Coalition break-up: Short-term political forecast (valid only for 2 months)

2008-04-01

Political analysis of the present situation

 

These moves (harshly criticizing SZDSZ, sacking healthcare minister Ágnes Horváth and promising the re-writing of the coalition contract) were to stabilize his position within the party. Replacing Ágnes Horváth was an unexpected move, while Gyurcsány had declared last week that there is no need for reshuffling the government and rewriting of the coalition contract. The unanticipated, improvisative decision revealed that the Prime Minister felt the lack of support inside the party, and wanted to prevent his replacement by his own fraction. (The weakening of the Prime Minister’s position was shown by the low, 44% turnout of the „vote of confidence” among MSZP members held last week).

 

Wrongly using the tactics of divide et impera, the Prime Minister was mistaken that the SZDSZ would accept his plans, because the party would be unable to reject his plans uniformly due to inner conflicts. But the reaction was just the opposite. The step of the Prime Minister ceased the conflicts inside SZDSZ. Gábor Fodor and János Kóka declared together the recall of the ministers and state secretaries on Monday (these would include Environment Minister Gábor Fodor, Economy Minister Csaba Kákosy, Health Minister Ágnes Horváth and the state secretaries - Gábor Dióssy, Kálmán Kovács, Gyula Kincses, Gábor Horn). The leaders of the SZDSZ decided to quit the coalition, but declared their purpose to support the government’s reform plans from outside. The members of MSZP faction supposed that the Prime Minister had concrete plans for the situation, but Mr Gyurcsány admitted to party members that the reaction of SZDSZ caught him off-guard, and he did not have any plans and solutions for the present political situation. The Prime Minister miscalculated the balance of power, and became even weaker inside his party after his move. Therefore, Gyurcsány’s replacement became more feasible than ever before.

 

Possible scenarios for the future

 

There are two main scenarios for the next period: the continuation of the coalition governance, or the break-up of the coalition. Both of them can be divided into sub-scenarios.

 

 

1) THE SURVIVAL SCENARIO

 

a) Mr Gyurcsány’s replacement. The Prime Minister’s position has weakened significantly after the defeat on the referendum – and not just among the leaders, but the “mere” party members as well. While the harsh conflicts between the coalition parties and the lack of alternative candidates for the position can make it difficult for the coalition parties to make an agreement on the successor of Gyurcsány, it is highly possible that the coalition parties can find a candidate for the position who enjoys the support of both parties. This scenario is dictated by the political logic, as neither parties are interested in early elections with a landslide victory for Fidesz. (see below).

 

The possible ways of replacing the Prime Minister:

 

  • The PM resigns. In this case, the president of the republic has to appoint his possible successor, who starts negotiations about making a new government. If the parliament is unable to vote for a new PM in 40 days, the president has the right to dissolve the Parliament, and call for early elections (see below).
  • The Prime Minister keeps a vote of confidence on himself, and the MP-s vote against him. This leads back to the last mentioned possibility: the president of the republic has to appoint the new PM-candidate. If the parliament is unable to vote for a new PM in 40 days, he has the right to dissolve the Parliament, and call for early elections (see below).
  • The coalition parties can replace the PM with a constructive vote of no confidence, naming the alternative candidate. If the majority of all of the MP-s (194 vote) votes for the new candidate, he will be the successor of the Prime Minister automatically.

 

Who might be next?

 

THIS IS A LIST OF NAMES THAT APPEARED IN THE MEDIA AS POTENTIAL PMs. THIS LIST IS NOT CONFIRMED BY POLITICAL CAPITAL.

 

  • Strong party politicians from MSZP (Ildikó Lendvai; leader of the MSZP faction, Péter Kiss, deputy of Ferenc Gyurcsány, József Gráf, agricultural minister, Imre Szekeres, minister of defence; László Mandur , vice-president of the Parliament) or SZDSZ (Gábor Kuncze, former president of SZDSZ).
  • “Technocrats”: Gordon Bajnai (minister of regional development), András Simor.

 

b) Gyurcsány stays – without major changes in the government. If the Prime Minister decides to withdraw his decision of sacking Ágnes Horváth, or/and re-writing the coalition contract; or the SZDSZ decides to re-enter the coalition, the coalition will “stay alive” or “resurrect” in its former state (or with minimal changes in some fields – e.g, the healthcare sector). This is a scenario with very low possibility, as in the present political context stepping back on both sides would be regarded as total surrender and political defeat.

 

c) Gyurcsány stays – with major changes in the government. There is another opportunity for maintaining the coalition; if the Prime Minister can make a new agreement with the liberals. This case, the most possible consequence is to change ministries between the coalition parties (p e. exchanging the healthcare ministry to the foreign ministry, or – after a separation of culture and education in the government – to the educational ministry), and re-writing the coalition contracts in some critical points. The political consequence of this scenario would be the continuation of the conflicts between coalition parties and the softening of the reforms (p. e. health and tax). Due to the permanent conflicts, the ability of MSZP and SZDSZ to address the voters diminishes to a minimal level. Therefore, loosening the strict budget discipline would be expected in the next two years. This is a scenario with low possibility.

 

 

2) THE DIVORCE SCENARIO


a) Minority government with SZDSZ support. The early election could lead to a catastrophe for the coalition parties in the present political situation, as Fidesz has the support of almost 70 % of the active voters. While SZDSZ also wants to avoid early elections, in order to maintain the continuity of the governance, the MP-s of the party can support MSZP in the Parliament; and the bills that are compatible with the political program of the SZDSZ. The “price” of the support can be anything from party financing to jobs to relatives of SZDSZ politicians or jobs, posts for local leaders of the party. This is a very tough road for the coalition, the debates between the parties and the difficulties of governing can make it almost impossible to gain public support – especially for MSZP, because SZDSZ have more political possibilities; and have a chance to show its independence from MSZP. In case of minority government, the reforms are expected to be halted by the socialist faction; and the governability of the country can become tenuous. The ability of the MSZP to govern and to show up political success will be extremely limited. SZDSZ may later – e.g. in half a year – rejoin the government.


b) Minority government with ad hoc support. Having 188 MP-s (190 minus László Toller and Gyula Horn, who became unable to vote because of an accident and an irreversible disease, respectively); the socialist faction needs only five or six (the last for the personal decisions – e.g. voting on the PM) members to sustain majority in the Parliament. In this case MSZP can form ad hoc alliances to gain the majority in the parliament. This could lead to the total loss of ability to govern for MSZP, because all of the political efforts of the government and MSZP would be wasted on recruiting the majority to pass bills. This scenario would have the most serious effect on the balance of the budget, because the government had to “pay the price” of the support of its “occasional partners” (e.g. contribution to infrastructural developments, school renovations, etc. in the constituency of an MP; or supporting another costly law of another faction).

 

c) Majority government with newly recruited MSZP MP’s. While its possibility is minimal, the MSZP can try to ensure its majority by some MP’s, who are not in the socialist fraction yet. If MSZP can persuade at least five or six members (from 20 the liberal and 3 independent MP’s) to sit in the socialist fraction; the party can have the majority necessary for the governance. This would lead to a very fragile political situation, where the future of the government can depend on the support of few MP’s; and the MSZP fraction has to maintain a total discipline among his members.


d) Early elections. Although at this moment unlikely, a scenario is imaginable in which the coalition’s short-term internal conflicts lead to the fall of government and early elections. The political failure of a minority government can indirectly lead to a situation where early elections can become an opportunity. THOUGH THIS SCENARIO IS NOW UNLIKELY, AFTER 30 APRIL POLITICAL CAPITAL WILL RE-EVALUATE THE CHANCES OF EARLY ELECTIONS.

 

The following circumstances could directly lead to an early election:

  • PM resigns or loses a vote of confidence, and the fractions of the parliament are unable to make a compromise on the next candidate. If the parliament is unable to vote for a new PM in 40 days after the president of the republic appointed the first candidate, the president has the right to dissolve the Parliament, and to call for early elections.
  • The majority in the parliament declares the dissolution of the Parliament.

 

In these cases, early elections are to be held within 3 months. In the current political situation, an early election would result in a landslide victory for Fidesz, SZDSZ’s falling out of the parliament, and middle-sized or even smaller parliamentary faction for MSZP. Accordingly, the coalition parties are expected to try any other political possibilities just to avoid this option.

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