Bridging the credibility gap

Parliament

A detailed economic program for a joint election campaign by the Socialists (MSzP) and the Together 2014 (E14) movement could be published within a month, MSzP leader Attila Mesterházy told an AmCham business lunch on June 27.

Asked when details might be made public, Mesterházy replied: “I think we will be done in a month’s time. We started negotiations with the content because we have to be able to tell people what we would do differently to the current government.” Earlier, he had suggested talks about the economic program would not be difficult. “The two [parties’] economic programs are not so very different; to match these just needs, I think, one day. This is not the biggest problem in the negotiations.”

It is important that the parties in any future coalition understand each other’s priorities and principles before forming a government, he said, suggesting that had not been the case when the MSzP were last in power, with the now defunct Liberal Democrats as the junior partner. Failure to reach understanding now could “cause serious problems” later, he added. For the present, though, the signs are good. “Several experts have worked in both [negotiating] teams. There are [already] some good personal relationships.”

Should the Socialists be given the chance to form a government again, the party had to be realistic about how much it could achieve in one term. “In the first two years we would concentrate on economic policy first, and the most important thing is we have to restart the engines of growth.”

There was much talk of restoring the country’s credibility with international investors, and the need to “reboot the financing lines”. There was little in the way of declared policy, except in one of the three priority public spending areas identified by the MSzP (namely health, education and public transport). “From 2014 September, we would like to provide to all students who would like to enroll [in university] that they can without tuition fees. We are very much committed to a system where you do not need to pay.”

It was also made clear that the MSzP do not like the special sectoral taxes – and especially the current high level of the bank tax – but there was an acknowledgement that, with these levies generating HUF 800 billion in budget revenue, there was no realistic way of ending them all straight away.

In addition to restoring the country’s reputation, at least as the Socialist leader sees it, there was a recognition that the MSzP had to restore its own credibility. Gordon Bajnai, the head of the E14 movement, was the last Prime Minister before Viktor Orbán came to power in 2010, but he was running an MSzP-backed crisis management government after Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány had been forced to resign in the wake of a secret recording of him admitting to party members they had lied “morning, noon and night” to get reelected in 2006. The subtext to what Mesterházy was telling AmCham was that there could be no repeat. “What I can promise, what we had to learn from the Socialist Party’s past, is our commitment and promises won’t be unrealistic,” he insisted.

(Photo: András Hajnal)

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