Profile of Hungary’s PM by BBC News
Thursday, September 21, 2006, 08:15
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány has ruled out stepping down from his post since anti-government rioters in Budapest briefly occupied Hungarian national television on Monday night. It was a typically robust response from the youthful 45-year-old who only five months ago successfully steered his Socialist-led coalition to become the first Hungarian government to be re-elected for a second term since democratic elections were restored in 1990. Now the controversial Gyurcsány has also become the first of Hungary's post-communist Prime Ministers to preside over a political crisis involving violence in the streets. The riots and the much larger peaceful demonstrations were triggered by Gyurcsány's own remarks - leaked at the weekend - in which he said that the government had lied about the state of public finances in order to win the elections in April. Gyurcsány stands by those comments - and he has published on his personal website the entire text of the speech he originally gave to his Socialist MPs just after their election victory.
The openly ambitious PM's defiance is a clear sign of his reluctance to resign as his opponents are demanding. Gyurcsány was only 28 years old when his political career appeared to have come to an end. He was an official with a promising future ahead of him as leader of the university branches of the Communist Youth League, when the organization was dismantled with the collapse of communism in 1989. He swiftly moved into business, dealing in the property market and privatization, and subsequently became a multi-millionaire - reputed to be one of Hungary's wealthiest men. Gyurcsány re-entered full-time politics only with the return to power of the Socialists, the successors to the one-time communists, four years ago. He was appointed adviser to the Prime Minister of the time, Péter Medgyessy, and then became minister for youth and sport a year later. But that government showed little sense of direction and in 2004, just over half-way through its term, Gyurcsány took over as prime minister from the somewhat colorless Medgyessy.
Within a matter of months Gyurcsány transformed the Socialists' fortunes. Before his promotion, the Socialists were lagging more than 10% behind the main center-right opposition party, known as Fidesz - the Hungarian Civic Alliance. Thanks to Gyurcsány's energy, drive and style - in many respects he has modelled himself on Britain's modernising Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair - the Socialists managed to overtake Fidesz at the polls. Earlier this year Blair paid tribute to his Hungarian colleague, calling him a "friend" and "someone whom I admire very much". On a personal level, too, Gyurcsány established a clear lead over Viktor Orbán, the Fidesz leader, who before Gyurcsány's eruption on to the political stage was Hungary's most charismatic politician. Gyurcsány's strong personality, sense of purpose and excellent communications skills were among the reasons that helped the Socialist-led coalition retain office. But his immense self-confidence has landed him in trouble before. Last year he was forced to apologize after he complimented the Hungarian national football team on their "death-defying bravery" in securing an away draw against "terrorists" - a joking reference to the Saudi Arabian team. On that occasion - as now - his remarks were made at a private meeting of the Socialist Party. Their leaking suggests that he has opponents within his own party's leadership who resent his unconventional style and blunt message. For now the Socialist MPs have given Gyurcsány their solid backing, knowing perhaps that without him their party would almost certainly be consigned to the opposition benches. But some of them might be beginning to wonder whether their government could survive in office if Gyurcsány does not tone down his tendency for straight talking or curb what they see as his arrogance in the face of criticism. Now Gyurcsány is facing the biggest crisis of his political life. He has seriously underestimated the extent of public dissatisfaction with a series of tax hikes and public spending cuts he has introduced since his re-election to curb Hungary's mounting budget deficit. Gyurcsány's dynamism, sense of direction and presentational skills may not be enough to deal with the current crisis of confidence and the further belt-tightening that will be required. His critics are saying that Gyurcsány will need to demonstrate greater understanding for ordinary voters, and a willingness to admit his mistakes, if he is to recover some of the trust of the Hungarian public. (BBC News)