The end of the Hungarian coalition

Today the SZDSZ Meeting of Delegates overwhelmingly voted to leave the coalition. There were 434 "yeas," 53 "nays," and 32 who abstained. Among the "nays" was Kálmán Kovács, Gábor Fodor’s undersecretary at the Ministry of the Environment. With this decision something entirely new came into being in Hungary: a minority government. And since it is new, most Hungarians don’t quite know what to do with it. The politically savvy keep saying that in other countries there have been minority governments for years and everything went along splendidly. Yeah, the skeptical Hungarians say, but this or that country is not Hungary. In this country, where the state of political culture is so low, it is impossible to imagine a functioning minority government. Ferenc Gyurcsány, of course, is optimistic, although both he and Ildikó Lendvai, leader of the MSZP parliamentary delegation, admit that before every vote serious "discussions" must take place to make sure that the government’s proposals have the necessary number of votes.

Not only is the minority government a novelty in Hungary but also a government that is not a coalition. Even when a party had a clear majority, for one reason or other a coalition government was formed. The Horn governement (1994-1998) asked the SZDSZ to join them because they wanted to assure the rest of Europe that their reappearance as a serious political force didn’t mean the return to the one-party rule of the Kádár regime. In 1946, the Independent Smallholders’ Party won an absolute majority, but because of Soviet pressure they had to let the communists and the social democrats join them. Thus every freely elected Hungarian government since 1946 has been a coalition government. This is the first time that MSZP alone is shouldering governmental responsibilities.

Europeans love coalition governments and shudder when they hear the phrase "two-party system," as is the case in the United States and for all practical purposes in the United Kingdom. They think that it would be the end of the world if only MSZP and Fidesz, the two major parties, could get into parliament and the two small parties simply disappeared or found themselves outside the walls of parliament. (I didn’t forget about the Christian Democrats but they are really a phony party, a creation of Fidesz. A few Fidesz members simply created a new caucus in order to have more positions in the different committees for their party. Otherwise, out in the real world this party has no followers.) People in countries where coalition governments are not the order of the day find coalitions an awful nuisance. The bickering between MSZP and SZDSZ both in the Horn government and since 2002 bears out this nuisance theory. I’m also sure that the socialists would have been much happier if they had managed to garner a few more votes, gain an absolute majority, and not need the liberals. It didn’t work out that way: they needed an additional four members of parliament in order to form a government alone. Now they are alone and six votes short. (Six and not four because two members due to illness cannot fulfill their duties.)

My feeling is that in spite of the forthcoming difficulties of their minority status, the socialists are somewhat relieved that they are the lords of their own manors. The prime minister, anticipating the departure of the liberals, began looking around for new ministers and while he was at it decided to make a few changes in the governmental structure. To my taste there have been too many changes in the governmental structure over the years. Practically every new government comes up with several new ministries, they divide some, they collapse two into one, or they abolish a few. I think that for serious work within a ministry there is a need for stability. One shouldn’t abolish certain positions only to reintroduce them under some different name as seems to be happening right now. Before the second Gyurcsány government each minister had two undersecretaries: a political and an administrative undersecretary with some resonances to, though a level below, what the British call a permanent secretary. As we know from "Yes Prime Minister," the TV comedy series, the permanent secretary loyal to the Civil Service runs the show while the government appointee knows practically nothing about the workings of the ministry or the issues. Gyurcsány decided to abolish the position of the administrative (who wasn’t at all permanent in Hungary) undersecretary and have only one deputy (undersecretary) of the minister. As the prime minister explained today in a television interview, that decision was not a bad one as some of his opponents charged because the administrative undersecretary was running the ministry while the minister only "supervised" it. However, it seems that after all one undersecretary is not enough and thus Gyurcsány is now smuggling back another undersecretary with a different title and a different job description. The number of undersecretaries on the whole will not be more than now. There are talks about creating the position of "secretary general" in the ministries who will have "coordination duties." This also sounds a bit vague to me. In other walks of life, in my experience at least, coordination means doing nothing or very little.

Otherwise, although András Bánó, the reporter conducting the interview, tried his darndest to find out names and the exact nature of changes in the governmental structure, Gyurcsány only smiled mysteriously. However, we found out that there will be great emphasis on development and on investment in research and education. It will be tomorrow evening that he will make his decisions public. Among his new appointees more will come from outside than from the party leadership. Surprisingly, we found out that there were at least four people who would have been willing to take the post of minister of health. (There are some very brave people in Hungary, it seems.)

One more thing: in June there will be new elections in SZDSZ and as far as I can see at the moment, Gábor Fodor will be the new party chief. Fodor thinks that the coalition should be restored although only after new lengthy negotiations about the future of the coalition. It is somewhat difficult to imagine that the new ministers appointed now by Gyurcsány will be terminated in two months because their jobs are needed by SZDSZ representatives. Unless, of course, there have already been some behind the scenes negotiations between Fodor and Gyurcsány concerning the people to be appointed. Perhaps some of these outside "experts" are also acceptable to SZDSZ. This is just a wild guess on my part but it does sound plausible.

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Hatodik Oszlop

I think MSZP’s decision to invite SZDSZ into the Horn government had more to do with the fact that the combined parties then had a constitution-changing supermajority.
As far as the Christian Democrats, while not a Fidesz creation, as you stated, they certainly wouldn’t be in parliament without Fidesz’s patronage.

Hatodik Oszlop

I’ve never accused the MSZP of intelligence. That stated, I believe inviting SZDSZ was less of a message to the West, and more one of having the 72% so they could launch their programs and not worry about the opposition interfering, as with 72%, you can’t say a small majority is leading the country.