Gábor Fodor scored a
narrow win in the Alliance of Free Democrats’ (SZDSZ) leadership election last
Saturday. Delegates at the liberal party’s special conference in Budaörs (just
outside Budapest) favoured Fodor over the incumbent, János Kóka, by 346 votes
to 344. Three votes were declared invalid.
The vote was a re-run of
the party’s previous leadership election last year. Kóka won that time, but a
subsequent internal investigation confirmed allegations of voting
irregularities and forced the contest to be held again.
In his speech to
delegates before the vote, Fodor said: “What János [Kóka] offers you is the
politics of ultimatums: we either ram tax reductions down the throat of the
Socialists or you can have Viktor Orbán with his two-thirds [majority].” He
added that this kind of policy would lead to the end of the party in
Facing political oblivion
His concern about
political oblivion certainly appears to be borne out by recent opinion polls.
They have put the party’s support as low as 1%, well below the 5% needed to win
seats in parliament.
Fodor also made a plea
for party unity: “Today lots of you came here as either a Fodor supporter or a
Kóka supporter. But in the evening we all have to leave for home as SZDSZ
supporters.” After the vote Kóka said he would sit down with Fodor to discuss
how to unify the party and make sure the SZDSZ is represented in the Hungarian
and European parliaments.
The key question facing
the new party leader is the possibility of resuscitating the coalition with the
governing Socialist party. The SZDSZ left the coalition at the end of April
following a dispute over healthcare and tax reforms.
Last Monday Fodor ruled
out returning to the old coalition in an interview on Klubrádió, but, in what
appeared to be hint that Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány is the real sticking
point between the two parties, said, “Cooperation is possible on a new a
political basis with new people.”
Fodor, 46, was one of the
founding members of main opposition party Fidesz, but left in 1993 when it
began to move to the right and later joined the SZDSZ. He served as minister of
culture and education between 1994 and 1995 and as minister of the environment
from 2007 to 2008.