A few days ago most political analysts were ready to bury MSZP. Some of them were sure that the party would fall apart as a result of the events of the last two weeks. The president of an organization called MSZP Társadalompolitikai Tagozat (Social Policy Section of MSZP) actually wrote an article entitled “Endgame” in today’s Népszabadság. I must say that Gyula Czöndör’s timing was singularly bad because today all 188 members of the MSZP parliamentary caucus signed Gordon Bajnai’s “Political Manifesto.” Since SZDSZ supported the Reform Alliance’s program which Bajnai’s closely resembles it is almost certain that SZDSZ members will also sign. With the possible exception of József Gulyás. But even if he doesn’t sign, there will be a comfortable majority. I might add that according to Károly Herényi even MDF members might support Bajnai’s program once their experts have time to study the details. Therefore, it is something of a mystery to me why Tibor Navracsics thinks that Bajnai’s program will not pass. Perhaps wishful thinking. The current Fidesz strategy is to call Bajnai’s program no more than “the program of MSZP.” The Fidesz description of Bajnai’s program is “the package of hopelessness,” the same phrase it used to characterize the earlier government program. It would be time to come up with something more imaginative, but my feeling is that there is some confusion at the moment in Fidesz.
Those who imagined a huge internal struggle within MSZP were also wrong. It seems that there was an exchange of words between Ferenc Gyurcsány and Imre Szekeres but according to people present Gyurcsány didn’t call Szekeres “untrustworthy and dishonest” or “not fit to lead the party.” Perhaps something similar. Anyway, those commentators who revel in gossip and who immediately jump to conclusions already announced a power struggle between the Gyurcsány faction and the Szekeres faction. With great imagination they foresaw two socialist parties. Well, things didn’t work out that way. However, from here on participants in such confidential meetings will have to leave their cell phones behind.
The opposition finds this a terribly undemocratic move, but such a restriction is not unknown in countries with more established democratic traditions than Hungary. For example, lately in Canada. The next opportunity to come up with a new prediction for intraparty squabble was the alleged dissension over the nomination for the post of the party chairman. Observers were trying to figure out the ideological makeup of the alleged nominees and thereby predict the future course of MSZP. These speculations were also useless because in the end only one person was nominated for the post, a close associate of Ferenc Gyurcsány, Ildikó Lendvai. Lendvai is popular within the party and her election is almost certain. Her replacement as head of the parliamentary caucus will most likely be Attila Mesterházy, one of Lendvai’s associates. Mesterházy is a thirty-five-year-old economist with a very impressive background. Pictures of the two politicians below (or wherever TypePad puts them). The other two names mentioned as possible successors to Gyurcsány as head of the party, Péter Kiss and Imre Szekeres, will assist Ildikó Lendvai as managing directors. Otherwise, these two men will most likely remain in the new cabinet: Kiss as minister in charge of the prime minister’s office and Szekeres as minister of defense. At least on the surface everybody seems to be happy.
I’m not so sure whether Viktor Orbán is happy. According to some analysts Orbán just talks about early elections but in fact is relieved that someone else will have to make the hard decisions and push through an austerity program. By next year, if all goes well, he can win the election easily and reap the benefits of Bajnai’s efforts. I’ve waffled on this issue in the past. But by now I think that Orbán really wants early elections. First, I think that Orbán is so eager to be the prime minister of the country that he would even assume the odium of an austerity program. After all, he could put the blame for the country’s troubles on the previous administration. Second, I’m sure that Orbán dreams of winning more than two-thirds of the seats. In this case he could start the new era he often talks about. Third, right now the situation looks overwhelmingly positive for Fidesz, but who knows what will happen a year from now. The Bajnai program might bring results and the victory might not be as absolutely assured or, at least, not as much of a landslide as it seems now.
There are some signs that the majority of the Hungarian people have resigned themselves to the fact that an austerity program is unavoidable. The latest Sonda Ipsos poll shows that 75% of the population will accept such a program. Even pensioners seem to be coming around, though for now the evidence is only anecdotal. On today’s TV news a reporter must have asked at least half a dozen pensioners on the street what they think. All without exception said that of course they are not happy but they understand: there is no more money. They have to sacrifice too. MSZP voters are optimistic: two-thirds think that things will improve with Bajnai. Fidesz voters are, of course, less sanguine but surprisingly only 37% of them think that things will get worse and 17% actually think that life might even get better as a result of the austerity program. Interestingly enough, although Fidesz tries to hide the party’s intentions, 70% of the people think that Orbán and his team would have to do exactly the same as the MSZ-SZDSZ supported Bajnai government is doing. So, after all, perhaps people cannot really be fooled. They are starting to understand the facts of life, and that might be dangerous for long-term Fidesz plans.