The structure of the new Hungarian government

I explained earlier that in order for Viktor Orbán's dream of a revolutionary government structure to become reality Parliament must first change the constitution. However, being in possession of a two-thirds majority of the seats, Fidesz has no problem on that score.

The change in the constitution is necessary because as of now there is no such position as deputy prime minister in the Hungarian governmental setup. András Schiffer, the spokesman of LMP, didn't like the idea of having such a position on historical grounds and I agree with him. The position of deputy prime minister was introduced by the communists, and I find it somehow ironic that the fiercely anti-communist Fidesz politicians are the ones to smuggle it back after a twenty-year hiatus.

There will be not one but two deputy prime ministers in Orbán's new government. One will be for real; the other, in my opinion, is a largely hollow consolation prize. Tibor Navracsics will fill the post of deputy prime minister in addition to heading the ministry of justice. In reality Tibor Navracsics will be the de facto prime minister without being called that. He will run the government. The ministers will report to him and not to Orbán. Several analysts figured that Orbán wanted to save himself from the bruises a prime minister must endure, especially in hard times. This way, if things don't go well, it will be Navracsics and the individual ministers who are at fault.

However, there might be a simpler explanation. Orbán discovered between 1998 and 2002 that he is not a very good administrator. He himself admitted that he got lost in administrative matters and was never quite able to see the whole picture. He tried to remedy the situation by enlarging the Office of the Prime Minister. István Stumpf, the minister in charge of the office, set up a kind of shadow government inside. Each ministry had a group of people in the prime minister's office who oversaw the work of the ministries. So each ministry had its counterpart under the supervision of Stumpf. These shadow ministries were called "referaturák," but apparently they didn't work out. The ministries resented the tight leash coming from the Prime Minister's Office; moreover, they complained, the employees of the prime minister's office overseeing their work were often incompetent.

So now it seems that Orbán wants to divide the functions. Navracsics will run the show while he as quasi president will devise strategy and conduct dialogues with the "people." Well, we will see but I have my doubts. I fear that Orbán is not a better thinker than he was an administrator.

The second deputy prime minister will be Zsolt Semjén, the leader of the Christian Democrats. His role is vague: "national matters and church affairs." Today we heard that Fidesz and the Christian Democrats are signing a new "agreement" in which the relationship between the two will be redefined. Semjén's position reminds people of József Torgyán's special place in the first Orbán government. And that relationship ended rather sadly for Torgyán, the leader of the Smallholders' Party. He and his party were eliminated by a series of clever manipulations by Orbán and his team. The bothersome coalition partner was no more. Some people have the feeling that Semjén's fate will not be terribly different from that of Torgyán.

Mihály Varga, former minister of finance, was put into a role no one expected. Everybody predicted that Varga would again be minister of finance. Instead, he was named a kind of "chief of staff" in the Office of the Prime Minister. The prime minister will have his own spokesman, the inimitable Péter Szijjártó, who was the party's spokesman until now. The official government spokesman has not yet been named. I'm trying to imagine how the dissemination of information will be managed between these two spokesmen but I cannot come up with any reasonable division of work. In fact, I see the possibility of friction between these two offices.

In addition we have eight ministries, some of which have entirely new designations. Viktor Orbán fell in love with the word "national" (nemzeti). His government is "the government of national unity," his goverment will keep in mind only "national interests," and therefore it is not terribly surprising that we have three ministries with the adjective "national" in their names. First there is the Ministry of National Resources (Nemzeti Erőforrások Minisztériuma) headed by Miklós Réthelyi. Réthelyi is a professor of medicine who for a while was president of the Medical School in Budapest. He is 71 years old and has no political experience. What are these national resources? Health, education, welfare, culture, and sports. He first started by saying that he immediately needs 65 billion just for health care, but the next day he announced that there would be even less money this year than last.

The second "national" ministry will be the Ministry of National Economic Development (Nemzeti Gazdaságfejlesztési Minisztérium) headed by György Matolcsy. The Ministry of Finance disappeared. In Matolcsy's ministry an undersecretary will be in charge of the budget, otherwise Mr. Matolcsy can spend and spend and spend. No finance minister will tell him to stop.

The third "national" ministry will be the Ministry of National Development (Nemzeti Fejlesztési Minisztérium) under Tamás Fellegi, a very wealthy businessman. He will be the "oligarch" who is supposed to fight the "oligarchs," as Attila Mesterházy sarcastically remarked. When Fellegi asked what the relation between his ministry and the one under Matolcsy would be, the answer was that Matolcsy will come up with the economic strategies and he will implement them. So the Ministry of National Development will implement the strategies of the Ministry of National Economic Development. It seems that no wordsmiths were hired to devise more "differentiating" names for these ministries.

Then come the more traditional ones. The Foreign Ministry will be headed by János Martonyi who held the post between 1998 and 2002. Hungarian papers mention every time Martonyi's name comes up that the international community is relieved that Martonyi was chosen for the job. I don't quite know why because Hungary's foreign policy was close to disastrous during those four years. Martonyi was little more than a puppet. Hungary's foreign policy was dictated by Viktor Orbán through his close friend, the undersecretary of foreign affairs Zsolt Németh. I will be curious to see where Mr. Németh will end up. Perhaps Martonyi has enough brains to say: "Yes, I accept the job but without Mr. Németh."

The Ministry of Defense will be headed by Csaba Hende, formerly of MDF, who was in charge of the "civil cells" that Viktor Orbán dreamt up in 2002 but that eventually lost their importance. I must say that this appointment surprised me greatly because I was almost sure that the next minister of defense would be István Simicskó, undersecretary of defense between 1998 and 2002. What is behind this decision we don't know yet.

The Ministry of Interior was resurrected and will again be headed by Sándor Pintér, a former high-ranking police officer during the Kádár regime and later police chief of the country. When he was first named minister of interior there was a lot of criticism because it was considered to be undemocratic not to have truly civilian control over the police force. He was very popular with the police though. One thing is sure: he is full of self-confidence. He promised that in two weeks there will be spectacular changes in the field of law and order. Otherwise he already surprised Fidesz politicians when he said yesterday that in 2006 during the riots the police did a very professional job. Oh, my! Poor Zoltán Balog and Krisztina Morvai!

Last there will be a Ministry of the Countryside (Vidékfejlesztési Minisztérium). So, no more Ministry of Agriculture. In the last few years there was an excellent minister of agriculture who managed to have very good relations with the farmers. He himself worked all his life in agriculture, first as the chairman of a collective farm and later as a successful private farmer. The new minister is currently the mayor of Karcag, Sándor Fazekas, who has a law degree. Mesterházy's reaction to his appointment was that the last time a lawyer was in charge of agriculture it was a disaster. He meant József Torgyán.

This is a peculiar governmental structure. It is absolutely unique. Nowhere in Europe can one find anything resembling it. I saw one headline pointing out that this government has the smallest number of ministries since the government of Lajos Batthyány in 1848. I'm not sure whether that is the best recommendation.

People are asking: who will handle environmental issues? What about transportation? Sometimes the ministers themselves don't know what they will handle and what not. Perhaps it will all become clear, but it is hard to imagine that a government with such mammoth ministries can run smoothly.