Another important vote in the Hungarian parliament

Sunday night János Kóka, leader of the liberals in parliament, announced with great fanfare that the SZDSZ delegation would not vote for the new tax law. The changes were not substantial enough for their taste. So, although his party voted for the budget, the SZDSZ caucus would not vote for the revenue provisions underpinning the budget. That is, they voted for the spending side but would not vote for the income side. Well, to me that sounds a bit illogical. The only thing I could think of was that the illustrious new leaders of SZDSZ were compensating. They got so much flack for voting with the government on the budget, they were accused of not being a real opposition party, that they had to show the world that after all they are tough guys who stick to their guns.

After receiving the news that SZDSZ would vote with a resounding "no" some journalists were sure that even if the budget went through the tax law would not. Yet the MSZP government was optimistic. One of the more prominent MSZP parliamentary members, István Göndör, optimistically predicted well before the vote that with "one or two votes from MDF" success was almost certain. As it turned out the final result was a great deal better than one or two extra votes coming from MDF. The final tally was 198 yeas and 181 nays. The current number of active members is 385 and therefore six members were either not present or didn't vote. We definitely know that Ibolya Dávid wasn't there. She was a guest of Angela Merkel in Berlin. (Károly Herényi, leader of the MDF delegation, proudly announced this morning that for the German Christian Democratic party congress it was only Ibolya Dávid who was invited from "the Hungarian political right." In plain language: Fidesz is not considered to be a Christian Democratic party in the European sense by the German Christian Democrats. Dig, dig!) We also know that Peter Boross (MDF, former prime minister) was present but didn't vote. Kóka was true to his word: all the SZDSZ members voted against the bill. On the other hand, although Herényi promised a united front in favor of the bill in the MDF delegation, it turned out that three members didn't follow Herényi's lead for a yes vote: Zoltán Hock, András Csáky, and Kálmán Katona. I wasn't at all surprised about Zoltán Hock whose utterances in the media are always to the right of Dávid or Herényi, but I was surprised about Katona whom I consider a moderate man. The MDF explanation for the support of the bill was that their demand for abolishing the inheritance tax under 20 million forints was included. There seems to be a bit of controversy about the consequences of the MDF renegades' action. The three members claim that they were free to vote according to their conscience while Herényi has a different view: they will be punished.

So where did the extra votes come from? First of all, two Fidesz members and one Christian Democrat voted for the bill, apparently "by mistake." One of those in favor was János Horváth who is the oldest member of parliament. Horváth left Hungary in 1956 and lived in the United States, teaching economics, until he returned to Hungary. Once upon the time, after the war, he was a Smallholder but now he is a member of Fidesz. Whether Horváth voted for the bill by mistake, I don't know. It's possible that he as a fairly moderate man decided that this tax bill was a small step in the right direction. Better than the existing one. All in all, seventeen extra votes came together easily.

Viktor Orbán is not a happy man. One could actually say that at the moment he is a very angry man. And when he is angry he uses strong words. Today he was so miffed by the vote on the tax bill that he accused the government of "one week buying the votes of SZDSZ, next week of MDF and if that is not sufficient it buys votes from the traitors within Fidesz." In response, Károly Herényi sent a scathing communiqué to the media. In it, he claimed that Fidesz hasn't had any political success in six years and Viktor Orbán can do only one thing: insult his political opponents. Finally, he sarcastically inquired how much a Fidesz vote costs. Orbán wasn't deterred and the insults continued.

The most amazing thing about Orbán's current strategy is that he continues to blame the Hungarian government for the economic crisis. And only the government. He refuses, at least in public, to admit that the crisis is not limited to Hungary. It is a world crisis. Meanwhile, instead of trying to find encouraging words that are so necessary in the kind of situation we are experiencing at the moment, Orbán says that Hungary is  "not in a tunnel but in a hole and it is the current government that tossed it into that hole." According to Orbán "this government is the worst one in all of Europe."

Meanwhile the government seemed to get the business tycoons on its side. Important Hungarian businessmen created a "Reform Alliance." They had long discussions about their proposals with Ferenc Gyurcsány this morning and they promised to prepare a detailed plan for structural reforms. It will  apparently be ready in January or February in time for the opening of parliament in February. I find this development an intriguing one. Everybody knows that reforms are necessary but the politicians alone don't seem to be strong enough to embark on them. And even if the government were daring enough, the opposition would not support the reforms, most of which need two-thirds majority of the votes. However, if business leaders from outside of government and parties demand change perhaps it will be easier to have political agreement. That, of course, is an optimistic scenario but under the circumstances it is the only one I see that may achieve some results.