Yesterday was not a very good day for Viktor Orbán. In the final vote on the budget, it passed with a comfortable majority: 209 to 171. SZDSZ voted for it but, as it turned out, even without the SZDSZ delegation the government would have had the necessary 191 votes because of the support of three independent members. In any case, Ferenc Gyurcsány "didn't have to walk up to the Sándor Palace [where the office of the president is] and resign" as the prime minister promised a couple of months ago in case of failure.
Fidesz and the Christian Democrats realize that passing the budget was a major success for Ferenc Gyurcsány, and thus they immediately began a frontal attack against the person of the prime minister. According to Tibor Navracsics, leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, the crisis began when Gyurcsány became prime minister in 2004. Oh yes? The country's economic problems began in 2002 when with the supporting votes of the Fidesz delegation parliament voted for a 50% increase in the salaries of all public employees. Or one could actually go back two years earlier when the Fidesz government doubled the minimum wage and guaranteed loans for the purchase of houses or apartments at a ridiculously low interest rate. The difference between the rate the bank charged and the rate the buyer paid was made up by the government. Billions of taxpayer money went to purchase real estate, often for speculative purposes.
And I guess the new Fidesz communication doesn't want to confuse the minds of the Hungarian electorate by talking about Gyurcsány's MSZP predecessor, Péter Medgyessy, who more than any other politician was responsible for Hungary's current economic plight. It is much easier to focus on the current prime minister. Yesterday Tibor Navracsics made it clear, even before the vote on the budget, that Fidesz is for reforms but "without Ferenc Gyurcsány." He painted a bleak picture of the Hungarian situation. According to him if Gyurcsány remains in office Hungary "will not even show up in the economic statistics," as if that made any sense. Actually the situation, if one can believe the Economist Intelligence Unit, is not that bad. Especially if we compare it to other European countries. EIU predicts that Hungary's GDP will shrink by 1.5% but Latvia's by 4%, Estonia's by 2.5%, Great Britain's by 2.1%, Ireland's by 2.3%, Denmark's by 1.6%. Naturally, this piece of news aired only once on MTV though it appeared in four or five internet papers. Thus, Navracsics can easily say anything he wants since most people haven't got the foggiest idea about the world economic crisis or Hungary's actual situation. Viktor Orbán today went even further. According to him 2008 was a terrible year and 2009 "can be saved only if the people force a change of government." He added that he would be satisfied with parliament's overthrow of the current government. I assume that would mean an internal rebellion within the socialist party against Ferenc Gyurcsány, ousting him as head of the government. Just no Gyurcsány. If there is no Gyurcsány everything will be fine. One thing is sure: Orbán would have an easier time of it if his opponent were not Ferenc Gyurcsány.
It is becoming obvious that the latest strike at MÁV (Hungarian National Railways) is politically motivated. It was scheduled to coincide with the parliamentary vote on the budget. So if the budget sails through as it did people would not concentrate on the good news but on the bad: thanks to a few hundred striking workers the whole train schedule is shot to hell. There are places where the strike seems to paralyze travel completely. In other places there are delays. Moreover, thanks to a very sloppily formulated strike law the trade unions don't have to forewarn the public about their intentions. The demands of István Gaskó's union are totally unrealisic. They are still demanding 240,000 Ft for each employee (40,000 of them) out of the money received from the sale of the freight section of the giant state company. But MÁV is owned by the Hungarian state and not by its workers. On these grounds, all ten million inhabitants of the country could claim their "fair share" from the sale of MÁV Cargo. A further demand of a 10.5% pay raise under the circumstances is also ridiculous.
So the political cold war has not subsided. On the contrary, the attacks on Gyurcsány and his government will intensify, judging from the utterances of the last two days. I guess this is how Orbán wants to achieve the total collapse of the government under the heavy weight of dissatisfaction and a feeling of gloom. For the time being Hungarians don't seem to notice the economic crisis. Christmas shopping is frenetic. Sales are brisker than last year. The big item is plasma television sets. Moreover, people seem to be doing most of this buying on credit. Oh, yes, and they will have to pay for everything in 2009. Orbán might be right: it will be a very hard year.