This must have been the best kept secret in Hungarian politics of the last twenty years! Ferenc Gyurcsány in his keynote address to the delegates of the MSZP Congress, after outlining the accomplishments of his government, said: “I hear that I am the obstacle to the cooperation required for changes, for a stable governing majority and the responsible behavior of the opposition. If so, then I am removing this obstacle now. I propose that we form a new government under a new prime minister.” What does this mean exactly? In order to understand the exact constitutional situation I must say a few words about the "constructive vote of no confidence." This parliamentary rule originated in Germany during the period of the Weimar Republic when one chancellor after the other was voted out of office as a result of a "motion of no confidence." It was therefore decided that parliament can vote the chancellor out of office only if there is a positive majority for a prospective successor. Today besides Germany such a "constructive vote of no confidence" exists in Spain and in Hungary.
According to Article 39A(1) of the Hungarian Constitution: "A motion of no-confidence in the Prime Minister may be initiated by a written petition, which includes the nomination of a candidate for the office of Prime Minister, by no less than one-fifth of the Members of the National Assembly. A motion of no-confidence in the Prime Minister is considered a motion of no-confidence in the Government as well. Should, on the basis of this motion, the majority of the Members of the National Assembly withdraw their confidence, then the candidate nominated for Prime Minister in the motion shall be considered to have been elected." Gyurcsány gave two weeks for the parties to come up with a common candidate.
And there's the rub. It is unlikely that any of the MSZP party leaders is suitable for the job: one is more colorless than the next. Moreover, if Gyurcsány's idea is to save his party by having someone else take the odium of the severe austerity package that must be introduced, the new prime minister shouldn't be from MSZP. That would not help the sagging MSZP popularity. In fact, it would only make it worse. One person who is eager to accept the position is Lajos Bokros. As you may remember, his name was already floated as a possible candidate for a constructive vote of no confidence by Ibolya Dávid, president of MDF. Neither MSZP nor Fidesz would support him. Out of the question, we were told. Bokros's skin must be quite thick because just this afternoon he announced that he is ready to join the socialists at their congress and, I guess, talk things over with the party heavyweights. However, Ildikó Lendvai, head of the MSZP caucus, announced in advance of his appearance that Bokros was unacceptable.
Fidesz and the party's hangers-on, the Christian Democrats, don't want to hear about any constructive vote of no confidence. They want early elections. Perhaps in June in conjunction with the European Union parliamentary elections. But outside of Fidesz and the Christian Democrats (who surely would not enter the fray as a separate party) no one wants to have early elections. To tell you the truth, I don't think that even Fidesz wants them. If I were Viktor Orbán, I wouldn't. Sure, he would win easily, but then what? All his empty promises would be exposed. Instead of a horn of plenty, he would have to introduce severe budgetary cuts, and I'll bet that his party's popularity would soon be no better than that of Gyurcsány's. He might have to take away the extra money pensioners currently receive, he most likely would have to cut back on child support except in cases of extreme need, and he would have to expand the number of people paying income tax, reaching down to a previously untaxed bracket. What would happen then? As it is, trade unions are planning to demonstrate to oppose any constraints although Gyurcsány up to now hasn't dared to take drastic but most likely necessary steps. Local elections will take place in October and, if Fidesz introduced its own, more draconian austerity program–the one that Orbán outlined in a talk to a gathering of young political scientists and subsequently drowned in a flood of empty rhetoric, the country's cities and towns that are now practically completely orange might be red again. Surely, that is not a good prospect from the point of view of Fidesz. The best scenario for Orbán would be for Gyurcsány to stay and for his government to do all the dirty work. Then a year later when the current government's popularity is even lower than it is right now (hard to imagine but anything is possible) he will arrive as the Messiah.
So if Bokros is out of the question, who else could fill Gyurcsány's shoes? Names are circulating everywhere, but I can't quite imagine that any one of them would receive the votes of the majority of parliament. One of the names I heard mentioned is György Surányi, twice president of the Hungarian National Bank–first in 1990-1991 and again between 1995 and 2001. Viktor Orbán could hardly wait until Surányi's term came to an end, and for three solid years he did everything in his power to make the bank president's life miserable. Therefore I can't see Fidesz voting for him, but a more or less solid bloc of MSZP-SZDSZ-MDF votes would be enough. Besides Surányi, other economists were mentioned. For example, László Békesi's name came up. He is abrasive, lacking in political skills, and unpredictable. I don't think that he would be a good choice even if the three parties could agree on him, which I doubt. At a minimum, MSZP and SZDSZ would have to support a common candidate. So there is a lot of talk about the resurrection of the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition. I wouldn't discount a three-party coalition either. That, in my opinion, would be the best solution if the socialist-liberal-moderate conservative parties want to stem the tide of right-wing populism. That, of course, assumes that Gyurcsány's offer is genuine and that the parties could rally around another candidate.
The "political scientists" are in a tizzy. Suddenly, they don't know what to make of the situation. Nézőpont Intézet (Prospective Institute), a think-tank close to Fidesz, thinks that Gyurcsány's announcement of his intention to resign is nothing but a ploy. He wants to strengthen his position within the party and to show to the world that he is the only possible candidate for the premiership. Others feel that Gyurcsány simply wants to prove that it is not his person that is the obstacle to cooperation. My own position is close to that of Kornélia Magyar of the Progressive Institute who said to The Wall Street Journal today: "The socialists are probably not going to be able to find a new prime minister." It is possible that the party will propose a caretaker government of experts before the 2010 elections, but "I give a bigger chance that Gyurcsány is going to come back." In any case, not only did Gyurcsány receive a standing ovation from those present, but he also got 85% of the votes to remain the leader of his party.