The end of the “silly season”

The second half of the summer is called the "silly season" in Anglo-Saxon countries because the media, given the usual dearth of political news, come up with silly stories to fill their pages or their time slot. In Hungarian (as in such languages as Dutch, Norwegian, and Polish) it is called the "cucumber season" (uborkaszezon).  After all, lots of cucumbers grow during this time.

So the "silly season" or "cucumber season" is rather on the boring side if one is interested in politics. A Hungarian political scientist friend of mine wrote the other day that she was surprised to hear from an American friend that such a politically dead season doesn't really exist in the United States. Well, sometimes the news cycle can be slow during the summer but not in an election year. The two candidates can't really take time off from campaigning–or if one does–however briefly, the other capitalizes on it and dominates the media. Directly on the heels of the Olympics, the Democratic Convention begins today, with the Republican Convention to follow next week.

Leading Hungarian politicians are starting to succumb to the American model of year-round hard work. No longer can there be a rerun of what happened in 1994 after MSZP-SZDSZ won the elections. If I recall properly, the two parties agreed on the terms of the coalition, they even managed to put together a cabinet, and then came the "silly season." The members of the brand new government with scads of problems facing them (like the country was close to bankruptcy) retired for a nice long vacation. Later when people suggested to Prime Minister Gyula Horn that perhaps that wasn't the smartest and politically most astute thing to do, he snapped back: "You have no idea how hard we worked during the election campaign and after. We had to take some time off. We deserved it." Well, there are vacations and vacations.

Nowadays I must say that kind of thing doesn't happen. This is a different generation, and they don't float in calm political waters. The prime minister took a couple of weeks off. The first week was spent in Ireland. The family, all eight of them, rented a houseboat which took them to all sorts of out-of-the-way places. They spent the last two days in Dublin, where the prime minister had some chance meetings with Hungarians living in Ireland. The family vacationed for the second week not far from Lake Balaton in the county of Somogy where they did quite a bit of horseback riding until Klára Dobrev (Mrs. Gyurcsány) was thrown from her horse and injured her shoulder. An operation followed and another will have to be performed. Finally, Gyurcsány went with his youngest son to Beijing where, let's hope, he didn't have to listen to Pál Schmitt's accusations that the Hungarians' fairly modest results were his government's fault. You know, not enough money! If only it were that easy.

While the government was busy preparing the "action plan" SZDSZ demanded in exchange for its potential support, Victor Orbán's party was active as usual. We all know that it is relatively easy to find fault with a government. I'm almost certain that among the leading politicians of Fidesz there is a division of labor. Every week they seem to find a topic and designate a person to give a press conference in which he demands this and that or calls attention to this and that. There is certainly no "silly season" for Fidesz.

Yet it seems that Fidesz's popularity didn't grow after its seven percent drop in May. MSZP's popularity didn't change either. MDF is still above the necessary 5% while SZDSZ is under. Attached is a graph of the recent polling that shows that about 25% of those asked still either don't know, don't tell, or don't intend to vote. Therefore the situation, although still favorable for Fidesz, may be more fluid than appears on the surface.Marketing centrum The most interesting aspect of this month's poll is that 47% of the people would like it if the budget, to be voted on in December, were accepted by parliament. I do hope that the politicians of SZDSZ are listening since the acceptance of the budget depends on at least some of their votes. By the way, SZDSZ has been making an awful lot of noise lately. First Gábor Fodor, president of the party, said all sorts of silly things (maybe his English is good enough to know that cucumber season is called silly season in English!) about an "action plan" that they could accept. If not, well, all sorts of dreadful things would follow including "a government of experts" and possibly early elections. What he neglected to mention was that this scenario would also include the very real possibility that SZDSZ would cease to be a party with parliamentary representation. A few days later, former SZDSZ president, János Kóka, who is still the leader of the SZDSZ parliamentary delegation (he refuses to give up his place to Fodor or a man designated by Fodor), announced that for his party the only acceptable tax reform would entail a tax reduction of one thousand billion forints in three years!

Either tomorrow or a day after Gyurcsány will outline the long awaited "action plan" (MSZP refuses to call it by the SZDSZ name) on the pages of Népszabadság. Then we will see whether the SZDSZ leaders will cooperate or not. In any event, in a day or so the cucumber season will definitely be over.