Coalition–yes or no?

The day began with the announcement by Gábor Fodor, SZDSZ minister of the environment, that he doesn’t think a minority government is viable and therefore the coalition must be renegotiated. Moreover, he added, this new coalition must be negotiated by different people. It was pretty much of a no brainer that in Fodor’s scheme the change of personnel didn’t target Ferenc Gyurcsány but his rival, János Kóka.

Let’s review this rivalry. After Gábor Kuncze’s resignation as party chief, two people vied for the position: Fodor and Kóka. Fodor has been a politician ever since he graduated from law school. Until 1993 he was one of the important leaders of the Young Democrats (Fidesz) and a close friend of Viktor Orbán. At one point they were roommates working hand in hand for an independent political student organization. Fodor became a Fidesz member of parliament in 1990, but in 1993 he left the party because he believed, not without reason, that Orbán was leading Fidesz away from liberalism and toward the right. Fodor joined SZDSZ and subsequently became minister of justice in the Horn government.  Kóka, on the other hand, has no political background, no past connection with SZDSZ. Apparently it was Ferenc Gyurcsány who knew him and suggested his name to Gábor Kuncze, then SZDSZ party chief, as a possible candidate for the post of minister of economics and transport, which is an SZDSZ ministry.

In the vote for SZDSZ party head, with Fodor and Kóka as the two candidates to succeed Kuncze, the SZDSZ delegates were deadlocked: it was a tie. So the process had to be repeated, and in the second round Kóka received thirteen more votes than Fodor. Fodor had to be compensated somehow, and he insisted on and received a ministerial post. The minister of the environment was the former director of the Budapest Zoo and, although he might have been a good minister, he certainly didn’t disturb much water. One rarely heard about him or from him. Back he went to the zoo and Fodor became minister of the environment. And a very active one. Every day he had another battle to fight–with Austria about the pollution of a river, with Germany about illegal garbage dumping, or with Slovakia about some power plant apparently to be built too close to the Tokaj vineyards. He was full of energy.

Then came the revelation that one, four, and later twenty-six people voted at the meeting of the SZDSZ delegates who were not eligible to vote. First, the Kóka faction refused to consider a do-over of the elections, but after dragging their feet for two months eventually the decision was made that sometime in June the election will be repeated and at that time there will be careful scrutiny of the delegates’ credentials.

In the last few days Fodor was suspiciously quiet about Kóka-Horn-Eörsi’s decision to break the coalition. Instead of him, his undersecretary Kálmán Kovács appeared here and there and carefully but to my ears fairly obviously indicated that he (and therefore Fodor) didn’t quite agree with the current leadership’s decision. Well, this morning Fodor himself in no uncertain terms made it clear that he would like to continue the coalition. Moreover, if given the opportunity, i.e. if he won at the next election, he would renegotiate the coalition and would work together with MSZP. According to some people, including Kálmán Kovács, it is very possible that the April 27th gathering will not vote to sever relations with MSZP. If this occurs, I think János Kóka’s political career will come to an end. And if not on April 27th then in June, because I’m almost certain that Fodor will win against Kóka in the new election.

The upshot: we still can’t be sure whether or not the coalition is dead. Moreover, not even after April 27 will we know with certainty. Of course, this is not conducive to political stability, which is anything but solid even without the coalition crisis. There are, on top of everything else, the threats of strikes. It is evident that neither the MÁV nor the BKV (Budapest Transit Authority) strike is really about wages, working conditions, anything concerning the well being of the members of the trade unions. Rather, it is becoming increasingly apparent that these strikes are political in nature. The chief organizer of the MÁV strike today was boasting about his own role in creating a coalition crisis. The head of the BKV union is going ahead with the strike although the management promised to postpone the decision on changing the routes and their frequencies. However, if I were these strike leaders I would be rather cautious. A new poll suggests that the overwhelming majority of Hungarians is opposed to any government bailout of BKV. It is also unlikely that the people who rely on public transportation will be thrilled to have no buses, streetcars, or metro for a whole day in Budapest on Friday.

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Adrian
Guest

Amazing,
so the leader of one party nominates the leader of the other. The second party goes along with the nomination that because it would facilitate the formation of a coalition and the handing out of baubles. What is the value to the electorate of an independent SZDSZ?
This sad state of affairs is a product of on electoral system that cannot deliver an absolute majority to any party; and Government programs that the are the outcome of post election coalition politics rather pre-election policy debate. First-past-the-post, anyone?

kincs
Guest
It would be tactical madness for the SZDSZ and MSZP to reform the coalition. If, as in the above scenario, Fodor gets elected party chief and patches up the coalition with the MSZP, it would show the two parties to be dithering, unreliable and obsessed with their own relations rather than governing the country, as the opposition accuses them of being. It would destroy much of whatever credibility they have left and create the – accurate – impression that they don’t know what they’re doing. A separation would give each a chance to shore up their crumbling power bases. Each is already tainted by association with the other. The MSZP can present themselves as friendly social democrats rather than cold neoliberals, while the SZDSZ can give free rein to their liberal instincts. That, to answer your question, Adrian, is what an independent SZDSZ offers to the electorate: a party that makes the case for economic liberalism and social liberalism. These ideas have advocates in most democracies, though those advocates are not usually one and the same party. There are plenty of people in Hungary who would prefer that no-one promoted these ideas. In the meantime, it’s true what Eva says:… Read more »
Adrian
Guest
Kincs, Firstly, I doubt whether one can have coherent policy platform that is simultaneously economically and socially liberal. This because economic liberals favour a small state and low taxation, whereas social liberals favour support of the socially disadvantaged which implies a large state and high taxation. This is the issue that split the British Liberal party between the wars. Today the British Liberal Democrat party is the only mainstream party that advocates higher taxation to support social spending. It is popularly characterised as the party of woolly thinkers with good intentions but unrealistic policies. In the States it seems the essential distinction between Republican and Democrat is between economic and social liberal. As for Hungarian politics, I think the MSZP also offers the electorate a combination of economic and socially liberal policies, the problem is that MSZP polarises opinion because of it’s history in a way that the social democratic parties in western Europe do not. Although, this association with Communism past also effected the outcome of the recent Italian election. Historically, the MSZP has needed the SZDSZ to ‘oversee’ it’s governments. The outcome of this power it seems has been the utter corruption of SZDSZ. The referendum implied the… Read more »
kincs
Guest
Adrian: I do not believe that the SZDSZ are socially liberal in the sense that you understood it – i.e., that they believe in high taxation and support for the socially disadvantaged. That is not what they are about. The SZDSZ are liberal on social issues, such as abortion, gay rights, women’s rights, legalisation of soft drugs, and so on. It is entirely possible to have a coherent policy platform that is simultaneously economically and socially liberal in this sense. The Economist magazine does it every week. But I should have been more clear. The MSZP is socially liberal in the sense that you mean. At the same time, they are trying to be economically pragmatic. This causes a great deal of internal tension, as it amounts to a platform very like the incoherent one you had in mind. They have swung from Medgyessy’s Great Payout of 2002 to the belt-tightening of today. Still, I think there is a coherence, in that they would like to offer support for the socially disadvantaged, but realise that a healthy economy is necessary before the state can afford to be generous. I think this is the outcome that Gyurcsány would like to achieve.… Read more »
Adrian
Guest
Kincs, you are entirely right about the Economist, I’ve been subscribing to it since school. But, can you offer me a political party that offers its electorate this policy platform, and not also large amounts of government spending. I wouldn’t diasgree with your analysis of the MSZP either, this is certainly the party that Gyurcsány wants to lead. But I would like to add that the MSZP strikes me as a party that is serious about having and holding power. To my kind of conservativism, this is a good quality in a party because it means its not going to put ideology in front of common sense. For me, the rule of law is a matter of common sense. As to the SZDSZ, it is as Eva said not clear yet what the outcome will be for the coalition. The SZDSZ ministers are still behind their desks, but their resignations are in Koka’s safe. What else is this but an attempt on Koka’s part to renegotiate the coalition? As you admit it is not Gyúrcsány who has backed away from reform, but the electorate. Any democratic party, and I would like to include the SZDSZ in this, has to respect… Read more »
kincs
Guest
Adrian: Re “You want to think the best of the SZDSZ because they espouse the values that you and I share.” In order to reclaim my air of detachment and objectivity, I must point out that I was not saying that the SZDSZ left the coalition because they were standing up for their principles. As they are politicians, I’m sure other, less idealistic factors played a part. It’s about spin. The circumstances of their departure from the coalition allow them to say that they left the coalition on a point of principle, if that’s how they want to play it. That would seem to be the way to reconnect with what’s left of their voter base. As it happens, I don’t share all of the SZDSZ’s values. More importantly, it doesn’t appear that Fodor does either. In particular, I have doubts about whether he shares the party’s enthusiasm for unbridled free markets and hard-nosed economics, but I think he’s as socially liberal as anyone. (Admittedly, this is just an impression I have.) He won’t find the same commitment to those values in any other party in Hungary. Like yourself, I don’t understand why the SZDSZ ministers are still in place.… Read more »
Adrian
Guest

Kincs,
OK apologies for roping you in with me, the reference to the Economist gave me a small rush of blood to the head.
How do you measure how socially liberal a party is? My overriding concern here is that Hungarian’s perceptions of minority groups can be raised above the level of fear and loathing.
The Gábor Szetey moment did something for homosexuals on this count. As for the gypsies, Hungary still desperately needs a Martin Luther King, a Malcolm X or even a ‘Peaches’ Obama. I don’t see the SZDSZ leading the charge here, Szetey was part of the MSZP and even Fidesz seem to have a more respectful engagement with ‘minority’ politicians than the SZDSZ. It is not enough to wring your hands saying something must be done, you have to extend your hand and engage them in the political process.

Hotpaprika
Guest

If people would realize that, the whole political system of today, with its elite and counter-elite, would become obsolete, because it is based on the consciousness of battle, of rivalry.
Because the battle can go on only until we are stuck in the battle consciousness. If we transcend it – through the wisdom, the battle is over.

Adrian
Guest

Indeed.

kincs
Guest
Adrian: “even Fidesz seem to have a more respectful engagement with ‘minority’ politicians than the SZDSZ. It is not enough to wring your hands saying something must be done, you have to extend your hand and engage them in the political process.” You are right. Though one reason the Roma have become engaged in the political process through the MSZP and Fidesz rather than through the SZDSZ is that those two parties are more powerful and therefore more likely to be in a position to help the Roma. You can hardly blame the Roma for being pragmatic in this respect. By the same token, in getting close to the Roma leaders the two big parties are also cultivating a potentially large voting bloc. So, no, the SZDSZ haven’t led the charge on this. They have put their heads above the parapet on other issues since they’ve been in government, such as advocating equal status for same-sex marriages and arguing for the legalisation of soft drugs. It went nowhere because the MSZP didn’t want to know, partly because they don’t care, partly because they know that most Hungarians are not ready to go that far down the liberal road. That’s the… Read more »
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