The overwhelming percentage of "yes" votes should not have been surprising, even though the Pollyannas (including me) hoped for less of a thumping. What nobody foresaw was the large turnout: slightly over 50% of all eligible voters went out, and over 80% of those who voted said "yes" (in effect "no") to three cleverly worded questions about co-payment, daily hospital fee, and tuition. They don’t want to pay. Understandable. Unfortunately, the overwhelming rejection of the introduced changes means a bit more than simple answers to three simple questions. It means, in my opinion, that the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian people doesn’t want any part of the New Hungary Ferenc Gyurcsány talks so much about. They don’t want to change. They don’t want to accept the new rules of a new game. They want to be taken care of by the state. They believe that the state will find the way to support them, provide them with free university education and with absolutely free medical services (not counting the envelopes, of course, but they are accustomed to that). Where will the money come from? They don’t rightly care.
So, what now? Gyurcsány announced that the government had already prepared legislation to be discussed and voted on in parliament tomorrow that would abolish the copayment and hospital fee as of April 1. I have the sneaking suspicion that already today patients will refuse to pay anything. After all, why should they have to pay today when within two weeks the whole thing will be scrapped including the automats doctors and hospitals purchased for receiving the fees? Members of the government steadfastly kept repeating yesterday that there was no way the missing income of doctors and hospitals can be supplemented. After all, augmenting of income of doctors and hospitals from the budget is impossible because the budget is very tight and there is no room for any maneuvering. Also, because the referendum was sanctioned by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that these fees are not budgetary items.
The Fidesz has a plan though: income from the state lottery should be used for improvements in medical services. Surely, a clever political move: it sounds so virtuous to use this ill-gotten money for the public good. Yeah, indeed, why didn’t the government think of that earlier? Very simply, the state’s share of the lottery’s income is also part of the general budget. To properly appreciate the cleverness of this particular Fidesz move remember that the state lottery is one of those successful state companies that Gyurcsány hopes to make public and offer shares in it to small investors. Well, if the income from the state lottery must be used for financing health care, it must remain in the hands of the state in its entirety. How devilishly clever.
I have no idea what the government will do under the circumstances, but my hunch is that the Fidesz legislative proposal on the state lottery will not get far in parliament. After all, the government parties are still in the majority and the MDF surely will not support the Fidesz position. I hope that the coalition parties will stick by their guns and simply return the clock to December 31, 2006: no co-payment and no hospital fee. I have no idea how much weaker Gyurcsány’s position is within his own party after the disastrous results of the referendum. But I would not advise them to change either prime minister or course because Orbán’s appetite would not be lessened by such moves. On the contrary, the opposition would simply interpret such changes as signs of weakness. But, at the same time, it is obvious that the "re-education" of the Hungarian people has failed miserably. What to do in this department? The often mentioned criticism about the lack of good communication is, in my opinion, not the real culprit. They explained, and explained, and explained. The problem is not with the understanding. The problem is that the majority has equivocally rejected this new concept of the relation between state and citizen.