Friday, August 20, 2004

Now it is Hungary's turn

It seems that Central Europe will live up to its historic tradition. Far from being a silly season, August is when it is all happening.

For some time now the Hungarian newspapers have been shaking their heads, tut-tutting and making tart comments about the chaos in the Socialist – Free Liberal Alliance coalition government. The Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy, who has already been in hot water when he was forced to admit after he had been elected that he had served in the Communist secret police, seemed to be unable to control his government.

The ruling coalition had lost heavily to the right and the centre right in the European elections. Needless to say, some of the left-wing socialists interpreted that to mean that the people of Hungary did not want any fiscal reforms.

Medgyessy himself blamed his smaller coalition partners for causing instability in the government, demanding that they back him or he will resign. On Wednesday he sacked three ministers, including the Free-Democrat Economy Minister István Csillag.

By Thursday the Hungarian Prime Minister found himself without crucial support in the government and tendered his resignation. This was accepted. The party president László Kovács has announced that the new leader and, consequently, prime minister will be chosen by the Socialist Party after consultation with their coalition partners. The party, in his words, was committed to maintaining the coalition and carrying on with the government.

Nevertheless, the immediate effect of the chaos in the government was a fall in the value of the forint.

In the meantime Péter Kiss, the Labour Minister will take over as acting Prime Minister, expecting to be confirmed by the end of the week. As Reuter’s news agency points out in its report:

“Medgyessy, a former banker with communist roots, follows in the footsteps of two other departed prime ministers from central European nations which joined the EU in May.

Poland's Leszek Miller and Czech Vladimir Spidla paid the price for dismal showings by their socialist parties in European parliament polls in June.”

The next general election in Hungary is due in 2006 and, as things stand, the right-wing FIDESZ is likely to win. This would not be too surprising. Hungary has distinguished itself by not once voting the same government in two elections running since the collapse of the Communist system. There is a lot to be said for that kind of irreverent attitude.

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