Making appointments Orbán style

It is natural that a government will appoint individuals to important positions who by and large share their political views or at least people whose thinking on certain subjects, for example education or the economy, more or less coincides with that of the prime minister and his cabinet. This is certainly their prerogative.

However, so-called independent positions shouldn't be filled with people who are active members of the government party. Viktor Orbán was apt to do just that already during his first administration, and it seems that by now he doesn't even care about appearances. During the first Orbán government Péter Polt, a former Fidesz party member who unsuccessfully ran for parliament, was appointed to be chief prosecutor in 2000 for six years. He was not really qualified for the job, but he served a very useful purpose after Fidesz lost the elections in 2002. The Fidesz administration was exceedingly corrupt, but all attempts at prosecution of known cases failed because Polt, after studying them, decided that there was nothing to investigate. One case after the other was dropped. It was a really disgusting scene.

This year's most outrageous appointment, at least so far, is the chairman of the Accounting Office. Some of you may recall that there was a very respectable man, Árpád Kovács, who headed it between 1997 and 2009. The chairman ostensibly had two deputies but both positions remained unfilled, again because MSZP-SZDSZ on the one hand and Fidesz on the other couldn't agree. MSZP at the end of last year wanted to reappoint Kovács and at the same time to appoint the two deputies. Fidesz announced that they had no objection to Kovács but that they would not vote on the appointments of the chairman and his deputies at the same time. Because the appointment of the chairman requires a two-thirds majority, Kovács wasn't reappointed and the Accounting Office had neither chairman nor vice-chairmen. My feeling is that Fidesz had no intention of voting for Kovács or his deputies, individually or together, because they were planning to set up the Accounting Office's leadership to their liking.

The Accounting Office is an exceedingly important arm of parliament. It is the one that checks and evaluates the use of funds allocated to governmental bodies, the parties' expenditures, and the financial activities of state companies, among other things. Under Kovács–who always found something wrong everywhere–one had the feeling that he and his team were thorough and truly independent. They wanted perfection and if they found any unnecessary expenditures, the government heard about it. The Accounting Office should be a watchdog over the government.

And now an old party hack, László Domokos, will take Kovács's place. Domokos has been a member of parliament since 1998 and is also mayor of Szarvas and head of the Békés County Council. And while they were at it, they named one of his deputies as well. Also a party man but with a twist. His name is Tihamér Warvasovszky, a MSZP parliamentary member and mayor of Székesfehérvár who when he realized his party's fortunes were sinking abandoned the socialist party, voted against the Bajnai government's budget, and for all practical purposes left MSZP. It seems that Viktor Orbán was grateful.

So now the watchdog over the government will be a high-ranking Fidesz politician. As Hungarian papers refer to such people, he is a "party soldier" (pártkatona). I must admit that I find Domokos rather unimpressive. On YouTube one can see him as he delivers a parliamentary speech, and he is not exactly a modern Demosthenes. He has a degree in economics from the University of Pécs. I am not alone in questioning his credentials for the job. László Nyikos, Jobbik chairman of the financial commitee of the parliament, also doubts his qualifications, and he should know because at one point he served as one of the deputy chairmen of the Accounting Office. According to Nyikos, Domokos's English is close to zero and apparently a command of English is especially important in this job. But even more important is the fact that Domokos doesn't have any training in accounting or law. In addition he has no experience running a large organization.

Index wrote a fairly long piece about Domokos's appointment, and the paper's editors are obviously not pleased although Index's political sympathies are closer to the right than to the left. The writer of the article emphasizes the critical importance of the independence of the office and that the law tries to safeguard this independence. The law stipulates that no one can be appointed to the job who was a member of the government in the four years prior to his appointment or who filled any position in the central leadership of a party. Orbán had to look pretty hard to find the right man who at least had some economics background and who was not a member of the party's central leadership. Admittedly, Domokos hasn't been active in the party's central leadership, but he is a very powerful man in the local politics of Békés County.

He is also perhaps the best paid member of the Hungarian parliament. Or at least that is what an investigative journalist claimed in 2007. The journalist estimated that in the last few years he has made at least 200 million forints, all from political activities. And this is apparently a low estimate because the politician and his staff refused to answer a few relevant questions about his income.

What kind of Accounting Office will Hungary have? Surely, one that is not going to look very hard for official wrongdoings. We will no longer have to listen to Árpád Kovács's droning on about unnecessary spending here or there. Everything will be just splendid! And Domokos will be there for twelve long years.

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Fidesz wants a one-party state. That was clear in their first term of office, when they appointed their own people to run the the central bank (Járai) the prosecutors office (Polt) and the tax office (Lajos Simiscka) to name three prominent state institutions that are independent of party politics in a healthy democracy.
Now, it’s not just the central bank and the Accounting Office, it’s also the Constitutional Court and the Statistics Office.
Fidesz’s desire for a one-party state is more obvious now; indeed they are barely bothering to disguise it. It reflects their misconception of democracy as a zero-sum, winner-take-all contest.
It seems that, having grown up in a one-party state, the party leaders can’t conceive of power in any other way.

Odin's Lost eye
In its formative years the only model of government available to FIDESZ was the One Party State. This model is so ingrained in the party that it is impossible for anyone with democratic multiparty leanings to rise to any position of seniority. This point has been pointed out many times on this blog. The actions of FIDESZ’s leadership are not surprising. The new Fidesz government is busy re-organising the state so it and only it will retain power for ever. It will probably use the type of government system used by New Labour where the sole object of all authorities was to ‘manage the people’ whether the people wanted managing or not. Laws and regulations were re-interpreted, perverted or ignored, as were the legitimate requirements of the people because they stood in the way of the decisions of the managers. The general philosophy will be ‘what we do is for your own good’ and ‘we make you good whether you like it or not’ Hungary has had little experience of real multiparty government. The previous attempt was hamstrung by the partly communistic leanings of parts of MZSP and of the viscous threats made on the part of Fidesz its self.… Read more »