Thoughts about the referendum
Yesterday I quoted a first-rate opinion piece about pseudo axioms. In it, among other things, the author, Kornélia Magyar, stated with great conviction that the referendum would be a sweeping victory for Viktor Orbán and his party. There are others who think differently. Perhaps even Viktor Orbán himself. After some delay I managed to watch a fairly lengthy interview with Orbán on MTV’s "A szólás szabadsága" (Freedom of Speech), a weekly political program on Sunday nights. György Baló, who was a bit braver than usual, asked a few uncomfortable questions from Orbán. But Orbán is no fool: he can get out of sticky situations by simply talking about something else. The interview began with one of these sticky questions. It went something like this: "In one of your speeches you talked about the necessity of a sweeping victory on March 9th which would result in sweeping political changes. What would you consider to be a ‘sweeping’ victory?" Well, that was a very uncomfortable question. "Sweeping" is a strong adjective and when we hear the word we really think of something very, very big. Orbán refused to answer. Wisely, I think, because although no one dares to predict exact figures there are more and more signs that a sweeping victory might be in doubt. As a political commentator said just today: "The direction of the wind hasn’t changed yet but there is something in the air." I also feel a certain change although I cannot put my finger on it. However, here are a few signs of the change.
The very fact that Orbán’s speech about the state of the country was moderate in comparison to his earlier belligerent harangues raised my suspicions. There have also been other signs since. While a month ago 21% wanted to see Viktor Orbán as prime minister of Hungary, today it is only 15%. Only half of the Fidesz voters want to see a government headed by Orbán, the rest are not sure, or rather 18% are sure that the prime minister should not be Orbán. Acccording to an undisclosed source, a political scientist close to Orbán warned him that he shouldn’t raise the stakes too high because even if the referendum is successful but nothing monumental happens afterwards the disappointment in his camp might be so severe that "it may negatively influence the party’s chances in 2010." Others apparently went even further: if there is "no sweeping victory," the influence of the referendum will have a negative effect on the Fidesz voters.
At the same time there are more signs that the medical profession no longer shows a united front. Since the government made it clear that if there is no co-payment and no daily fee at hospitals the doctors and hospitals are not going to be compensated, an ever increasing number of doctors and hospital directors are urging people to say "no" on March 9th. The Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF), which initially was against these fees, has changed its position. A few days ago one could read on MDF’s home page that in the opinion of its leadership the abolishment of these fees will be harmful to the profession. Therefore the party urges its followers to either boycott the referendum or vote "no." As for tuition, a clear victory there has always been in doubt; the presidents of the 72 universities are solidly behind tuition.
Then there is Lajos Kósa, the mayor of Debrecen, who is currently the most popular Fidesz politician. A few days ago Kósa gave an interview in which he pretty well indicated that if circumstances were appropriate he would be glad to become a candidate for the prime minister’s office in 2010. The next day Orbán visited Debrecen and, when asked about the Kósa interview, he remarked: "Lajos gives very entertaining interviews." Some commentators, in my opinion, overcomplicate matters when they claim that this is just a game that Orbán and Kósa have agreed to play. I don’t think so. Kósa knows what he is talking about. He and many others in the party most likely know that Orbán’s position is anything but solid and that his position might be further weakened if the victory is not sweeping, or, even worse, the referendum is not valid.
And finally, TV2, a commercial station, conducted an on-line survey (not a random sample, of course, but interesting nonetheless) on the question of whether co-payment should remain in force. Twenty-five thousand people voted: 56% yes, 42% no. Perhaps, after all, the victory will not be so sweeping.