Although Fidesz is still miles ahead of MSZP in the polls, the socialists managed to edge up a bit last month, and I predict that the gap between the two parties will narrow further in the next few months.
I mentioned a few days ago that Zoltán Szabó, socialist MP, got the job of pursuing documented or suspected corruption cases in Fidesz-led municipalities. I called him a Don Quixote, but it looks as if he has managed with his almost twenty press conferences to make a dent. His latest target is Péter Szijjártó, the right-hand man of Viktor Orbán. Head of Orbán's "presidential cabinet" and the chief spokesman of the party. He is a brash young man who is universally despised by Hungarians who are not in the Fidesz camp.
Szijjártó is originally from Győr, a city with a solid Fidesz majority in the city council. Months ago it became known that the women's basketball club of which Szijjártó is president had been leasing a 2006 Audi-A4 for him for at least three years. That "old" Audi (I assume at the end of the lease) was recently replaced with a 2009 model. The first problem with the free car is that the basketball club has received subsidies from the city of Győr. Szijjártó, in addition to being a member of parliament, is also a member of the Fidesz-led Győr city council. He of course voted several times for financial assistance to his favorite sports club. I wrote about all this at some length on February 6 ("Political corruption in Hungary"). Since then new problems have emerged with Szijjártó's activities in Győr. Several contracts were awarded to people with close connections to Fidesz. When an MSZP politician leveled the accusation Szijjártó sued, claiming that the charges were false. That was not a smart thing to do because, lo and behold, and this doesn't happen too often, the court found that the MSZP politician's charges were well founded. Szijjártó lost.
That verdict naturally encouraged Zoltán Szabó and his fellow socialists, who managed to bring the issue to parliament. The chief prosecutor also received an "invitation." Several socialist politicians asked questions from the chief prosecutor, who assured them that an investigation into the case is underway. I have the distinct feeling that Szijjártó's activities in Győr, especially after Szijjártó lost his case in court, will have consequences that might mean if not an end to at least a break in his career that up until now has been spectacular. No wonder that Szijjártó looks a bit worried. So does his boss, Viktor Orbán. See the two of them huddling together with Tibor Navracsics.
Another serious setback for Fidesz came from the IMF and from Brussels. A few days ago Mihály Varga, former minister of finance and Fidesz's economic expert, floated the idea that the budget submitted by the Bajnai government is based on false data. Specifically, certain expenses were omitted and therefore the estimated deficit will not be 3.8% but 7.6%. Viktor Orbán echoed the same opinion. Analysts figure that Fidesz, after promising pie in the sky, was surreptitiously introducing their plan to raise the deficit and thereby at least partially cover all the goodies offered to Fidesz voters whose allegiance must be kept. If they have to enforce the current lean, mean budget, that allegiance might evaporate by the municipal elections in the fall. It was also perhaps a trial balloon: what would the IMF and the European Union think of the idea.
Well, Orbán and his financial advisors received an answer yesterday. No way! James Morsink, head of the IMF delegation currently in Budapest, announced that the goal of a 3.8% deficit is realistic. He based this opinion on his belief that the structural changes introduced in the Hungarian economy might trigger some economic growth by the second quarter of next year. Barbara Kauffmann, head of the EU delegation in Hungary, announced that "the European Union is satisfied with the consolidation efforts of the Hungarian goverment."
And then came the cold shower on Fidesz's plans for a larger deficit. James Morsink announced that "we met with the leaders of Fidesz who told us that it is possible that the deficit might grow to 7%," but, he added, "the IMF would not tolerate" such a budget deficit. Barbara Kauffmann said the same thing. Hungary depends on the goodwill of the IMF and the EU, and therefore Fidesz will not be able to act like the nation's Santa Claus.
And finally, the bad publicity in the English-language press has surely made Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz top brass a little bit more cautious. According to a short news item that appeared in today's Népszava Oszkár Molnár, the infamous Fidesz MP and mayor of Enying, will not be a candidate for a parliamentary seat because, according to the paper's journalists who keep a close eye on who is being invited by Viktor Orbán for a discussion about next year's election, Molnár was not among the invitees. Moreover, they were also informed by Fidesz politicians that the party will give Molnár a way out–to retire as a member of parliament but to remain mayor of Enying.
A few hours later, however, Népszava in its online edition corrected the earlier news item. The local Fidesz leaders in the county of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén unanimously supported Molnár's parliamentary candidacy from the county's eighth electoral district. And, the paper added, because Orbán earlier said that this decision is in the hands of the locals, Molnár will be a candidate. Well, that might be what Molnár thinks, who himself informed MTI, the Hungarian news agency, of the local decision, but in his place I wouldn't be so sure.