. Bauer brings to our attention some past occasions when the opposition voted together with the government and the results were rather disastrous. For example, the "status law," which would have given special privileges for Hungarians living in the surrounding countries. That time the MSZP, as the opposition party, voted for the proposal. An outcry in Romania and Slovakia soon followed. Or later, when the Fidesz, by that time in opposition, voted together with the Medgyessy government about the "program of the one hundred days" which, among other things, included the fifty percent raise for state employees. The current economic problems began with this piece of legislation.

Today, says Bauer, when the two big parties could count on 95% of the parliamentary seats, a grand coalition would mean that there would be no opposition to speak of. There would be no effective public scrutiny. In a democracy there should be give and take between the majority and the minority parties, sometimes resulting in compromise, sometimes in stalemate. For the most part this happens in public view, not behind closed doors.

In brief, the notion of a grand coalition in Hungary is both theoretically flawed and, for all practical purposes, dead. We’ll continue to watch the parties slug it out.