For today’s post I picked three separate topics, all of which Viktor Orbán dealt with in his regular bi-weekly radio interview on Friday morning: his reaction to the loss in the Veszprém election, his ignorance of basic democratic principles, and how the loss of the two-thirds majority might affect his government’s foreign policy decisions. Orbán comes well prepared for these not so spontaneous exchanges. The photo taken of him on this occasion shows him with pages and pages of prepared notes.
Starting with Veszprém. What I found fascinating is that Orbán seems to be totally clueless, or at least pretends to be, about the real causes of his party’s defeat. To the question of why half of the Fidesz voters stayed at home, the only thing he could come up with was that “probably they are dissatisfied with us.” Perhaps they would like to have more consultation and “not such fast decisions which is at times possible, other times not.” In his opinion, the voters want them “to pick up the gauntlet.” They want “more fighting spirit,” and he promised more of it than in the past when “life was more comfortable.” His diagnosis is the opposite of everything one hears about the public mood.
Of course, the collapse of the brokerage firm Buda-Cash and its four affiliated banks was discussed. I assume that the reporter’s provocative question, with which he introduced the subject, was approved by the prime minister. “Don’t you find it surprising that no handcuffs have snapped yet?” Keep in mind that we know practically nothing about the case. We don’t even know who the suspects are. And naturally we don’t know a thing about the alleged guilt of the owners of the firm. And yet these two people, one of whom is the prime minister of the country, have a surrealistic conversation about snapping handcuffs. The question itself was misplaced, but what came after was truly outrageous because Viktor Orbán agreed with the reporter. Moreover, he added, if “we or, let me be immodest, I were in charge of the judiciary, they would all be sitting in jail.” That conversation took place shortly after 7:30 a.m. By 10:30 four managers of a second brokerage firm that’s in trouble were arrested by the police.
Finally, Orbán dealt with the most interesting topic in a couple of sentences. On the whole, he doesn’t think that the loss of the two-thirds majority will matter. He will simply negotiate with the opposition when the two-thirds truly makes a difference. For example, he said, he would very much like to see Hungary participate in the U.S.- led effort against the terrorism of the Islamic State, but to send a mission to Iraq one needs a two-thirds majority. I have never noticed such professed eagerness on his part to cooperate with the country’s western allies. On the contrary, Orbán often expressed his disapproval of Hungarian soldiers taking part in peacemaking efforts abroad.
It was on March 3 that I noticed a brief news item about an MTI interview with Péter Szijjártó, who said that “the government will ask the parties represented in parliament to support Hungary’s participation in the western coalition against the Islamic State.” The country would like to send 100-150 soldiers to the Kurdish region of Iraq where they would guard a military base near Erbil. They would work with Italian and German soldiers.
Soon enough the official request came. From later releases about negotiations with the Italian and German military leaders, it seems that plans for the mission must have been in the making for some time. While a couple of months ago Hungary refused to have NATO troops stationed in Hungary, now the government seems eager to join the western coalition. What is going on? Surely, Orbán is trying to mend fences–or, more likely, is trying to give the appearance of mending fences. He is trying to show that he supports the West while the opposition does not. Because a day or two after the official invitation, it was reported that, although the government would like to oblige, all the opposition parties are opposed to sending soldiers to Iraq.
Yesterday afternoon I heard an interesting news item on Klubrádió. “In addition to the government parties, only DK indicated that the party would support the initiative of sending a Hungarian mission to Iraq.” The four DK members of parliament would be sufficient to clear the two-thirds hurdle if all the members of the government parties voted for such a resolution. A few hours later Együtt’s two MPs joined DK, followed by Gábor Fodor, the only member of the Magyar Liberális Párt (MLP). As of last night it was only Jobbik and LMP among the opposition parties that refused to support the government. MSZP remained undecided.
So, the Hungarian government’s plan to blame the democratic opposition for its own unwillingness to send troops to Iraq failed. Népszava learned from a high-ranking Fidesz politician that KDNP does not support the plan at all and that there is no unanimity even in the Fidesz delegation. Moreover, DK and Együtt support depends on certain guarantees from the government. Although Szijjártó called a meeting of the leaders of all parties for Monday, DK announced that they will not attend “because [DK] most resolutely opposes the Orbán regime” and refuses to negotiate with the government directly. They expect the chairman of the appropriate parliamentary committee to come to the full session of the house and inform the members about the details of the request and the suggested answers. Then, if all is in order, they are ready to vote with the government.
I suspect that no Hungarian mission will be going to Iraq because the opposition parties will join Fidesz only if all 131 Fidesz-KDNP members vote for the resolution. And at the moment that is not likely. Viktor Orbán, it seems, no longer enjoys the unquestioning loyalty of his troops.