SZDSZ says no, but for how long?

I have to admit that I didn't expect such a categorical rejection by SZDSZ of Ferenc Gyurcsány's "nice little essay," praised by economists as a step in the right direction. I expected SZDSZ to say that the government ought to reduce expenses and not rely solely on the hope that more taxes would be collected in the future. I also expected them to offer to negotiate, to see whether some compromise could be reached. But this is not what happened.

After the top brass of SZDSZ spent two days closeted in Dunaújváros, the new party chief Gábor Fodor announced that although they are happy that finally after 120 days the government managed to come up with an action plan, Gyurcsány's patchwork quilt of "ad hoc ideas" simply won't do. "It is not adequate to solve the problems that face the country." There are problems with the contents and there are problems with the trustworthiness of the messenger. Fodor charged that the "nice little essay" harks back to the Kádár regime and gives too great a role to the state. "The omnipotence of the state that is given so much emphasis in this essay is unacceptable," said Fodor. I see almost nothing that would remind me of Kádárism in Gyurcsány's article. I think that here Fodor is scraping the bottom of the barrel. In fact, my reading of the "Compact" is exactly the opposite of the SZDSZ interpretation. During the Kádár era the deal between the state and its citizens was that the state takes care of everything and the citizens have minimal obligations. Gyurcsány in this essay raises the bar for individuals:  the state has certain obligations but only if you, the citizens, also fulfill your obligations. That doesn't sound like Kádárism to me.

In any event, it is obvious from Fodor's words at the press conference that it really didn't matter what Gyurcsány wrote or said. I think SZDSZ decided a long time ago that its future is ensured only if it positions itself as an opposition party. I personally think that this decision was wrong. I know a lot of people who have been faithful supporters of SZDSZ and who now say "never again." This anecdotal evidence is supported by the monthly polls. If things stay the same as in the last few months SZDSZ's support will be below the parliamentary threshold. Just like the KDNP, the Christian Democrats, that has a 22-member parliamentary delegation with no voters behind them. The Christian Democratic caucus is the creation of Fidesz. This way, as a separate parliamentary delegation, it can have representation in parliamentary committees when in fact it is a separate party only in name. If SZDSZ works hard enough perhaps after the next elections it can have the same status: a phony party that made a deal with Fidesz. That was meant as a sick joke, but actually its prospects are even grimmer. The most likely scenario is that SZDSZ would not get into parliament if elections were held early and may not even get into parliament in 2010 considering the events of the last few months.

So what was the instant reaction of the political experts? Orsolya Szomszéd of Vision Consulting, a group of right-leaning political scientists, thinks that although SZDSZ is positioning itself as an opposition party it will not necessarily vote against the acceptance of the budget. The government needs only an extra six votes if all members of parliament are present at the time of the vote. But if some of the SZDSZ members are absent, the vote may go in the government's favor without SZDSZ taking a major political hit. It is also possible that some people in the SZDSZ delegation don't agree with the party gurus and will vote for the budget. Zoltán Kisszely, another political commentator, expects a reconciliation between the two parties, with Gyurcsány acting as middleman. Kisszely more rashly predicts that MDF and Fidesz will also be partners. That seems much less likely. But a guaranteed winner: this is not the last word on the subject.

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Hatodik Oszlop

Funny, you wrote that the package “was praised by economists as a step in the right direction” although MTI had a very different take on it: