Gordon Bajnai to face major obstacles as prime minister of Hungary

2009 március 30 8:32 de. Gordon Bajnai to face major obstacles as prime minister of Hungary bejegyzéshez a hozzászólások lehetősége kikapcsolva
Gordon Bajnai

Gordon Bajnai

Gordon Bajnai, the Socialist government’s development minister, was nominated to replace outgoing Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány in the early hours of the morning, following desperate, marathon meetings within the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ). Assuming that Bajnai’s supporters are able to muster a thin majority in parliament next week, the 41 year old development minister will take over the Hungarian government on April 14, 2009. Yet Bajnai will face major political obstables as prime minister, above and beyond the severe economic crisis which brought Hungary to the brink of bankruptcy.

Gordon Bajnai comes across as telegenic and generally affable in the handful of interviews conducted with him during his brief stint in politics. Bajnai, who is not a member of the Socialist Party and seems to present himself as more of a manager or technocrat, than a party politician, has attempted to put himself above the deep left-right divide that has plagued Hungarian society. In his first statement as the left’s prime ministerial candidate, Bajnai noted that it did not matter to him who stands on the left or on the right of the political spectrum and that he did not want to be seen as a political rival, since he is only willing to take on Hungary’s top job for a limited period of time.

The terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ mean very different things in Hungary these days than just about anywhere else in the democratic world. The Hungarian Socialist Party’s rhetoric on economic policy–and that of the government’s supporters in the media–is akin to what one would hear from Conservatives in Canada or Republicans in the United States. In contrast, Fidesz–Hungary’s largest ‘conservative’ opposition party has suggested that it advocates a third-way economic model, while supporting free public health care and a tuition freeze in universities.

Bajnai will try to tackle Hungary’s economic problems with massive public spending cutbacks totaling 500 billion forints. Whether he will be able to pass any of his proposed legislation in parliament (where Socialist MPs have a record of watering down similar legislation in the past) remains an open question. But even more problematic for Bajnai will be his distinct lack of political legitimacy as prime minister. Not only was Bajnai never elected by popular vote to any political office whatsoever, but the Socialists and Free Democrats only decided to elect him after 17 other potential prime ministerial candidates either rejected the offer for the top job, were turned down by the Free Democrats or were seen as unacceptable by increasingly rebellious Socialist MPs.

Bajnai’s nomination was the closing act of a bizarre political soap opera, which showcased a truly stunning degree of Socialist incompetence. Socialists and Free Democrats spent a week agonizing over who would be Hungary’s next prime minister, in the hope of avoiding an early election which would be disastrous for the MSZP and outright fatal for the SZDSZ. The names of 18 businessmen, bankers, economists, academics and politicians were leaked to the media over a seven day period, prompting these business leaders to issue sometimes shocked rebukes or rejections, as they often found out that the Socialists were pondering their nomination without having first informed the candidate about their plans. Following seven days of failed negotiations, a dozen and a half candidates who did not want the prime ministership–or who were turned down by party politicians–the lethargic Socialists and frantic Free Democrats saw the writing on the wall, and elected Bajnai in their misery. The Socialists accepted Bajnai’s nomination through a “vote of sympathy” on Sunday–in which a third of the the party’s caucus was missing–and the SZDSZ’ leadership voted 7 to 5 to accept the new prime minister at around 1:00AM in Budapest. This only happened after Bajnai reportedly issued an ultimatum, in which he demanded that Free Democrats vote for him before midnight, or else he would withdraw his name, just like all the other candidates. In the end, János Kóka, an SZDSZ MP and Bajnai’s former business partner, convinced his party to support his friend, rather than jump off the deep end in an early election, which would have decimated the liberal party.

Bajnai will find it difficult to counter arguments  that Hungary not only suffers from crippling economic problems, but also a huge democratic deficit. While the opposition Fidesz has already indicated that it would continue to push for an early election and would not support any government initiatives–there is dissent within the Socialists and Free Democrats camps as well. Socialist MP József Karsai already confirmed that he does not intend to support Bajnai and that the party’s maneouvering was “pointless.” József Gulyás, an SZDSZ MP, also indicated that he would vote against Bajnai, while three of his colleagues are hesitant to support the new prime minister. For the next 12 months–before the spring 2010 election which will likely bring Fidesz back to power–Bajnai will have to tackle the economy, and deal with the nagging sense of political illegitimacy surrounding his new position. The current political mess will almost certainly come back to bite the Socialists and Free Democrats in European Parliamentary elections set to take place on June 7, 2009.

Christopher Adam

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