Fodor tries to talk new
life into deeply divided & unpopular SZDSZ
The new leader of the
SZDSZ party tested the water by meeting both the leaders of the main opposition
party Fidesz and the governing Socialist party just days apart.Gábor Fodor narrowly won
the leadership election for the liberal SZDSZ party on 7 June. The man he
ousted, János Kóka, is still head of the party’s 20 strong parliamentary
With 20 MPs, the liberals
hold the balance of power in the present hung parliament. The Hungarian
Socialist Party (MSZP) is four seats short of an outright majority and needs
SZDSZ support to get its budget through parliament this autumn. The main
opposition groups – the centre-right alliance of Fidesz and the Christian
Democrats and the small conservative party, the Hungarian Democratic Forum
(MDF) – need the votes of SZDSZ MPs to bring about early elections.
Fodor met Fidesz leader
Viktor Orbán on Saturday, 21 June. Although Fidesz tried to present the meeting
– the first time the former flatmates had spoken officially since Fodor
abandoned an increasingly right-wing Fidesz in 1993 – as a step closer to early
elections, the SZDSZ leader flatly ruled out such a move.
Fodor told Orbán that he
was prepared to support the formation of a cabinet of experts to run the
country until the elections in 2010. Although Orbán recently espoused the same
idea, his position now was that elections would have to be called first.
After the meeting, Orbán
said that he was glad that the SZDSZ is now led by a figure who had no part in
the “lies of the 2006 election campaign”. Fodor merely said he was satisfied
that dialogue had at least been opened.
Not everyone thought the
meeting was a good idea, however. The
leader of the MDF, Ibolya Dávid, expressed astonishment that two parties which
are ideological polar opposites. She told the left-sympathetic daily Népszava
that Fodor never had any intention of dissolving parliament, and was only using
the meeting to shore up the seemingly moribund SZDSZ.
A party which, recent
polls suggest, enjoys as little as 1% support is unlikely to garner the 5%
needed to get back into parliament. Dávid suggested that another reason the
SZDSZ is holding off is that it would have to withdraw many of its members from
jobs on supervisory and management boards and the foreign service. She slammed
Orbán for failing to realise that Fodor’s meeting with Prime Minister Ferenc
Gyurcsány last Tuesday was the only one that really matters to the SZDSZ.
During their meeting last
Tuesday, Fodor asked Gyurcsány to give the SZDSZ a detailed outline if its
policy plans for the next two years. The liberals quit the coalition government
at the end of April over the Socialists’ refusal to continue with deeply
unpopular reforms and cutbacks in public spending, notably in healthcare and
Fodor stressed that the
SZDSZ wanted assurances on tax reform, the budget, environmental policy and
that there would be no further back-tracking on healthcare reform. He also
wanted greater transparency and policies that would increase Hungary’s
After the two-hour
discussion, Gyurcsány announced that he and Fodor had agreed on the need for
tax reform and making the welfare system more employment-focused. He agreed
upon ongoing high-level talks between the MSZP and its former coalition partner
throughout the remainder of the political term. He added “there was no mention
of re-establishing a coalition.”
The SZDSZ mayor of
Budapest, Gábor Demszky, last week called on former part leader János Kóka to
resign as caucus leader. Speaking on independent television station ATV last
Monday, he said that continuing as a “two headed” party could lead to a schism
or make the party appear farcical. Demszky said that he does not favour Fodor
over Kóka, adding that if the latter had won the leadership election, the mayor
would have asked Fodor to back off.
By Wednesday, however, it
became clear that Kóka still enjoys the support of the majority of SZDSZ MPs.
Despite Fodor’s urging, he refused to step down, and no MP appeared willing to
initiate a confidence vote over the former party leader.
The bell tolls…
The left-leaning daily
Népszabadsag went further, writing that the party is close to disappearing from
the political scene altogether. With the party’s dire ratings in recent polls,
and Kóka – a champion of free market liberalism – one of the most unpopular
politicians in the country, and intra-party battle for power with the more
traditionally left-wing liberal Fodor could be the final straw.