Viktor Orbán, after his "sweeping victory" at the polls on March 9th, announced that it was a "victory for the whole country." And, of course, the bright "future already began." Well, that future doesn’t seem to be so promising. Those in the medical profession who before the plebiscite insisted that the money received as co-payment was insignificant now argue that their practices will collapse as a result of the missing fees. Indeed, in the case of the family doctors the loss is considerable: a quarter or a third of their total monthly income is at stake. Moreover, the change will take place on April 1 and not January 1, 2009. The shock is considerable.
Of course, I know why they are surprised. They were convinced that the government would compensate them, whatever the result of the referendum. István Éger, the president of the Medical Association, promised them that much. After the plebiscite Éger immediately demanded that the government double the pay of family doctors. I would like to remind the readers that pay for these doctors is calculated not on services rendered but on a per capita basis. And that on the sliding scale: more for older people, less for young ones. Doubling the rate per patient is out of the realm of possibilities given the strict budgetary restraint necessary to keep up with the requirements of the convergence program. Éger and his friends argue that it is the constitutional duty of the government not to allow the collapse of the health care system of the country. The government argues that the only thing they are doing is following the will of the people and returning to the status quo ante. As Gyurcsány said the night of the defeat: "the Hungarian government neither has the means nor the intention of supplementing the hospitals’ and family doctors’ income from budgetary sources." I might also add that the return to the situation prior to the introduction of co-payment also entails reducing the extra pay to the pediatricians that compensated them for not being able to collect co-payment from children under eighteen. Suddenly, there is panic. What will happen now? Fidesz came up with one still-born idea (the state lottery) and apparently has another brainchild in the offing. We will see, but I have don’t have high hopes that 40-50 billion forints will appear out of the blue. And, according to the principle of moral hazard (that is, that moral hazard arises because an individual or institution does not bear the full consequences of its actions and therefore has a tendency to act less carefully than it otherwise would, leaving another party to bear some responsibility for the consequences of those actions) perhaps the government is wise to let the doctors who opposed the reforms so vigorously stew in their own juices for awhile and not bail them out.
It is an even bigger problem that Fidesz is still not finished with its plebiscite attacks. They have the signatures and the OK from the electoral committee to hold another referendum–this time against the whole health care reform. They promise this one for the fall. In brief, thanks to the Constitutional Court’s foolish decision to allow a plebiscite to be held on matters that impact on the budget, an untenable situation has occurred: every time the "people" consider a governmental move detrimental to their interests they can propose a plebiscite at which the majority will surely vote against the unpopular measures. Thus governing becomes an impossibility. Although one might argue that a very strict and narrow reading of the law concerning plebiscites allows the interpretation that the Constitutional Court reached, a more considered opinion, taking the whole constitution into consideration, should have arrived at a different conclusion. The law upon the Constitutional Court based its decision reads: "(5) A national referendum may not be held on the following subjects: (a) on laws on the central budget, the execution of the central budget, taxes to the central government and duties, customs tariffs, and on the central government conditions for local taxes." They argued that the co-payments, the hospital fees, and the tuition are not part of the central budget. This decision can be viewed as a precedent, and thus governing in the future may become absolutely impossible. Tamás Bauer, an economist, one of the founders of SZDSZ, and a member of parliament until 2006, reminded people on Napkelte this morning that in 1993 an association of people living below the poverty level collected signatures for a plebiscite to dissolve parliament. The Constitutional Court then (the Sólyom court) didn’t allow this suggested plebiscite although the constitution doesn’t specifically forbid holding such a referendum. Sólyom and his court wisely looked at the constitution as a whole and the impact that such a plebiscite would have on the workings of the government and the parliament. The current court led by Mihály Bihari reasons differently: if the constitution doesn’t explicitly forbid a plebiscite it can be held. Such reasoning paves the way to anarchy.
And now comes the real "victory." I’m of course using the word sarcastically. Today Standard & Poor’s downgraded its outlook for Hungary to negative from stable because of the weakening perspective for sustained consolidation of the country’s public finances. S&P didn’t mince words: "We believe that the increasing political incentives and pressure to dilute the fiscal reforms ahead of upcoming elections, coupled with the increasing cost of external borrowing, will interrupt Hungary’s progress in reducing its deficit from 2009 and will keep the debt burden rising." S&P said that political opposition to budgetary reform is building, as evidenced by a firm rejection of several key government reforms in the referendum. They added that although the defeat this year will have only a minor effect on the budget, it "confirms fading appetite among Hungarians to continue with the consolidation process." And we all know who reduced the appetite of the Hungarian people for their own political gain. What a huge victory for the country! One can only applaud the wise leader of the opposition.