Tag Archives: resignation

Gathering clouds: The opposition parties take a common stand

This afternoon the leaders of the democratic opposition parties held talks in the wake of Viktor Orbán’s announcement yesterday that he was the one who ordered the ministers of his cabinet to withdraw all government assets invested in bonds issued by the Quaestor Group. Since the meeting ended only about three hours ago, I could find only one commentary on the event. It was by Dániel Bita of Népszabadság who, if I interpret one of his rather convoluted sentences correctly, found it less than successful. I am, on the other hand, more charitable, especially since András Schiffer, co-chair of LMP who up to now has consistently refused to cooperate with the other opposition parties, decided to attend.

Today’s meeting was called by József Tóbiás, chairman of MSZP, which is in itself fairly remarkable since it was Tóbiás who shortly after the lost 2014 national election declared that “never again” will MSZP cooperate with any of the other parties. The socialists will go it alone and will single handedly win the next election. Of course, since then MSZP was forced several times to accept the assistance of DK which supports, for example, the MSZP-nominated Ferenc Pad in the Tapolca-Ajka election.

Fairly late last night MSZP released a communiqué titled “The government is in crisis, it is time for the opposition” in which Tóbiás called on “the representatives of the opposition parties” to meet at 1:00 p.m. in the parliamentary office building. Jobbik could hardly wait to express its willingness to join the other parties. It took Gábor Vona, the party chairman, no more than half an hour to announce that “naturally they will join the others [but] they expect Fidesz to be represented at the gathering.” He added that they “will also have to discuss the role of the socialist governments in the brokerage scandal.” They want to know about “the business relationships that did exist and perhaps still exist between leftist politicians and the corrupt leaders of the brokerage firms.” Tóbiás goofed. Surely, he didn’t mean to invite Jobbik, but he was sloppy in composing his invitation.

Tóbiás had to get out of this sticky situation. This morning MSZP released an explanation. According to the press release to MTI, the party said that all “democratic parties indicated their willingness to participate” but they didn’t think that Jobbik’s presence at the meeting would be appropriate because “Jobbik at such a gathering would only be a power broker for Fidesz.” According to MSZP, Jobbik, which is financed from abroad, is neither patriotic nor democratic, and it is certainly not an opposition party.

The following people attended the meeting: József Tóbiás (MSZP), Ferenc Gyurcsány (DK), András Schiffer (LMP), Timea Szabó (PM), Viktor Szigetvári (Együtt), and Anett Bősz (LP). The only person who was missing was Lajos Bokros, representing MoMa, a moderate conservative grouping, perhaps because it is “movement,” not a party.

At the meeting there seemed to be unanimity among the politicians that Viktor Orbán should leave Hungarian political life. According to Tóbiás, Viktor Orbán should simply resign. Barring that, at the very least he should ask for a vote of confidence. Tímea Szabó held a similar position, adding that if Orbán does neither then she will submit a declaratory resolution for the dissolution of parliament and for holding early elections. In addition, some of the participants added Péter Szijjártó and György Matolcsy to the list of those who should follow Viktor Orbán as undesirable political figures.

Tímea Szabó, József Tóbiás, Anett Bősz, András Schiffer, Viktor Szigetvári and Ferenc Gyurcsány

Tímea Szabó, József Tóbiás, Anett Bősz, Ferenc Gyurcsány, Viktor Szigetvári, and András Schiffer

Viktor Szigetvári is convinced that Orbán is guilty of insider trading, which is a criminal offense, and therefore he is longer fit to be the prime minister of the country. However, he was pretty vague about what to do if Orbán does not resign, which is all but certain. He came up with the shopworn remedy of creating a parliamentary committee to investigate Viktor Orbán’s role in the Quaestor scandal. Unfortunately, Hungarian investigative committees are not like the Watergate committee whose hearings eventually led to Richard Nixon’s resignation. Orbán will simply not show up and that will be the end of it.

András Schiffer also thinks that Orbán “is morally unfit to be the prime minister,” but he concentrated on amendments to be offered by the opposition parties to a Fidesz draft proposal that is designed to financially assist those who suffered heavy losses as a result of the bankruptcy of Quaestor.

What Gyurcsány said or what kinds of plans he entertains under the present circumstances we don’t know because he was the only politician who gave no interview after the meeting. He said only that the meeting was “pleasant and constructive,” which the reporter of Népszabadság interpreted to mean that DK’s chairman found the gathering pretty useless. Although it is true that no definite road map emerged from this first meeting, the very fact that all the democratic parties were ready to sit down and discuss a common strategy is a step forward. The next few days will tell us whether any concrete steps will be taken after this exchange of ideas.

In my opinion, the most important event of the meeting was the decision to hold a mass rally organized by the democratic parties on April 11, the day before the Tapolca-Ajka by-election. This means that these parties are no longer afraid to show themselves and take a leading role in anti-government demonstrations. At the last big demonstration on March 25, although the parties could show their flags and logos, MSZP did not take advantage of the opportunity. Only MoMa and DK flags could be seen. Now MSZP seems eager to come out with their red carnations. Moreover, the civic organizers, as was demonstrated on March 15, no longer mind the presence of parties. All told, given the public mood, the rally should be a great success.

Fidesz interprets the opposition’s gathering of forces as a “petty power struggle.” The left “acts as if they had absolutely nothing to do with the socialist brokerage scandal although they were the ones who allowed financial corruption to flower in the last decades.” The problem is that this old “socialist brokerage story”–especially in light of the close relationship of the government, Fidesz politicians, and men close to Viktor Orbán with Csaba Tarsoly, CEO of Quaestor–is no longer believable. Fidesz has been in power for the last five years, and it was Fidesz-appointed officials who were supposed to make sure that financial institutions operate in a lawful manner. But the Hungarian National Bank allowed Quaestor, even when it was on its last legs, to issue 60 billion forints worth of bonds.

This morning Gábor Horn, the former SZDSZ member of parliament who was the intermediary between his party and the Gyurcsány government, was interviewed on ATV’s early morning program, Start. He compared the situation of the present government to that of the socialist-liberal government back when it became obvious that the government would not be able to survive much longer. Although, Horn said, Orbán is a “more talented survivor than Gyurcsány,” he now has to admit that Viktor Orbán is in big trouble. A caller to Klubrádió, however, described Orbán as being as slippery as “a soaped dolphin.” It is still quite possible that the great survivor will escape this scandal unscathed.

Demands for Viktor Orbán’s resignation

Today is one of those days that I have no idea what will happen between beginning to write this post and uploading it. One thing, however, I can be pretty sure of: I don’t have to worry that by tomorrow morning Viktor Orbán will not be the prime minister of Hungary. Although that is what the opposition would like to see.

This morning’s editorial in Népszabadság demanded Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó’s resignation. And, indeed, Szijjártó’s situation was deemed so grave that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself came to his rescue. At a press conference in Sopron he said that he was the one who decided that all government money invested in bonds issued by private financial institutions must be withdrawn immediately. He announced his decision at the Thursday, March 4th cabinet meeting. The Hungarian National Trading House subsequently withdrew 3.8 billion forints from Quaestor on Monday, March 9th. That very evening Csaba Tarsoly, CEO of Quaestor, announced his firm’s bankruptcy.

The problem with this story is that it doesn’t jibe with earlier statements of the ministry of foreign affairs and trade that praised the Trading House officials who “acted conscientiously when, observing the market developments,” they opted to withdraw Trading House’s money from Quaestor. Because, according to the letter the ministry sent to cink.hu, there was real panic in the first days of March “when the majority of Quaestor’s clients began withdrawing their assets.” The problem with this explanation is that it is not true. There was no outward sign of trouble at Quaestor at the time. Once Orbán decided to bear the odium of what appeared to be insider trading on the part of government agencies, the ministry discovered that its earlier explanation did not accurately reflect the situation and that in fact the prime minister’s version was the correct one.

Many political reporters were stunned when they heard that Orbán had decided to be the fall guy in this scandal. “In the first moment I didn’t understand how [Orbán] could do something like that,” László Szily of cink.hu saidM. Kasnyk of 444.hu at first couldn’t believe that the story was true. After all, with this admission Orbán threw himself into a quagmire of monumental proportions with a possibly serious political fallout. But it seems that Viktor Orbán is confident about his invincibility. He thinks that his position is secure and that he has nothing to fear. Given the Hungarian parliamentary rules he is probably right, although the opposition parties appear to be united in demanding his resignation.

As we learn more about the events leading up to the collapse of Quaestor, it seems that the Fidesz political leadership had been aware that Csaba Tarsoly’s financial empire was in serious trouble for some time. A high-ranking member of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus told an Index reporter that it was likely after Buda-Cash’s collapse that there would be other bankruptcies. He specifically mentioned Hungaria Értékpapír and Quaestor, both of which subsequently failed.

But let’s return to why Viktor Orbán decided to speak up. Most likely because he realized that Péter Szijjártó was in big trouble. He had illegally invested government assets in a shaky private business venture and then, presumably equally illegally, had withdrawn 3.8 billion forints just before Quaestor’s collapse. Orbán gave this young man a critically important position, one that he was not prepared for. But Orbán is not the kind of man who would ever admit that he made a wrong decision, and therefore it would never occur to him to remove Szijjártó from his position. Also, Szijjártó served him with undivided loyalty for such a long time that perhaps Orbán feels obliged to defend him.

Viktor Orbán announcing that it was him who ordered the withdrawal of government assets from Quaestor

Viktor Orbán announcing his decision to withdraw government assets from Quaestor

Let’s take a quick look at the opposition parties’ reaction to Viktor Orbán’s announcement. Párbeszéd Magyarországért/Dialogue for Hungary (PM) was the first to announce their decision to press charges against government officials who, they believe, are guilty of insider trading. Tímea Szabó, co-chair of the party, naively said that they will demand the audiotape of the March 4th cabinet meeting. Good luck! As far as I know, no records of Orbán’s cabinet meetings are kept in any shape or form. Orbán made that decision already in 1998 when he first became prime minister. He didn’t want to become a second Nixon.

Együtt/Together decided that, while they were at it, they might as well send Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor, into retirement alongside his old friend, the prime minister. DK is also pressing charges, and they “would like it if the prime minister would assume financial responsibility with his own assets” for the losses at Quaestor. LMP’s spokesman, a practicing lawyer, talked about insider trading, which is a serious crime and for which long jail terms are normally handed down. He even offered an explanation of what might have happened. In his opinion, it was through the close relationship between Szijjártó and Tarsoly that the information leaked out and spread within the Orbán administration. He also raised the possibility that with the ministry withdrawing about 20 billion forints, Szijjártó may have been partially responsible for the collapse of Quaestor. Gábor Fodor of the Liberális Párt (LP) wrote a letter to the prime minister which Orbán will have to answer at the latest in three weeks’ time. Fodor wants to know exactly how Orbán ordered the ministers to withdraw government assets from private firms. Was it in a letter and, if yes, who were the addressees?

Modern Magyarország Mozgalom (MoMa), the party of Lajos Bokros, called the Hungarian state under Victor Orbán a “den of criminals.” He called attention to the seriousness of insider trading for which “in the United States and in Great Britain people receive very long jail sentences.” In Hungary, he claimed, important government officials are involved in such practices. Bokros also wanted to know “how the ministry of foreign affairs and trade has extra money to invest.”

Several MSZP politicians talked about the case and they all called for Viktor Orbán’s resignation. Jobbik’s János Volner, chairman of the parliamentary committee on promoting entrepreneurial activities, plans to convene a meeting where he expects Péter Szijjártó and the leading official of the Hungarian National Bank to answer the committee’s questions. If they don’t get satisfactory answers, they are ready to go as far as the European Union.

Fidesz is stonewalling. The party “doesn’t fall for the socialists’ provocations because after all it was the left that in the socialist broker scandal [i.e., the Buda-Cash collapse] abandoned the Hungarian people.” And in any case, “it is MSZP, Gyurcsány and Bajnai who are involved in the network of brokerages.” I have no idea what the Fidesz spokesman is talking about here.

The last piece of news I read before sitting down to write this post said that MSZP is inviting all other opposition parties to a meeting tomorrow. We will see what the reaction to this call is. If they manage to form a common front, it will be a first.