Orbán and his men: possible cabinet changes

One hears more and more, especially from MSZP politicians, that Viktor Orbán, who now occupies the paramount position in his party and in the country, is systematically trying to discredit anybody who might be his possible successor. I must say that I am a bit skeptical about this assumption. Those who put forth this theory usually mention the names of János Lázár, the leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, and Antal Rogán, mayor of Budapest's V. district. According to this scenario, Orbán entrusted such odious tasks to these two men that they could no longer be moderate alternatives in case Orbán has to resign for one reason or another. Lázár was responsible for submitting the bill that restricted the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court and Rogán had the misfortune of agreeing to be responsible for the ill-fated media law.

Ildikó Lendvai (MSZP) to my great surprise called Lázár a brilliant politician. Lendvai knows Lázár better than I do, but I must admit that instead of brilliance I see only mean-spiritedness. As for Rogán, when his party was in opposition he seemed like a moderate man. However, I was struck by the change that came over him as soon as his party won the elections. He became a ferocious partisan.

Why all this preoccupation with Orbán's possible successor? Because a lot of people hope that Orbán's hard-line policies will fail either this year or the next and it would be wonderful to have a more moderate man who could take over his post. What they have in mind as a model is the fate of the Kaczynski brothers. They pursued such antidemocratic, autocratic policies and their style was so unacceptable within the European Union that, although they were elected by a large majority, in two years they lost an early election. But, say the pundits of this theory, there was a moderate Donald Tusk in Poland, someone who is nowhere to be found in Hungary.

Perhaps the most acceptable alternative to Viktor Orbán would be Tibor Navracsics, currently deputy prime minister in charge of administration and justice. A fancy title, but Navracsics has practically disappeared from sight. It is widely held that Navracsics has fallen out of favor with Orbán. Moreover, according to rumor Navracsics and Lázár are not the best of friends either. Admittedly, it is hard to be terribly enthusiastic about Navracsics whose speeches in parliament during his tenure as the leader of the Fidesz caucus were disgusting and base. Just about as bad as those of Lázár now. And Navracsics might be out of favor and might not be a friend of Lázár, but judging from the few speeches he made in the House he hasn't changed a bit. He might, however, be more acceptable in Brussels.

But Navracsics is definitely out of favor. Apparently Orbán nowadays talks to him only rarely. Instead he calls his undersecretary, András Levente Gál, apparently the grey eminence of the administration. He has unique powers. He is in charge of filling every more important position in the government; naturally political trustworthiness is his guiding principle. Public servants claim that it is mostly because of Gál that there is fear in the ministries.

Anyway, a few days ago it came to light that Navracsics passed on some important work worth millions to companies that employ some of his relatives. The suspicion is that the leak came from people in or around Fidesz. So now Navracsics is accused of corruption as well. I wonder how long he will be staying in his job.

I read somewhere that there is within the Fidesz political family an incredible lack of confidence toward each other. This is somewhat confirmed by what I heard directly from a fairly high-level civil servant, according to whom "Fidesz politicians hate each other just as much as, if not more than, they hate the socialists." The serious rivalry between György Matolcsy and Tamás Fellegi is obvious to anyone who follows the news. Foreigners who have to deal with Hungarian economic matters are completely baffled. They don't know who is in charge of this or that field. One month Orbán takes jobs away from Matolcsy and a month later he turns them over to Fellegi. In brief, chaos.

More and more people think that there will be certain changes in the Orbán government soon. The date that is being mentioned is July, after the end of the EU rotating presidency. The most unpopular minister in the cabinet is György Matolcsy. Investors and Brussels would be very happy to see him go, but since Orbán built his whole rather peculiar economic policy on Matolcsy's pipe dreams it would be hard for Orbán to let him go without a loss of face. It is likely that Miklós Réthelyi, a pleasant but ineffectual academic type, will be replaced by someone more dynamic. Within his ministry of national resources there are serious problems with Rózsa Hoffman who is in charge of education and whose ideas are so old-fashioned that they simply cannot be implemented in the twenty-first century in a country belonging to the European Union. It looks very much that her proposed bill will have to be rewritten or that the Fidesz delegation will vote it down. After all, Hoffman's proposal reflects the extreme Catholic mentality of the Christian Democratic Party to which she belongs.

As for János Martonyi. I know from a reliable source that he is so fed up with the difficulties that are put in his way by Orbán and his nationalistic populist comrades that he would like to quit right now, though most likely he will wait until the EU presidency comes to an end. According to rumors his successor will not be Zsolt Németh, who once again is playing second fiddle to Martonyi in the ministry, but Enikő Győri, undersecretary in charge of European affairs. She is apparently very close to Orbán, and that is the most important consideration when it comes to cabinet members.

In any case, some observers are almost certain that the 4-6% economic growth which is the underpinning of Matolcsy's plans is unrealistic and that without such growth the whole economic program put forth by the Orbán government will collapse. That would mean that a really serious austerity program would have to be introduced in 2012, which would be suicidal two years before the elections. Thus, some Fidesz politicians think in terms of early elections in 2012. They are certain that Fidesz could easily win such an election and thus the party and Orbán would have two additional years to realize their plans.

Maybe, but in politics anything can happen practically overnight. We will see what happens when the January and February opinion polls come out. We must wait for the European Commission's decision on the Hungarian media law. And most of all, we must keep a watchful eye on the fragmented opposition. Fidesz can be defeated only by a broad coalition of democratic forces. And such a united force is nowhere to be found at the moment.



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The conservative challenger for Orban may not come within the narrow inner circles of Fidesz. For example, Tarlos, the mayor of Budapest, seems to be getting respect from not only conservative but from more liberal circles as well. You never know, if he is a successful mayor, what he may become… I’m not a big fan of him either, but he has a reputation of being able to work with people from different ideological backgrounds. And he doesn’t seem to use the Orbanese double talk either… big plusses.
True, it’s hard to see him as a prime minister or party leader (he is not even member of Fidesz, I think); he just doesn’t look like somebody who could move masses.


Szánd meg Isten a magyart…

Your generous opinion about Rogan is fully misplaced. I remember clearly Rogan, an unknown fresh graduate of Corvinus University, played the same role Sijjarto is playing now and not only played it, but actually invented it: brush, provocative and shameless. I remember trying to interview him for our local radio station here and when I confronted him with the commonly known proof of his lying, he simply turned away and continued spewing his lies. He was, and is, a truly disagreeable, rude s.o.b. If he has put on any veneer of civilization since then it is an appearance only in comparison to his even more distasteful successors, the greasy Mr. Repassy and the unspeakable Mr. Szijjarto. As to Orban’s possible replacement, I don’t think there is anybody in Fidesz that would be acceptable. Remember, how Orban, floating over the scene, disguised as a giant balloon of hot air, made sure that everybody is equally compromised and tainted. The only exceptions are those hiding out in Brussels, they couldn’t be linked directly to the responsibility for the impending disaster. But neither is anybody amongst them, who would creditably fill Orban’s steaming shoes. My feeling is that he would withdraw into the… Read more »

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Hungarian Watch

Odin's Lost Eye
All those who wish to be truly the ‘Mighty One’ dread anointing a successor. The ‘anointed one’ may just be greater that the ‘Mighty One’ and may well steal the ‘Mighty Ones’hat coat and shoes and wear them better than he ‘Mighty One’ himself In the case of the ‘Beloved Leader’ (Orban Viktor), who is a superb conspirator, almost any one (or thing) could easily be a better leader (even my step daughter’s gerbil). For Orban conspiracies and ‘black ops’ have now become his now his life’s blood. No one, but no one, of any stature or ability will be allowed to get to a position where they could make a takeover bid for the top job. His administration like the much vaunted ‘Germanic efficiency’ of the Third and Last Reich will be very chaotic. Orban cannot allow anyone except himself to even glimmer in the darkness or even cast a faintest shadow. He has no care about what happens to his party if and when he is gone. If he fails – his creation fails, because his creation Fidesz has failed him. Professor you write ** “Fidesz can be defeated only by a broad coalition of democratic forces. And… Read more »
When we talk about the future we are all dependent on conjecture and intuition. I have absolutely no idea about personalia in the Hungarian regime circles. But I begin with different assumptions than Eva Balogh does. My main point of departure is that Orbán said that he intends to rule for 15-20 years. You cannot do this in a democratic way. Although he is well versed in double-talk, he has made it easy for observers to extrapolate his actions: He follows his script without hesitation or deviation (but he does repeat himself – for those who like the BBC programme “Just a minute”). As a consequence, opinion polls, Brussel’s dislikes or preferences, ideas of resignation, seeming analogies in other countries, possible successors or even elections – early or regular – are basically irrelevant. They are sideshows at best. The old Romans knew the concept of ‘divide et impera’. The fact that there is distrust within the Fidesz family only shows the consummate autocrat at work. I’d like to repeat that dictatorships show an astonishing stability of their personnel situation. If you don’t have to worry about the opinion of the people (who are no longer the electorate because they voted… Read more »

Minusio: “If you don’t have to worry about the opinion of the people (who are no longer the electorate because they voted themselves out of the game)”
I thought that the polls still show considerable support for Fidesz. I do not see the political system in Hungary changed into a full-scale dictatorship, for me some situation as in Italy seems more likely (Berlusconi with broad control over the media and a network of loyal followers re-elected again and again, opposition does mobilise some people but is not strong enough to break that network). Does not sound attractive either, and may be even more annoying as it could be claimed that this reflects more or less the will of the electorate.
But I hope that the jury is still out on that.


@ Kirsten: If you look at Berlusconi (Italy), Mečiar (Slovakia), the Kaczyński brothers (Poland), even the Ukraine, you will see that the election laws were not touched substantially anywhere. In Hungary it’s different and will be even more so. Believe me.
I didn’t say that opinion polls don’t still show support for Fidesz, I only said that they don’t matter anymore.
Hungary is not a totalitarian state and probably won’t be. But a democracy it no longer is. It is an autocracy in philosophy and a one-party state in practice.


I rely very much on your insider opinions, perhaps I simply do not want to believe that there is no way out of it. But I think our opinions here do not differ much, the problem that I have is how do I call a system in that an autocratic and nationalist party is elected again and again?


@ Kirsten: “How do I call a system in that an autocratic and nationalist party is elected again and again?”
Honeypie, this system needs no elections. It just stays on and on and on… If there are days called “election days” there are just to show the world that there are ‘election days”. (Big deal, especially dedicated to wishful thinkers).
No, Kirsten, there is no way out of it.
It will use internal combustion to self-destruct. But someone mislaid the spark-plug.


Completely off topic (sorry):
My in-laws’ latest rebuttal to my anti-Orbán comments (as they see them) is to report that “many Hungarian civil servants have got together to write an open letter to the Western press putting the ‘true’ case for Orbán’s Hungary. So as to counter the lies being spread in the West.”
Anyone else heard about this? I can find nothing on it anywhere.