A commenter adding his own observation to the news that the prosecutor's office is charging Ferenc Gyurcsány with "abuse of office" on the basis of a complaint filed by András Schiffer (LMP) in October 2009 said something very clever: "In his political life Viktor Orbán has managed to fillet much bigger fish than András Schiffer." Because let's face it, it is somewhat strange that the prosecutor's office is bringing charges against Gyurcsány not as a result of Gyula Budai's investigations of the Sukoró real estate swap but on the basis of an old complaint about a lack of transparency. The complaint is that the King's City project was deemed so economically significant to Hungary that some of the cumbersome bureaucratic hurdles could be dispensed with. There was nothing terribly unusual about this decision. For example, just recently the Orbán government gave this special status (kiemelt jelentőségű) to the expansion of the Audi factory in Győr.
Orbán shrewdly decided that it's better to stick with the old LMP charge than to have his "commissioner" go to the prosecutors with his own charges. This way, he can kill two birds with one stone. One, he can say to the world that he had absolutely nothing to do with this dirty affair and, two, he can ruin LMP. Because judging by the first reactions to the news that the culprit behind this latest assault on the former prime minister is not his arch-rival but András Schiffer, an important man in the liberal camp, the public outcry against LMP among the anti-Fidesz forces will be considerable.
As it is, some people are deeply suspicious of LMP. One commenter called the party the Trojan horse of Fidesz; another suggested that the logo of LMP should be a carrot. "A little green on top and orange at the bottom." I'm sure that LMP will not emerge from this affair well. First of all, a few months ago there was well-founded information about serious strife within the party. Apparently there is a liberal and a more conservative faction. If I had to guess, the main topic of the debate within the party is most likely its attitude toward MSZP and Ferenc Gyurcsány. The more "liberal" faction probably favors closer cooperation with other anti-Fidesz forces while the conservatives hold that the party should remain at arm's length from both. In strategizing for the municipal elections the conservatives won out, but LMP suffered after they refused to consider an independent candidate supported by both LMP and MSZP for the post of mayor of Budapest. LMP did much worse in October in Budapest than it did in April at the national elections.
Now, these two factions can sit down again and figure out what to do. Because it will look mighty bad if the Orbán government with the help of the ever-ready prosecutors tries to put Ferenc Gyurcsány into jail because a year and a half ago András Schiffer went to the prosecutor's office with his own rather flimsy charges.
Schiffer has been trying to act as if all is just fine: the Hungarian justice system is working well. He hopes that more cases will be investigated and he mentions the town of Esztergom as one possible place where an investigation would be in order. (Of course, he knows that nothing of the sort will ever happen in Esztergom.) At the end he expressed his surprise that "it took the justice system that long to act." Surely, Schiffer cannot be so naive. The justice system waited until the time was ripe. Gyurcsány began to be active politically and therefore it was time to slam him into jail or at least drag him through a lengthy court case that will divert his time and energy away from politics. While the investigation is dragging on, newspapers can be full of complicated details of alleged wrongdoings which no one really understands but everybody thinks must be dreadful. At the end it really doesn't matter whether he is found innocent or not. He will be damaged goods.
András Schiffer's comments in the last few days were anything but reassuring. His interview on Olga Kálmán's "Egyenes beszéd" was unconvincing and he himself was unsympathetic.
Since his original charge there have been new developments in the Surokó case where two important people involved in the real estate swap claimed that everything was in order and that neither Gyurcsány nor Bajnai intervened in any way in the business dealings between Joav Blum and the Hungarian agency in charge of selling state properties. No one committed any crime and both men are convinced that a show trial is being prepared.
Ferenc Gyurcsány himself made no secret of his conviction that the prosecutor's office is "the extended arm of Viktor Orbán." It is most likely so, but Orbán remains in the background while the pawn in the foreground is none other than András Schiffer. I wouldn't be surprised if the small LMP leadership is in total turmoil at the moment.
Some people are convinced that Schiffer is no more than a puppet of Viktor Orbán. I wouldn't go so far. I rather agree with the commenter on the fish fillets. If Schiffer had any sense he would stop trying to defend his actions and come up with a more truthful line: he went to the prosecutors in October 2009 because he wanted to call attention to his new party and he didn't think that Viktor Orbán would use this case as the basis of his legal assault against Ferenc Gyurcsány. He might add that he was used.
Whether the LMP leadership will be able convince András Schiffer to change his line of argument I'm not sure. He doesn't look the kind of guy who would ever admit a mistake. But if he persists and if his party doesn't distance itself from him I fear LMP will be in big trouble as far as its rather fragile electoral base is concerned.