Gergely Gulyas – Photo: MTI

Gulyas: Parliament to elect new PM after May 16

Hungary's new parliament is scheduled to elect the next prime minister on the week starting on May 16, the prime minister's chief of staff said on Thursday. The government will submit a proposal on the structure of the new government immediately after the first session of the new parliament on May 2, a prerequisite to forming a new government, Gergely Gulyas told a regular weekly press briefing.

Hungary’s new government could be formed within two to three days after the election of the prime minister, he said.

The current government, “although its work ended in a political sense at Wednesday’s session,” will continue to work until the new government is formed, said Gulyas. The ministers will continue to act in an executive capacity, he said.

Gulyas said Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the leader of the ruling Fidesz party which won a fourth consecutive term at the April 3 general election, is proposing Mate Kocsis to reprise the role of the party’s parliamentary group leader.

Orban is conducting talks on the new government, and the results of those talks will be made public, Gulyas said. “Until then, everything else is guesswork,” he said.

Regarding the election, where the ruling Fidesz-KDNP party alliance won a super-majority by securing 135 out of the 199 seats in parliament, Gulyas said “Hungarian democracy has always been strongest with a civic government at the helm.” Turnout was the largest, around 70 percent, at the elections in 2002, 2018 and 2022, all of them held with Fidesz in power, he said.

The new parliament and government will have an extremely strong mandate, Gulyas said.

Some 54 percent of Hungarians, over 3 million people, voted for the list of the ruling parties, while the opposition “united from the far left to the far right” barely garnered 2 million votes, he said. The Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) party, which passed the 5 percent parliamentary threshold for the first time, had some 330,000 votes, he said.

“No party has received as many votes as the civic forces have, after a decade-long rule, at the last election,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gulyas said coronavirus case numbers in Hungary suggest that while the coronavirus pandemic has not disappeared, its intensity has diminished. In the past 24 hours, 24 people died in Hungary of a coronavirus-related illness, and 3,041 new infections were registered. The number of people needing hospital care has fallen to 1,500, 48 of whom are on a ventilator, he said. The number of new infections still varies rather widely, showing the presence of the virus in the populace, Gulyas said, adding that elderly people and patients with pre-existing conditions are the most vulnerable groups.

Gulyas said that in view of the war in Ukraine, the government will propose expanding the types of special legal order enshrined in the constitution.

The state of special legal order introduced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic will end on May 31.

However, in view of the war, it is important that the government should be able to take swift action when necessary and it will propose expanding the status of special legal order to include humanitarian crisis and war in a neighbouring country, he said. This option will hopefully not need to be used but the possibility needs to be there, he added.

Hungary will continue making every effort to restore peace as soon as possible but its influence is limited, Gulyas said. It is a realistic scenario that the war could last for months or even years, and the movement of troops shows that the fights could intensify for periods of time, he added.

So far, some 625,000 refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine have crossed to Hungary, Gulyas said. Over 80 percent have already travelled on, and the number of those currently staying here is estimated at maximum 100,000, he said. The government aims to provide work or education to as many as possible, and as a first safe country, it will provide refuge, accommodation and food to those forced to flee their homes, he said.

Gulyas said the government had so far spent 600 billion forints (EUR 1.62bn) on protecting Hungary’s southern borders and another 40 billion on taking care of Ukrainian refugees, with 2 percent of the costs reimbursed by the EU.
Hungary has received a further 4 billion forints to provide for migrants crossing into Hungary from the south, Gulyas said, adding that the money was now being spent on refugees arriving from Ukraine.

On another subject, Gulyas said that despite the difficulties, Hungary’s economy was on a firm footing.

“Later on the government will decide on [whether to continue] price caps, which have considerably helped to curb inflation,” he said, noting that without the caps, the rate of inflation would now be 13 percent instead of 8.6 percent.

“In terms of inflation, Hungary is a mid-fielder … comparable to the United States,” he said. He pledged to introduce further government measures to curb inflation, adding that the National Bank of Hungary expected prices to start easing in August or September.

Gulyas said Hungary ranked ahead of seven other EU countries in terms of economic development.

He said the country had maintained its investment rate, the second best in Europe, had fewer jobseekers than during the pre-pandemic period, and had 4.7 million job-holders.

Government spokeswoman Alexandra Szentkiralyi told the press briefing that Hungarian authorities have so far received more than 17,000 asylum applications submitted by refugees coming from Ukraine and issued over 100,000 temporary residence permits.

The disaster management authority has arranged to accommodate 10,000 refugees, while charities are catering to another 20,000, she said. The five humanitarian aid centres set up at the Hungarian-Ukrainian border have so far served over 300,000 people, Szentkiralyi added.

In response to a question, Gulyas insisted that Hungary’s left wing no longer comprised democrats.

Assessing opposition politicians’ actions since the elections, he said acceptance of the election outcome was the basis of democracy. He said that over the past 32 years, Fidesz had always congratulated its opponent on winning an election, and it was “the alpha and omega of politics” that voters were always right. This, he added, did not seem to apply to the left wing, which looked to blame voters instead of assessing at its own weaknesses. Further, Gulyas accused the united opposition of giving space among its ranks “to fascists and communists”.

“Their behaviour on election night and the period since has clearly dissolved illusions that they would be able to govern,” he said. “Not even is there a minimum level of cooperation between these parties.” Gulyas added that it was unreasonable to lay the blame for the opposition’s defeat at the feet of Jobbik. “Many sensibly thinking left-wing voters also knew in advance that the number of the allied opposition’s supporters would not equal the sum of the individual participants’ supporters,” he added.

Many left-wing voters cast their votes for the allied opposition because they had no other choice. “But their heart wasn’t in it,” he said. Voters should not be looked down on, he said, adding that insulting voters would not strengthen the left wing’s already weak democratic traditions.

“I can see chaos on the left on issues that could be clarified with a minimum level of goodwill and professionalism,” he said, citing the opposition’s approach to the war in Ukraine as an example. “These are strong symptoms of inadequacy … regardless of ideology or party preference,” he added.

Regarding Fidesz’s victory, Gulyas said that since 1990 no party had received such strong support. He added that “nearly 3.7 million voted in the same direction” when it came to the referendum on child protection.

In response to a question about Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s visit to the Vatican on Thursday, Gulyas said the government had no problem with the current agreement with the Vatican and any discussion of an amendment would only take place if the Vatican initiated one.

Asked why Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s first official visit abroad had been to the Vatican instead of Poland, his usual first port of call after being reelected, Gulyas said Orban was honoured to be received for a private audience by Pope Francis, and this did not indicate that Poland would play a lesser role in Hungary’s foreign policy, “regardless of the currently significant differences in opinion”.
Meanwhile Gulyas said that Mate Kocsis will head Fidesz’s parliamentary group in the new assembly.

He declined to respond to questions concerning the new cabinet. Gulyas did say, however, that there were no plans to set up a dedicated health ministry or education ministry.

Commenting on health care, he said a series of important changes had taken place in the course of consultations with the medical chamber: parliament approved a law on the new legal status of doctors and their wages grew by an unprecedented degree in the last government term.

Gulyas said government spending on family support, the highest in proportion to GDP in Europe, would continue and would be guided by demographic considerations rather than the public finances. The government remains open to expanding this kind of support, he added.

In response to a question on price caps, he said that before taking any decisions, their effect on sectoral renevues and the national economy would be assessed first. Decisions will be made on the basis of complex economic calculations, and talks will be held as early as next week on caps on food prices, he added.

Commenting on utility price caps, he said it was difficult to project how long current market prices would remain in force, but the government had a plan concerning the resources needed for their financing.

The cabinet has not yet dicussed sectoral windfall taxes, Gulyas said, but he did not exclude the possibility of levying them.

In response to a question regarding the arrest of several finance ministry officials suspected of graft, he said five people were in custody, a department head the highest ranking among them. He added that minor cases of fraud had been allegedly committed, and one of the department heads at the prime minister’s office was also a suspect.

Gulyas said that disputes and “moralising” about Russian gas purchases were senseless because stopping such purchases would bring both the Hungarian and the German economies to their knees. Commenting on oil, he said it was necessary to assess how Russian oil purchases could be replaced. The switch-over of the oil refinery in Szazhalombatta would take several years and cost several hundred billions of forints, he added.

Meanwhile Gulyas referred to the extraordinary diffculties that members of the Hungarian community in Transcarpathia face. While the Hungarian government had spearheaded humantiarian aid and aid shipments, incitement against Hungarians in Transcarpathia was ongoing and pre-dated the war, he said.

Gulyas said it was hard to tell how many refugees would remain in Hungary, adding that a few tens of thousands of jobs were available in the country and it was likely that people who were able to work would choose to stay.

Regarding the public finances, he said the 2022 budget would be amended in light of inflation but the details would have to be worked out beforehand. Amendments will be made in the spring session of parliament, he added, notwithstanding the complications connected to setting up a new government.

If the 2023 budget is approved in the upcoming period, the amendment of the 2022 budget will certainly also be put on the agenda, he said.

Responding to a question regarding the possible renationalisation of Budapest’s Ferenc Liszt International Airport, he said the government wanted to go ahead with the plan, “though the conditions of financing must be established first”.

In response to a question regarding the EU’s rule-of-law procedure against Hungary, Gulyas accused “Brussels” of acting undemocratically “in many respects”. “However, member states do [act democratically], offering significant support for Hungarian opinions,” he added.

Gulyas insisted any disputes did not concern the rule of law but were political in nature, and he also accused certain MEPs and European commissioners of waging “lawfare” and copying the reports of organisations funded by financier George Soros as part of “a political battle”. Even if an agreement cannot be reached on the EU recovery fund in time, the government does not plan to witdraw any tenders, he said.

On the subject of Covid, Gulyas said the government planned no further restrictions. The school-leaving exams at the end of the academic year will be held as normal, he said. If cases in September increase to previous peaks, the government will mull further steps, but the forecasts do not point in that direction, he said.

Commenting on a statement by Csaba Horvath, the mayor of Budapest’s 14th district, that further austerity measures may be in the pipeline in the city, Gulyas pledged the government’s continued financial support for Budapest. At the same time, he insisted that the city’s income from corporate tax had turned out to be “more than anticipated and more than ever before”, so its financial situation was better than ever.

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