Gábor Fodor received 346 votes and János Kóka 344. A year ago Kóka won by seven votes. It's true that there were some suspicious ballots then but, given this new close contest, one can safely say that SZDSZ remains a deeply divided party. A few weeks ago most people predicted a much more lopsided result in Fodor's favor, but it seems that there was enough hesitancy about Fodor's ability as party leader that close to half of the delegates decided to stick with the known quantity. Running the day-to-day business of the party is a twelve-person committee. The composition of this group didn't change substantially: there are some Kóka supporters (including Kóka himself) and some Fodor supporters.
So the election didn't bring any seismic shift in the balance of forces within the party. Nothing was solved as far as the internal divisions are concerned. The importance of the elections, according to some observers, is how the new party chief will handle the relationship between SZDSZ and MSZP. Western news agencies are convinced that because of Fodor's election, the relationship between the two parties will improve. According to Reuters, Fodor's elevation to the post of president of the party will open the door to negotiations concerning the support of the minority government. The French AFP even talks about the possibility of a renewed coalition with "personnel changes" within MSZP. Although Fodor talked about such an eventuality a couple of weeks ago, since then he has contradicted these earlier statements on many occasions. In my opinion, there is no possibility of a renewed coalition because not even MSZP would like to see this happen. The demand for Ferenc Gyurcsány to resign is preposterous blackmail that would be rejected out of hand by MSZP. I guess Fodor came to his senses and dropped the idea. The American AP also thinks that Fodor's election will mean either a renewed coalition or support of the minority government from the outside.
The above analyses, on the surface at least, seem plausible. Kóka swore up and down that his party would never cooperate with MSZP. He vowed that they wouldn't vote for the budget. He announced that he was not afraid of early elections. In brief, he said all sorts of things that showed his brashness and political inexperience. Fodor presumably stood for something different. But although he talked a lot, it was impossible to figure out exactly what he was planning to do if elected. He also changed his mind every second day. First he wanted to remain within the coalition, but a few weeks later he voted for a break. Then he talked about renewing the coalition on the condition that the socialists would kick out their best hope, the prime minister. Then I guess he realized that this was a hopeless proposition and moved on to argue that a new coalition was impossible. He even hinted at cooperation with Orbán, his old roommate and friend, until it seems he realized that this might not be such a swift idea. The upshot: no one knows what the new SZDSZ party chief's plans are.
In the last few days there have been other scenarios outlined on the basis of a word here and there uttered by some important SZDSZ politicians. The most intriguing sentence came from Gábor Horn, a Kóka supporter, who unequivocally told the reporter of Napkelte last Thursday that there will be no early elections. The next national elections will take place in 2010. That, of course, can happen only if at least some SZDSZ members of parliament support the minority government of MSZP. This was a surprising statement considering that his friend and boss, János Kóka, was so outspoken in his criticism of MSZP and didn't even seem to mind early elections. Perhaps there was a change of heart in the circle around Kóka. The fate of the government is really in the hands of the SZDSZ parliamentary delegation where Kóka supporters are in the majority. Thus, if one can take Horn's words at face value, it is possible that Kóka's supporters will make sure that the minority government can function properly. After all, only a few votes, four or five, are necessary to have a simple majority.
Another possibility is that the two factions can't bury the hatchet and that the parliamentary delegation will split. This would not be the first time that such a thing happens. The most recent split occurred in MDF when about half of the delegation bolted, sat for half a year with the independents, and then joined the Fidesz delegation.
In any case, while foreign observers consider Fodor's election good for the survival of the minority government, Fidesz's spokesman, Péter Szijjártó, invited Fodor to "reach an agreement" on early elections. I don't think that Orbán really believes that Fodor will fall for this gesture of friendship. If he did, the above outlined split in the party and the delegation would undoubtedly take place. And that would be the end of SZDSZ. Fodor, the former Fidesz deputy, could return to his old party. But all that is highly unlikely.