Political limbo in Hungary

There is nothing worse in politics than uncertainty, and unfortunately uncertainty has prevailed in Hungary ever since SZDSZ’s leaders announced their intention to quit the coalition. It would have been less damaging if János Kóka and his friends had simply announced their decision and the SZDSZ ministers and undersecretaries had immediately left their posts. But no, we remain in the realm of intentions. The SZDSZ ministers still go to their respective offices, appear at parliamentary meetings, answer nasty little questions from the opposition. On the surface everything seems to be the same as before. But, of course, it isn’t.

Officially D-Day is April 30th. That is the date on which the SZDSZ ministers either leave their posts or the party decides that they stay. So the government remains in limbo for three more weeks. Meanwhile politicians, past and present, pontificate, and speculation is the new national sport. The end result: a political quagmire.

Let’s start with the political pronouncements. Journalists approach everybody who is anybody in either party to say something brilliant about the situation. They ask Mihály Kökény (MSZP), twice minister of health, whether he would accept the post. (Not that anyone has offered it to him to my knowledge.) Well, if it isn’t Kökény then perhaps Lajos Rácz, another former MSZP minister who is very vague about what he would do if asked to serve. Or what about Imre Repa, the well known head of the Kaposvár Hospital? But he wants to close half of Hungary’s hospitals. Surely, he cannot be the choice.

They ask Gábor Kuncze, former head of SZDSZ, what he thinks of the situation, and behold he blames MSZP for the whole mess. If you believe Kuncze, it wasn’t SZDSZ that insisted on radical reform but MSZP who is the guilty partner. Or rather, if SZDSZ didn’t have to listen to MSZP everything would have gone much better. After all, SZDSZ didn’t want to introduce the hospital fee. It was an MSZP suggestion. Lajos Molnár, former SZDSZ minister of health, wanted to reduce the number of hospitals more slowly, but MSZP insisted on an accelerated schedule. Well, this finger pointing is anything but constructive.

But perhaps the worst reaction was that of Péter Medgyessy who is, after all, responsible for the whole mess of government overspending and who had to leave office in disgrace after showing himself totally incapable of fulfilling his duties as prime minister. After not hearing a word from him for months, a journalistic invitation was enough for him to appear on television again and vent. He had the gall to say that in his opinion Ferenc Gyurcsány should have resigned after the speech of Balatonőszöd became known! Interestingly enough, right after the speech was made public Medgyessy had a different opinion: he said that it was a good, honest speech. Well, well, Medgyessy can’t quite forgive his successor. In any case, this is not the first time that he shows himself to be a small-minded fellow who blames everybody and everything except himself.

Then there is Viktor Orbán who can’t quite decide whether he wants early elections or not. Or just wants to have a different prime minister. That prime minister, depending on the day, can be a "non-political" expert like Lajos Bokros, an economist, or András Simor, head of the National Bank, or who knows who else. But there are days when certain Fidesz politicians claim that early elections are inevitable. "Political scientists" close to Fidesz, for example István Stumpf, head of the prime minister’s office under Orbán, exclaim with great enthusiasm that this government is incapable of governing, that whatever they did up till now was terrible, and that we are in "the hallway to early elections."

Then they are the different MSZP bigwigs making statements right and left. One day one reads that according to Péter Kiss (who is often mentioned as a possible successor to Gyurcsány) the coalition must be maintained. Katalin Szili makes references again to a change at the top. I gather she imagines herself as the next prime minister of Hungary. Then comes Kóka, who says: No, no never! (A take-off of the revisionist cry of interwar Hungary: Nem, nem, soha!) while Fodor says: well, never say never! Today one reads that SZDSZ’s National Council (Országos Tanács) consisting of seventy-odd people overwhelmingly approved the presidium’s decision to quit the coalition. Kóka is ecstatically happy! Now, they will go to the Meeting of the Delegates (April 27) and wait for their expected approval. Until now I thought that the Fodor faction would vote "no," but after the National Council’s decision I’m no longer sure.

Meanwhile journalists speculate about personnel changes, including, of course, the position of the prime minister. It doesn’t seem to matter that senior MSZP leaders announce that there is no talk of Gyurcsány’s resignation or replacement but speculations don’t want to die down. And so it goes.

At the same time SZDSZ is accusing MSZP of plotting to get rid of its coalition partner (see Kuncze’s interview with Sándor Friderikusz), while Gyurcsány in his blog wrote that there had been signs of SZDSZ plans to quit the government for at least a month. Perhaps both accusations are true. Perhaps both sides came to the conclusion that the coalition isn’t working. Perhaps MSZP thought that the only way to survive this latest crisis is get rid of SZDSZ, the party really blamed for the whole fiasco especially in the MSZP camp. And perhaps SZDSZ felt that their very low rating is due to their presence in the coalition. Perhaps they could gain adherents if they showed themselves as an independent political voice.

I personally don’t think that SZDSZ will ever regain its former strength. Especially not with János Kóka. There is a satirical bi-weekly called Hócipő (Galoshes). The title most likely comes from an expression "My galoshes are full," meaning "I’m fed up." On the front page of the last issue there are the pictures of all of SZDSZ’s former chiefs. The last picture frame is empty with a question mark in it. And above: "Who will be the last?" (See http://www.hocipo.hu/index.php)

As for MSZP. Well, it will be more difficult to pass bills, but perhaps the party can regain some of its lost voters.

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Varangy
Guest

****But perhaps the worst reaction was that of Péter Medgyessy who is, after all, responsible for the whole mess of government overspending and who had to leave office in disgrace after showing himself totally incapable of fulfilling his duties as prime minister. After not hearing a word from him for months, a journalistic invitation was enough for him to appear on television again and vent. He had the gall to say that in his opinion Ferenc Gyurcsány should have resigned after the speech of Balatonőszöd became known! Interestingly enough, right after the speech was made public Medgyessy had a different opinion: he said that it was a good, honest speech. Well, well, Medgyessy can’t quite forgive his successor. In any case, this is not the first time that he shows himself to be a small-minded fellow who blames everybody and everything except himself.****
Such enmity for Medgyessy. And such hero-worship of Gyurcsi.
I can’t stand the Medgyessy myself, but how can you blame the guy for not being a fan of the man who stabbed him in the back.

Viking
Guest

Personally I find Gyurcsány interesting, probably the most interesting Hungarian politician for many years in Hungary. This does not mean I approve of everything he says/does, but I have no problem with a guy who goes his own way. I am not so sure about the media-picture of Gyurcsány being a victim to circumstance, more that he actually creates those circumstances.
Take the famous speech in a small place close to the Balaton lake soon 2 years ago. No one could have believed that the speech itself would be secret forever. It was strange that the speech did not leak out before it did. It was close to 200 people listening to it, so they did not tell for 2 months? Normally they tell everything inside hours.
Viktor Orban, supposedly representing an ideology closer to home for me, scares me on the other hand.
For me the big difference between Gyurcsány, Orban and Medgyessy is that Gyurcsány dares to risk something politically for his ideas (right or wrong). That is why I can be impressed by him. It is rare in today’s politics.

Hatodik Oszlop
Guest

Gyurcsány denied the need for austerity measures in Feb of 2006 prior to the election: http://www.portfolio.hu/en/cikkek.tdp?k=2&i=7320
And then Gyurcsány announced on June 10, 2006: “Hey, those austerity measures we said wouldn’t happen, guess what? Here they come!”
http://www.portfolio.hu/en/cikkek.tdp?k=2&i=8487
Maybe Orbán just reads the papers…

Varangy
Guest

@Eva
So you fault Viki for being opportunistic, but don’t fault Gyurcsi for being blatantly dishonest?
Hard to reconcile, for me at least.

kincs
Guest

There is good reason to think that the MSZP will get back some of its lost voters now that there is some distance between themselves and the SZDSZ. Many of those disillusioned with the party will blame the SZDSZ for all the unpopular things that the government has done.
Moreover,the end of aggressive reforms will also be good for the party’s poll ratings, (though maybe not for the economy).
The SZDSZ will also benefit from the chance to re-establish their identity. What would probably make the biggest difference there would be the election of Gábor Fodor to replace Kóka. A new identity, a new face, and they could be well on the way to that 5% threshold. In any case, their popularity has nowhere to go but up.

Odin's lost eye
Guest

As I understood his speech to the MSZP Gyurcsány said that he had been ‘economic with the truth’ in the past to keep the party in power BUT that he would NOT repeat NOT do so any more! At least he has become Honorable. I wonder what all the other mentioned above would do?

Viking
Guest

Hatodik Oszlop had some quotes from Portfolio.hu, which may contradict themselves, depending what you interpret in the exact words.
On quote that became reality was the promise to do the infamous Balaton-speech:
“In a television interview yesterday, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány said if his party is voted back to office next year, he will not form a government unless he wins his party’s full support to introduce sweeping reforms straight away, daily Népszabadság reported.
Gyurcsány said he was determined to rectify the mistakes of all previous governments since 1990, who were not brave enough to reform Hungary’s healthcare system and public finances. He reiterated that his government was committed to Hungary joining the eurozone in 2010, to which end it will push through a whole series of reforms as soon as it takes office.”
The quote “Gyurcsány pledges prompt reforms if reelected” is from 22 Dec 2005, 5 months before the speech. (http://www.portfolio.hu/en/cikkek.tdp?cCheck=1&k=2&i=6709).

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