The day after: total confusion in Hungarian political life

Ferenc Gyurcsány's announcement that in two weeks he is going to initiate a constructive vote of no confidence was a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky. No one expected it. Of course, there are "clever people" who claim that they had suspected something like it for quite a while, but the truth is that although there were rumors that people on the left within MSZP were unhappy with the prime minister there was nothing new in that. These people have been unhappy for the last five years or so. Yes, it is true that the popularity of the party was at an all-time low, but the opponents of Gyurcsány within the party weren't strong enough to dethrone him. No one thought that the prime minister himself would come up with such an ingenious solution: calling a constructive vote of no confidence against himself. The only case where such a solution was invoked was Willy Brandt's resignation in May 1974 when a close associate of the chancellor and SPD president, Günter Gauillaume, turned out to be an agent of the East German Stasi. At that time Brandt and Herbert Wehner, a key man in the socialist party, figured out a way to have a new head of government without new elections: to initiate a constructive vote of no confidence in favor of Helmut Schmidt, minister of finance in the SPD-FDP coalition government.

Fidesz was obviously caught by surprise. The top brass, after spending hours pondering the situation, came up with the same old plan: new elections. On Monday they will initiate a motion to discuss the dissolution of parliament. As we know, such attempts have been made several times and they all failed for the simple reason that the opposition parties can't agree on such a plan of action. I'm almost certain that they themselves know that their motion will fail again, but since they have no intention of sitting down and talking to MSZP, Gyurcsány or no Gyurcsány, they have to come up with a plan of their own. As for the other parties, SZDSZ is considered to be the most willing to come up with a "government of experts." If one can believe Gábor Fodor, the head of the party, they are not thinking in terms of a coalition; in my opinion this might change. This morning Károly Herényi was fairly negative when asked whether MDF would negotiate with MSZP and SZDSZ. Instead he kept emphasizing that they would support the politicians of Fidesz in their quest for early elections. However, by this afternoon MDF changed its mind. They are willing to negotiate. Everything can turn on a dime these days in Hungary.

This morning the "presidium" of MSZP (president, vice presidents, and head of the parliamentary caucus) held a meeting after which Gyurcsány gave a press conference. According to him, MSZP would like to see an "open, national government whose aim is to make decisisions that would help the recovery of the country's economy." What does "national government" mean? I don't think that it means a grand coalition because Fidesz would never take part in such a coalition. Moreover, the way Gyurcsány formulated the presidium's position, it was clear to me that  a "national government" for the MSZP presidium simply means a government with a "comfortable majority." He added that they would like to see "wide support"–presumably, a common platform of the three parties: MSZP, SZDSZ, and MDF. Of course, Gyurcsány spoke as if they were also counting on negotiations with Fidesz, but surely he knows as well as almost everybody in the country that such negotiations will not take place. Not even if Tibor Szanyi, the self-appointed leader of the left within MSZP, announced today that a grand coalition should be formed "without Gyurcsány and without Orbán." Orbán would have to promise that he wouldn't seek the position of prime minister for at least a year! I can already see how eagerly Orbán would accept Szanyi's more than naive proposal. Gyurcsány in his speech yesterday clearly had Szanyi and some of his friends in the party in mind when he warned against "left-wing populism" that is no better than its right-wing variety.

As for the time table, according to plans MSZP (and whoever joins them, I guess) would put forth the motion of constructive no confidence on April 6 and parliament could vote on the motion on April 14. Gyurcsány stated that the new government should have a more far-reaching economic program than the one he and his government originally contemplated. The current government will do everything necessary to prepare the foundation of such a program, but it will be the duty of the new prime minister to decide to what extent he wants to follow the recommendations. Gyurcsány will try to be helpful. He said that the new prime minister should decide the composition of his cabinet, which led me to believe that the cabinet might include people from the other parties. He was also optimistic that the parties (without Fidesz in my opinion) will be able to agree on a suitable person for the job.

So who might the next prime minister be? It is almost certain that it will not be one of the MSZP bigwigs or members of the current government. Therefore we can discard some names currently circulating: Gordon Bajnai, József Gráf, Péter Kiss. It will most likely be an outsider whose background is in economics and/or finance. Lajos Bokros is unlikely because MSZP would not support his nomination and I doubt that SZDSZ would either. After all, SZDSZ thought that Bokros was their man and now he is heading MDF's European Parliamentary list. László Békesi says such awful things both about MSZP and Ferenc Gyurcsány that I very much doubt that MSZP would pick him. I wouldn't either, because I find his utterances undiplomatic if not outright rude. Like a bull in the china shop. Then there is András Simor, the current head of the Hungarian National Bank. His decisions in the last few months have not exactly shown him to be a capable future leader of a country in the middle of an economic crisis. Moreover, I found his constant blabbing outright injurious to the country's interests. That leaves György Surányi, central bank president between 1990-91 and 1995-2001. He was a very good bank president and during one of the years in office he was chosen as bank president of the year in Europe. The problem with Surányi is that he hasn't said much until now about how he would try to solve the current economic problems. But perhaps that might be his strength! In any case, my feeling is that among the experts he would be the most acceptable to the three parties that might be called upon to decide on the person of the prime minister. Here is a "family portrait" of those whose names are circulating as possibilities: Miniszterelnokok  

Meanwhile, I'm just hoping that those people, followers of Fidesz, who are bent on having early elections will not cause any disturbances. The trade unions promised a huge demonstration for April 4 and one can only hope that those who see this whole constructive motion of no confidence as no more than a trick to keep MSZP in power will not join in. Or perhaps the leaders of the trade unions will have enough sense to scrap their march under the circumstances. That's all the country would need. Meanwhile, one newspaper is sure that because of Gyurcsány's resignation the forint will be even weaker on Monday while others predict that the market will soar upon hearing the good news. Rumors are floating every which way and it is difficult to keep up with the flow of information. One can write this blog in the morning and by evening the situation is entirely different. If everything works out well, I am hopeful that the political situation will be better than it is now. If Gyurcsány can concentrate on party matters and the coming EP elections, perhaps the outcome will not be an MSZP rout. With a comfortable majority the work of parliament will be smoother and more predictable. And finally an "expert" prime minister three parties can support will be able to make bolder moves in economic matters.