A great day for the Hungarian government

Today was a parliamentary marathon. After weeks of discussion on the budget and the health care reforms, at last came the day of reckoning. Despite rumors that some MSZP members would not support the health care legislation, in the final count the MSZP and SZDSZ delegates unanimously voted for it. Katalin Szili took the easy way out: she decided to preside over the house and therefore was not eligible to vote. Of course, if she had wanted to, she could have asked one of her assistants to take over her duties at the time of the voting, but very wisely she opted to stay on the dais. This way she didn’t completely burn her bridges behind her.

József Karsai, an MSZP outlier, voted for the controversial bill. Fidesz demonstrators who gathered in front of his house on Saturday to persuade him to vote against the bill failed. (I might comment here on the reliability of the right-wing HírTV: it announced on Saturday that Karsai had promised the demonstrators that he would vote against the bill. Karsai says the opposite: that he told the crowd that they were misinformed about his views and that there was nothing in the bill he couldn’t support.)

The vote on the budget was a no brainer. The MSZP-SZDSZ members voted for it while the opposition members voted against it.

A less critical but nonetheless interesting event today was the vote on two ombudsmen nominated by President Sólyom. I’m sure that I have already talked about Sólyom’s odd way of nominating candidates for these positions. He, the great constitutional scholar, decided that according to the constitution he doesn’t have to consult with the parties before announcing his choices. Prior to his tenure, the former two presidents always consulted with the parties before submitting the names. The president mentioned a few names and waited for the reaction. If it was clear that there was no hope of getting enough votes for X or Y, he came up with another name. Even the American president, who has infinitely greater power than his Hungarian counterpart, consults with party leaders about his nominees. Sólyom already put forth several candidates who were not confirmed, but he doesn’t seem to learn.

This time Sólyom asked for confirmation of two of his appointees. Attila Péterfalvi, the current ombudsman responsible for privacy issues, was to be reappointed. Boldizsár Nagy was nominated to be the ombudsman of an entirely new area: ombudsman of future generations. It sounds a bit grandiose, but basically he would have been the guardian of the environment. The final word from the MSZP was that the caucus en bloc would reject Péterfalvi but that members of the caucus could vote according to their conscience on Boldizsár Nagy. (According to rumors the MSZP considered Péterfalvi too close to the Fidesz, but to tell you the truth I found his positions simply off the wall. It didn’t matter whether they had a right or a left hue.) The Fidesz announced that they would support both candidates. Most likely that the Fidesz hoped that the president would not the sign the health bill on constitutional grounds and that it might be wise to butter him up a bit.

The vote on President Sólyom’s appointees was by secret ballot and therefore we can only guess where the votes came from. To begin with: neither candidate received the necessary two-thirds of the votes. Péterfalvi surprisingly received more votes than Boldizsár Nagy: 207 yeas and 143 nays. Nagy received only 98 yeas and 245 nays. Two interesting observations. Some MSZP members, in spite of the agreed-upon rejection of Péterfalvi, must have broken with party discipline and voted for him. And similarly, in spite of Fidesz’s assurances that they en bloc supported both candidates, some of its members must have voted "no" on Nagy. Sólyom, who was present during the vote, left the building in a great hurry. Some people think that the parties wanted to teach the president that his ways need correction. If you ask me, I don’t think that Sólyom learns anything from such events. He will not change his mind. He is far too stubborn.

Another good piece of news for the government came from outside of parliament. This morning the strike began, and it was even less successful than the one in November. Although István Gaskó swore that they would strike until the government withdraws its healthcare proposals, this evening he capitulated and announced that the strike was over.

The government can surely celebrate.