It's been one hundred days since SZDSZ broke its six-year-long cooperation with the socialists by leaving the coalition government. Despite the fact that as a result the socialists could govern only as a minority government, I think that both the socialist leadership and their voters are relieved that SZDSZ is gone. I think both blame SZDSZ for the fiasco of the health care reform. SZDSZ wanted this post so badly. Not just in 2006 but way back, perhaps as early as 1994 but definitely since 2002. Well, they got it all right and perhaps today they are sorry that they did. I'm certain that their intentions concerning the reorganization of health care were the very best and I, by and large, supported their efforts. But the Hungarian public, whose emotions were whipped up by the Hungarian medical establishment, was not ready for the radical changes SZDSZ envisaged.
So, with SZDSZ gone, how has the minority government survived the first one hundred days? Pretty well. The three replacement ministers seem to have been good appointments. The new socialist minister of health managed to calm down the medical establishment although, judging from the last interview with István Éger, president of the Hungarian Medical Association, this honeymoon may not last much longer. However, the new minister appears to be a quiet, patient man who will irritate the doctors much less than his two SZDSZ predecessors. Another new minister who made a good impression on me is Erika Szűcs, minister of social welfare. She struck me as competent and decisive. Gordon Bajnai, who was elevated to be minister of the formerly SZDSZ ministry of economic planning and transportation, is of the highest caliber. All told, after the stormy last few months of the coalition government, there is calm and a decent track record.
In parliament a lot of bills were presented and passed. Some major foreign companies announced their plans to build factories in Hungary. The most notable is Mercedes-Benz's investment in Kecskemét, but according to Bajnai, he is negotiating with nine other international companies concerning possible Hungarian plants. There is definitely the possibility of a Pfizer investment in Szeged. There was additional investment in health care, and the European Union approved the government program to help the Hungarian movie industry. The last fifteen kilometers of Route 7, a four-lane highway to the Slovenian border, will be finished within a few weeks. The tougher penalties for traffic violations are bearing fruit. There are still too many fatal accidents but about two hundred fewer than a year ago. The government approved the extension and improvement of public transportation in Debrecen and Szeged by laying down new street car routes. So there were quite a few projects either initiated or finished and a lot of bills passed. More than during the last few months of the coalition government.
This relative success of the socialist government is constantly belittled by the opposition that by now, of course, includes SZDSZ. All three opposition parties intone day after day that the minority government simply cannot function. It is paralyzed. Something must be done to have an effective government. Fidesz, of course, says that immediate elections are the answer. Once they are in charge everything will be just wonderful. SZDSZ has a slightly different, and predictably much more tortured, answer: first they have to see from Gyurcsány's government an "action plan." Then they will decide whether they could support at least in part that plan and vote with the government on certain issues, most notably on next year's budget. If this action plan is not to their satisfaction then what the country needs is a "government of experts." If such a government cannot be constituted or cannot function then, as a last resort, there ought to be early elections.
At the beginning of the summer shortly after the breakup of the coalition goverment, Gábor Fodor, the new head of SZDSZ, and Gyurcsány had a meeting at the end of which they announced their agreement to prepare such an "action plan" by the end of August. Well, this is where things start to become interesting. We are not even close to the end of the month but two days ago, after the first one hundred days, Fodor gave a press conference where he expressed his dissatisfaction with the achievements of the minority government and bitterly complained that Gyurcsány and the socialists broke their word: there is no action plan. Gábor Horn a day earlier was sure that this action plan was promised for the beginning of August. The socialists remember otherwise and so do those newspapermen who were present.
Fodor blamed the government for doing all sorts of things that the liberals find unacceptable. One big problem is that the socialists are planning to attack social solidarity that is so dear to liberal hearts. They are planning to take away even the little the government is giving the downtrodden and the downcast. I assume Fodor is refering Erika Szűcs's efforts to reduce some of excesses in the public assistance program. The government already came out against the idea of demanding public work for public assistance (advocated by a mayor) because it would be unconstitutional. On the other hand, the government knows that the public is fed up with subsidizing people who are not even trying to find a job or, if offered one, don't take it. Making laws governing public assistance more stringent is very popular in the country and I'm afraid that if SZDSZ takes the opposite view their popularity will go down even further. (If that is at all possible.) Another rather vague complaint of Fodor was that the government's economic policy is unacceptable, I guess because the ministry is not in SZDSZ's hand. Finally, and most importantly from Fodor's point of view, the government's track record on the environment is terrible. Considering that Fodor had a very high opinion of his own performance as minister of the environment I am not at all surprised that he is not satisfied with his successor's job. When reporters asked him to be more specific, the only thing he could come up with was that the weekend ban on eight-wheelers from Hungarian roads was changed slightly. Now Hungarian truck drivers can go home for the weekend instead of being stuck at a border. That is the heinous attack on the environment. Interestingly enough he didn't say a word about health care.
Fodor repeated his favorite three-tier scenario: an acceptable action plan or, if that doesn't work, a "government of experts," and as a last resort new elections. I rarely agree with the political scientists of Political Capital, but this time Zoltán Somogyi is right: "a government of experts is a political absurdity" because there can be no such thing as a government of experts in a parliamentary democracy. But Fodor may have something different in mind when he invokes the concept. When asked whether the experts would be delegated by Fidesz as well, Fodor said, "not necessarily." To me that might mean that if MSZP and SZDSZ were to sit down and come up with a different set of ministers both parties could agree on, that might qualify as a government of experts. To wit, a new, rebranded SZDSZ-MSZP coalition without Ferenc Gyurcsány. Somehow I don't think that will float on the other side.