Fidesz pow-wow in Gyula, February 5-7, 2013
On my Facebook page I discovered a note that István Vágó, the television personality, posted about a Tacitus quotation. In Latin it goes like this: “corruptissima re publica plurimae leges.” One doesn’t even have to know Latin to get the gist of the sentence. “The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the government.” Well, well, perhaps Viktor Orbán should read Tacitus’s Annales in his spare time. The sentence in its entirety has even more relevance to Hungary: “And now bills were passed, not only for national objects but for individual cases, and laws were most numerous when the commonwealth was most corrupt.” “Bills passed … for individual cases”! Count the ways the Orbán government has resorted to this dubious practice.
More and more laws are being hatched with the greatest of ease and without any compunction. Just today Lajos Kósa, managing director of Fidesz, announced that the temporary provisions the Constitutional Court found unconstitutional can easily be remedied. “It is simple: the Constitutional Court didn’t accept our concept that there is a Basic Law and there are the temporary provisions. So, we just have to combine the two. Not a big deal.” This is how legislative work is being conducted in today’s Hungary.
Lajos Kósa made this statement in Gyula, close to the Romanian border, where the Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary delegation is holding a three-day meeting. Orbán is also attending this gathering. Earlier, the opposition forces announced a demonstration protesting the Orbán government’s policies to be held in conjunction with this meeting. A few hours later the Peace Marchers said that they would go to Gyula in support of the government. Indeed, busloads of pro-government sympathizers showed up from all over the country. They even came from Romania. I saw a sign indicating that the men and women behind the sign were from Oradea/Nagyvárad. As usual, the pro-government sympathizers were more numerous than the opposition forces thanks to the nationwide recruitment organized by so-called civic groups that by all indications are financially supported by the government. One of the organizers of the Peace March was Zsolt Bayer, the notorious anti-Semite who also wants to solve the Roma question “by any means.”
In the past few details of these Fidesz pow-wows leaked out to the public, but it seems that party discipline is becoming frayed as difficulties mount. It doesn’t matter how often government officials repeat that the Orbán government’s almost three years in office “have been a success story,” fewer and fewer people believe the government propaganda. After all, according to the latest polls, 75% of the adult population of Hungary think that the country is heading in the wrong direction. It is thus not surprising that inside the Erkel Hotel where the meeting is taking place there were apparently a few tense moments.
A few hours after the commencement of the “retreat” the public learned quite a few details. By 7:00 p.m. Világgazdaság reported that Viktor Orbán had announced that the next governor of the Hungarian National Bank will be György Matolcsy after all. That piece of news sent the forint tumbling. The press department of Fidesz promptly issued a denial, claiming that Matolcsy’s name wasn’t even mentioned at the Gyula meeting. So, the forint stabilized. Hungarian analysts are still convinced that the next bank chairman will be Matolcsy, but they believe the bitter pill will be administered slowly over time to avoid a collapse of the Hungarian currency.
By early morning today newspapers reported that there was “sharp disagreement” at the meeting over the lowering of utility rates. We’ve heard for some time that the state is planning to fix the price of natural gas. First they talked about a 10% reduction in the price across the board, but lately Fidesz politicians raised the stakes. János Lázár talked about a 30% reduction sometime in the future. And more and more promises were made: they will lower the price of water, fees for sewage, garbage collection, even the price of the compulsory cleaning of chimneys. Clearly, these ideas are preliminaries to the 2014 election campaign. It seems that Fidesz has decided to follow the bad old habit of paying off the electorate before the election and imposing austerity packages afterwards. In this same vein Fidesz politicians began talking about reintroducing a thirteenth-month payment for pensioners. Mind you, perhaps only once at the end of 2013. Perfect timing.
There are about 60 Fidesz-KDNP MPs who are also mayors, and in most of their cities the water companies are owned by the local government. The water companies at the moment are barely making it, and if the government forces them to lower prices they will go bankrupt. These politicians therefore argued for some kind of compensation from the central government. But, as we know, the government has no money. What new trick will they come up with to cover the cost of this generosity? One can only guess, but the Orbán government is exceptionally inventive when it comes to taxes.
Today the arguments continued. This time József Ángyán, former undersecretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, was on the offensive. He has been a severe critic of the Orbán government’s handling of the long-term leases of thousands and thousands of acres of government land; the leases were given to friends and relatives of Fidesz politicians. You can read more about Ángyán in a post entitled “Agricultural subsidies and the Fidesz oligarchs.” Orbán is really fed up with Ángyán. The only reason he hasn’t asked for his resignation from the party and from the Fidesz parliamentary delegation is because he is convinced that sooner or later Ángyán will resign on his own volition. Orbán stated, however, that he considers Ángyán “not worthy of the caucus of which he is a member.”
And finally, it seems that Viktor Orbán has given up his pet project: voter registration. After the Constitutional Court annulled the proposed law, Fidesz politicians for a while indicated that, although they would obey the ruling for the coming elections because of time constraints, they have every intention of changing the law after the 2014 elections. It seems that they have changed their minds. Why? I think because studies and polls indicated that registration might hurt Fidesz more than it helps.
Some people are convinced that Orbán might take advantage of this apparent defeat. After all, if registration had been deemed legal, no elections could have been held before 2014. Without that time constraint Orbán could call for early elections when the opposition is in total disarray. Knowing him, this scenario is a real possibility.