We left Viktor Orbán a couple of days ago not quite sure how he should handle his party's relationship with the government. One day he said that he would negotiate with anyone, including Ferenc Gyurcsány, for the good of the country. A day or two later he made a speech that precluded any kind of cooperation between Gyurcsány and himself or, more broadly, between his party and the government. At this point Gyurcsány, feeling confident after the support he garnered with the vote on the budget, decided to test Orbán's true intentions. He phoned him personally and asked him to meet with him to discuss matters of vital importance to the country in this very serious economic situation. Orbán didn't say no. In fact, when he was asked in a radio interview whether he was planning to meet with the prime minister he answered that he was willing but he would have to discuss the conditions of such a meeting with the top party leadership. Not more than three or four hours went by when Péter Szijjártó announced that under no circumstances would Viktor Orbán meet with Ferenc Gyurcsány. According to Szijjártó, the request for a meeting was a mere publicity stunt. Viktor Orbán wouldn't lend a helping hand to a mistaken, inappropriate, if not criminal, economic policy.
Now I highly doubt that Ferenc Gyurcsány thought Orbán would meet with him. However, by showing that he is the one who is willing to cooperate and thereby forcing Orbán to demonstrate that he is the intractable one, the prime minister can effectively prove that it is Orbán and not he who is responsible for the terribly strained relationship between the MSZP government and Fidesz-KDNP. Gyurcsány can only gain the support of the electorate by showing his willingness to sit down with the head of the opposition and have an exchange of ideas that may result in at least limited cooperation between the two sides. After all, we know from the Szonda Ipsos poll that the overwhelming majority of voters of all political stripes want to have closer cooperation between the government and its opposition and that a lot of people, including Fidesz voters, are not at all sure that Viktor Orbán's strategy is correct. Therefore, one might conclude that Orbán's negative answer is self-defeating from his own point of view.
So then why did he decide against the meeting? According to some analysts he is truly afraid of Ferenc Gyurcsány's political savvy and intellect. He got such a jolt at the television debate with Gyurcsány in 2006 that he no longer feels confident meeting the prime minister again. Not even in private. But as one analyst said today, "He can't avoid another television debate with the prime minister in 2010." Well, I disagree. Orbán has no intention of ever having another television debate with Ferenc Gyurcsány. The strategy of having the Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary members walk out when Gyurcsány speaks is a clever way of introducing the theme of "never will I exchange a word with this man." In 2010 Orbán simply will announce that with this liar he will not have a debate. Of course, this would be a calculated risk because it is possible that the general public would then decide that after all he is a coward.
The other explanations for the refusal are less personal and psychological. One is that Fidesz, like any other party, wants to win the next election and therefore it is not to its advantage to help the government find solutions to the current crisis. Let them sink. Another possibility is that Fidesz has no revolutionary solutions to the current economic problems. They would have to do very much what the current government is doing. However, they can't confess that there is no viable solution that would include lowering taxes, promising more money from the government, and ensuring happiness for all. They have to "lie" to the people and blame the current government for a heartless austerity program. Therefore meeting with Gyurcsány and agreeing to a common policy would not be to their advantage. The third reason analysts come up with is that there are many conflicting ideas concerning the economy within Fidesz itself, and there is hence no consensus with which Orbán could go to a meeting with Gyurcsány.
I think that all these reasons behind Orbán's refusal to meet Gyurcsány are partially true. I do think that Orbán is afraid of Gyurcsány. I also think that Orbán doesn't want to help the government in any way because that would not be to his political advantage. I also think that Fidesz doesn't want to show its cards. Which one of these is paramount? I have no idea. One thing I'm sure of: Orbán's strategy in the long run doesn't seem to be a winning one.