The executive orders President Obama can issue without the advice and consent of Congress highlight an efficiency in the American system of government. Of course, the system has its drawbacks, never more evident than in the last months of the Nixon administration. Then we sighed and sighed: the country could have moved beyond this political crisis so much faster in a parliamentary system. It would have been highly unlikely that parliament would have given a vote of confidence to Prime Minister Nixon. The whole thing could have been over in no time as opposed to the months of agony.
But the parliamentary system can sometimes stand in the way of change. In Hungary it is especially cumbersome because of critical issues that require a two-thirds majority to sign into law. Perhaps behind the introduction and acceptance of these parliamentary rules was a certain naiveté that prevailed at the time of the regime change in 1989 and 1990. As long as there was a common enemy, the communist one-party system, the opposition seemed to be a pretty solid bloc. Yes, there were differences, everybody knew that. SZDSZ supported capitalism while MDF warmed up an old idea from the 1930s that tried to find a third road between capitalism and socialism. SZDSZ said there was "no third road." But otherwise, their hatred of the Kádár regime was stronger than their dislike of each other.
Once the old regime disappeared, cracks appeared in the wall of the opposition. Furthermore, fissures appeared within the parties themselves. This was especially true of MDF that together with the Smallholders and the Christian Democrats formed a coalition. Within two years there appeared a radical, anticapitalist, anti-western, and antisemitic faction within MDF that threatened the very existence of the party. Moreover, the more liberal conservative prime minister was reluctant to get rid of István Csurka, a playwright who was leading the radicals. He was reluctant because he was afraid, not without reason, that the majority of the party faithful would follow Csurka. Apparently at one point he called the membership of MDF a "terrible lot." Eventually Csurka was removed but MDF was in ruin.
Meanwhile MSZP, which had a very poor showing at the 1990 elections, was gaining in the polls because the Kádár regime looked better and better as the economic situation deteriorated. One and a half million people lost their jobs. SZDSZ, MSZP and, yes, Fidesz formed a bloc on the liberal left while MDF, the Christian Democrats, Smallholders and the radical MIÉP gathered on the right. The antagonism between the two sides intensified as years went by even as alliances shifted–most notably, of course, as Fidesz moved from left to right. Since 2002, when Fidesz unexpectedly lost the elections, there has been open warfare.
Gyurcsány has tried several times to engage Orbán in dialogue but Orbán steadfastly refuses. He wants to distance himself from any policy that brings hardship to the Hungarian people and wants to place the burden of the economic crisis on the shoulders of the current government. Fidesz has a two-pronged attack–to oppose every austerity measure and to demand tax cuts. Who wouldn't vote for someone whose platform was to put more money into the pockets of every Hungarian? (Well, perhaps not those of the prime minister.)
And then there's the drivel directed against the IMF loan. The latest attack comes from István Balsai, minister of justice in the Antall government now a Fidesz member, according to whom the decision to apply for and then accept the IMF and ECB loans needed parliamentary approval. Of course, it didn't. Moreover, can you imagine what could have happened while parliament discussed the necessity and conditions of the loan? Hungary could have gone belly up. Balsai's latest is that the government might have to sell the Holy Crown, the Parliament, and the Paks Atomic Plant because these are all collateral for the loan. Apparently that is utter nonsense.
As for the government's answers to the crisis, there is a lot of criticism and not only from opposition quarters. Lately more and more people, even friends of the government, complain about the lack of a comprehensive plan. The problem is that in extraordinary times ordinary planning breaks down. It's easy to plan a vacation, somewhat more difficult to plan a wedding. But how does one plan an economic program when the pieces keep moving? Just think of the way the American rescue plan TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) has kept shifting; there's just no solid ground under it. We can only hope it's not sitting atop quicksand or a fault line.
We have another five days before the extraordinary session of parliament convenes to discuss the crisis. MSZP has already prepared a program, the details of which are still not known. As far as I know SZDSZ and MDF have also submitted proposals. That leaves Fidesz. We will see what happens in the next few days.