Sunday, March 22, 2009

Knee deep in the mud - a resignation leading to nowhere?

The Hungarian prime minister announced yesterday that he is willing to give way to another cabinet with another premier heading it and as this blog admittedly has a bias towards Hungary I can't evade making my point regarding the events. At the moment, only a day after the announcement causing confusement, the outcome is very obscured, only one thing seems certain: there is hardly any short term possibility for Gyurcsány returning to his post. Although theoretically exists the chance that the parties won't find a person whom everyone accepts and that way at least the assumption Gyurcsány has no alternative as the head of government during the electoral cycle of the present parliament would be proven, but as he admitted that he is a liability of the handling of the crisis, it is hard to imagine that even in this case he can continue working.

Anything else lies obscured in the future, and even the motives of the premier are very uncertain for the public. Moreover, he left the country in a very precarious position, as he didn't present any coherent program for handling the crisis and the transitional period won't be really suitable to come up with one. This state of affairs is coherent with one possible interpretation of the move as well, that Gyurcsány intended to realize the program of the so-called Reform Alliance, but he had to face that he had lost the confidence of the businessmen and his party is not willing to support measures intended to spare on social spending and benefits in the magnitude it is proposed. With his will for resignation he gave away the only trump the socialists had, the fact that even a minority government was impossible to bring down with a no-confidence vote because no earlier agreement on the person of the next prime minister was possible to be achieved as a result of the very divergent views of the parties on necessary and opportune measures. After this move the socialists can either accept anybody the minor parties will impose on them and a program they are not sympathetic with and in exchange they can preserve some influence in the ministries, or move on and dissolve the parliament, fight an electoral campaign with a disoriented party, a highly unpopular party chairman and without any coherent program. The more because if this line of reasoning would be true it would be hard to imagine a socialist party putting forward a program very different from that despised one, presented by the Reform Alliance. In this case Gyurcsány is simply blackmailing his party because he is convinced that Hungary needs the same reforms in the middle of the crisis and as a solution for it, as it needed one year ago.

This last point is all the more important, because the reasoning and motives behind the surprise move are very well connected to this problem. Gyurcsány obviously lost his credibility in the eyes of the main protagonists of business interest, although his whole strategy was aimed at winning their alliance and support for his government in exchange for reforms and "reforms". In return he hoped for their support against his opponent, Viktor Orbán, whom he intended to depict - not without basis - as an irresponsible person, playing politics with populist promises even amidst a serious crisis. As Gyurcsány was not able to convince his hoped for allies of his ability to implement the promised measures, he became under attack from every side. (See my earlier post "A very Hungarian coup?") and he oscillated between refusal of the Reform Alliance's plans and not only acceptance but even declaring those measures insufficient.

For some weeks "political scientists" and "analysts" were flooding the media with an idea of a coalition consisting the socialists, their former junior partner, the liberals and the Hungarian Democratic Forum, a small rightist party, but clearly in conflict with the large opposition party, Fidesz, and envisaged this imaginary coalition having as a program the proposals of the Reform Alliance. (These are focused on lower, flat tax, cuts in social benefits, dismissal of 70000 state employees, irrealistic cuts in state expenses in order to reduce budget deficit under 3% of this years GDP and drive economic growth amidst the crisis.) Although the socialist party remained reluctant to this idea, it is possible retrospectively, that it was a test of the vision, initiated by the staff of the prime minister, who is obssessed with the idea that Orbán can return and destroy the constitutional system of the republic and that Hungary needs reforms either to make budget spending sustainable or focusing on competitivity. From this point of view, for the greater public interest, not only the Reform Alliance proposals can be justified, but a coalition in the above mentioned form as well.

But this is not the only possible motive behind the unexpected action. Gyurcsány really was not able to forge the minimal necessary consensus around a program for handling the crisis, and it clearly paralyzed the government, not acting decisively and with strong hands. There was a growing discontent among the ranks of the party as well, he lost support among intellectuals, the air was slowly dissipated from him. But the fact that this move was once again a surprise for his cabinet and his party, he didn't try to find a concerted solution not bringing the socialists into this trap, suggests that his personal conviction played a more important role than his concerns about the socialist's future.

In one sense, important even in the outcome of the recent events, Gyurcsány was a typical ECE politician. Even if he shared concerns about the division among ECE countries or between East and West, he accepted the idea of the everlasting competition for convergence, the role assigned to these countries in the EU economy and organization and tried to realize a policy according to these presumptions. Therefore, not seeing or accepting, that the crisis has common roots and underlying factors in ECE and no economic policy, however neo-liberal it was, was able to contain it, it was very easy to place every responsibility on him, as if his failed policies would have led to the crisis. Logically everyone was eager and unopposed in pointing out his resignation and the implementation of policies, being questioned in their usefullness at the very moment, as the simple solution for the crisis. In this sense Gyurcsány's fall was a consequence of the non-existence of ECE as a politically conscious region, as this fact is blocking the way of any proposal or plan seeking a new balance inside the EU and a systemic solution instead of the "every country is an individual case" approach so beloved by Europe's leader even today.

This fact is making the situation even more dire. One can expect triumphant "experts" and politicians rushing forward in the next few days (Lajos Bokros already proudly announced his willingness to accept a possible request), self-confidently speaking of their 100% certain solutions, in concordance with the already "proven" models of he Baltics or Slovakia, that means solutions aimed at the earlier state of affairs in the world economy. As Gyurcsány left no coherent program behind (although as party chairman he will be among those who will influence the proposalas of the incoming government) the talks and negotiations won't evolve around this basic program, highliting who is ready to accept an already formulated series of measures as a basis for a new cabinet or who can contest it's presumptions with real arguments, instead the parties will possibly seek a well known person acceptable for every one of them, with well known ideas and as not too much program for sale at the moment, it will almost certainly means one program with dubious moral basis (harsh measures for the poor and large tax cuts for the highest 5%) and dubious possible effects (it is hardly any chance that tax cuts will ignite any kind of aditional growth until Germany is in recesion, while it is quite possible that budget incomes will collapse). The socialists are clearly demoralized without the necessary intellectual background to counterbalance such ideas and the triumphant "experts" will simply give way their rage against the otherwise contepmtously seen party supposed to have been the main obstacle in the way leading to the complete reforming of the country according to they beloved Slovak model. In this process the socialists very likely will lose the remnants of their backbone, they will be relegated to the position of a herds of votes in the parliament and as the measures will not be too popular their popularity will crumble continously. And nobody, even our super self-confident "experts", can assure us that their recipe is the long term solution for our problems, especially as they are so self-puffed that it even didn't cross their mind that their models can be flawed in the light of the fact that every ECE country is in a very serious situation. (And an additional point: as the public will be fed by the search for the new premier in the coming weeks the discussion on the real problems will once again be avoided.)

Or the socialists can revolt, stick to their revulsion regarding the Reform Alliance's ideas (anyway, even a governemnt of experts needs someone to vote for their bills) and bring down the whole construction and march forward towards the early elections. But in order to have at least a slight chance they would need not the oscillating Gyurcsány, but the Hungarian bulldozer, their own Paroubek.

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