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.