I’m not exactly surprised that the health care reform bill passed easily the second time around. There was a difference of only two votes: József Karsai (MSZP) and an independent member voted "no" this time. It is fairly difficult to fathom the thinking of these two gentlemen because the bill was practically the same. When Karsai voted against the bill, the opposition members cheered wildly while representatives of his own party yelled: "Why don’t you sit over there among them?" The MSZP has had enough of Karsai, and apparently there will be serious consequences of his actions. They might strip him of his membership on committees, which will affect his monthly paycheck.
Again, not surprisingly, there were demonstrations in front of the parliament building against those who voted for the bill. A day before, the police erected a barricade around the building as a precaution. This met with great disapproval in the Fidesz and the Christian Democratic Party. They didn’t think that such a precaution was necessary. As it turned out, they were wrong: some of the "peaceful demonstrators" were not so peaceful. A smaller far-right group broke down the police cordon. Fortunately, these demonstrators were met with a well equipped and by now more seasoned police force. A bit of a tear gas did the trick. The people, some of them wearing ski masks or scarves, dispersed.
The bill will have to be signed by the president whether he likes it or not. That is what the constitution says. However, the Fidesz and the Christian Democrats are not giving up the fight. First of all, they are sure that the referendum they initiated will be successful, which will weaken the government and within it the prime minister’s position. Second, they have a new petition ready for another referendum. They have managed to collect more than 300,000 signatures already. This referendum, if approved by the constitutional court, would question the whole health care reform. The problem with this particular question, which actually might seal its fate, is that it has a reference to "multiple insurers," and as it stands the health care reform doesn’t envisage a system with multiple insurers. Only one insurer with several regional funds. But by now I don’t have much trust in the brain power of the Hungarian constitutional lawyers who serve on the court.
In the meantime Ferenc Gyurcsány and the MSZP are trying to figure out some way to turn around public opinion. One of the plans is to lower taxes. Such a move might help the ailing Hungarian economy (though at least in the American context the data don’t support the general tax-cutting claim) but, given the stringent austerity program that must be followed on the instructions of Brussels, it is hard to imagine that the adjustment of taxes could be substantial enough to make a difference. I see a bit of a difference of opinion here between Gyurcsány, who talks about a real tax cut (of about 200 billion forints) and János Veres, the finance minister, who refuses to call the forthcoming changes in taxation a "reform." He always talks about "small adjustments." Then there is the SZDSZ, which has always been the champion of lower taxes: János Kóka, the head of the party, considers Gyurcsány’s 200 billion peanuts. What about 600 billion? Where will this 600 billion come from: smaller government–comes the answer.
Whether these plans will do the trick against the Fidesz’s massive campaign it’s hard to tell. A lot will depend on the outcome of the referendum. If not enough people show up to vote or if the "yes" votes don’t reach the requisite numbers, it would give an incredible boost to the government. We have less than a month to find out the results. The date is March 9. Unfortunately, March 15, a national holiday, comes on its heels. It is not far fetched to assume that the "professional demonstrators" will find reason to march out: either to celebrate their victory or to mourn their dashed hopes. In either case, one can expect trouble.