The end of political chaos or just a brief respite?

I stopped writing about daily events in Hungary because it was impossible to construct a coherent story. I think I left off at the point that György Surányi, the leading candidate for prime minister, withdrew his name from consideration and SZDSZ suggested Lajos Bokros for the post. In fact, they more than suggested; they announced that it was Bokros or nobody. Bokros appeared eager enough and he apparently confirmed his interest to the SZDSZ politicians who suggested his name. By that time MSZP was desperate enough to accept Bokros as long as SZDSZ would be a willing partner in the new government. But as soon as MSZP announced that Bokros was fine as a candidate, Bokros suddenly announced that he no longer wished to be prime minister. I'm not going to go into the accusations hurled at Bokros from the SZDSZ side or Bokros's rather murky attempts to explain away his change of heart. But he was the second candidate acceptable to both MSZP and SZDSZ who decided he didn't want the job. By that time, even friends of SZDSZ and MSZP thought that what was going on was a joke.

At this point MSZP proposed Gordon Bajnai, the minister of economic development in charge of the large amounts of money Hungary received from the European Union. Bajnai's economic/austerity plans, outlined in the media, are very close to the ideas of the Reform Alliance that SZDSZ wholeheartedly supported. So one would have thought that Bajnai would be acceptable to the liberal party. But no, the SZDSZ presidium was evenly split between those who supported Bajnai and those who opposed him. The presidium has thirteen members including the president, Gábor Fodor, but Gábor Demszky wasn't present. Therefore the result was 6:6. At this point pandemonium must have broken out within the SZDSZ leadership, especially among members of the parliamentary caucus where the followers of János Kóka, head of the caucus, are in the majority. I heard of members of parliament who threatened to leave the party if the presidium didn't accept Bajnai. I could foresee a situation where those who disagreed with the hotheads in the presidium would simply leave the caucus and sit with the independents and support a Bajnai government from there. The SZDSZ presidium and the caucus negotiated all day long.

Sometime during the afternoon Gordon Bajnai decided to put an end to this squabbling one way or the other. He told SZDSZ that he would wait until midnight. If SZDSZ's top brass didn't come up with an answer by then he would no longer be a candidate. However, he was ready to join them and explain the details of his austerity program. A few minutes after midnight the smoke went up: 7 to 5 in favor of Bajnai. This time Mátyás Eörsi was absent. The five who voted against an agreement were Gabriella Béki, László Csőzik, József Gulyás, Péter Gusztos, and András Léderer. The last two are, it seems, part-time college students in their mid-twenties. Out of the nineteen parliamentary members seventeen were present and only four voted against Bajnai: Gabriella Béki, Péter Gusztos, József Gulyás, and Gábor Velkey. Three of these (Béki, Gusztos, Gulyás) are also members of the presidium. Out of these four, Gusztos said that he would abide by the majority's opinion, Béki and Velkey will think about their future attitudes, and Gulyás refused to budge. Today Gulyás explained why he won't support Bajnai: because MSZP will sabotage his program. Obviously Gulyás is blessed with supernatural powers; he can see into the future. The two absent members, Gábor Kuncze and Mátyás Eörsi, most likely would have voted with the majority.

And a few words about Bajnai. He is forty-one years old, seven years younger than Gyurcsány, and therefore he had no paid KISZ (Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség) position. In fact, at college (Karl Marx University) he was the first democratically elected president of the student body and as such organized a student boycott of the cafeteria where apparently the food was both bad and expensive. At the time of the change of regime he tried his hand at establishing a new democratic student movement, without much success. At one point he and István Stumpf, in charge of the prime minister's office between 1998 and 2002, organized a youth organization called MISZOT (Magyar Ifjúsági Szervezetek Országos Tanácsa), a kind of umbrella organization of the different youth groups. Because Bajnai spoke English and German well, he was the "foreign secretary" of the organization. In fact, his good relations with Stumpf didn't stop in later years: he gave a lecture series at the Századvég Politikai Iskola, a Fidesz creation.

After this brief sojourn into political life he settled for the business world after graduation in 1991. First he joined Creditum, a financial consulting company, where he stayed until 1993. In that year he received a scholarship to continue his "professional training" in London at the EBRD. In 1994, after returning from England, he joined Eurocorp International Finance Plc as a consultant. In 1995 he became a managing director and then vice CEO and Director of the Corporate Finance and Equity Capital Market Division of CA-IB Securities Plc. Between 2000 and 2005 he was CEO of Wallis Plc. In 2006 Prime Minister Gyurcsány, who knew him from his Creditum days, invited him to enter government service. First he was Government Commissioner for Development Policy, a year later he became Minister of Local Government and Regional Development in charge of the European Union subsidies. In 2008 he moved up and came to occupy perhaps the most important ministerial position: Minister for National Development and Economy.

Gyurcsány, Bajnai, and Kóka are old friends who came to know each other in the burgeoning Hungarian business world. Gyurcsány had previously called on Bajnai to join the government but he suggested János Kóka instead of himself. So, it's no wonder that Viktor Orbán already announced that even if Bajnai becomes prime minister the country will remain the captive of the same business circle as before. Such an accusation resonates well with the basically anti-business, anti-capitalist electorate. In addition, Tibor Navracsics announced that Fidesz doesn't consider a future Bajnai government legitimate because after all "nobody elected Gordon Bajnai" to be prime minister of Hungary. Of course, this is constitutional nonsense and an old Fidesz mantra. They said the same thing when MSZP named Ferenc Gyurcsány to be Péter Medgyessy's successor.

The "civil" organizations are planning a huge demonstration on Heroes' Square for April 5. Jobbik's EP candidate, the inimitable Krisztina Morvai, warned Bajnai that he will be shaking with fear if Jobbik moves into action against his so-called government. The couple of trade union leaders I heard today were not enthusiastic about the Bajnai package that wants to save about 600 billion forints this year. The few details sound pretty tough and even Bajnai predicted that the measures "will hurt." I wouldn't be at all surprised if the trade unions took their people to the streets soon enough. After all, they found the much milder Gyurcsány package unacceptable. It's a good thing that Bajnai apparently has no long-term political ambitions.