Three days before Hungary went to the polls last Sunday, the centre-right opposition party Fidesz was on the defensive as rival parties seized on the leak of a recording that suggested the odds-on favourite in the general election holds a registry containing the personal details of supporters and opponents.
An audio recording posted on the internet last Wednesday, a voice allegedly belonging to Fidesz director Gabor Kubatov said that Fidesz held a database of the names, addresses, telephone numbers and voting preferences of tens of thousands of voters in the southern town of Pécs. And not only those of its supporters: Kubatov (Fidesz did not deny that the man in the recording was he) said the party also had details of 15,000 voters who did not back Fidesz in the mayoral election in the town last May. The Fidesz official dismissed them as “Commies.”
Socialist Party chairwoman Ildikó Lendvai promptly declared that Kubatov had made a “detailed, revealing and incriminating statement” on his party’s illegal data-gathering activity. She added that her party planned to report Fidesz to the relevant authorities. The following day, the former European Union commissioner Laszlo Kovács, also a member of the governing Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) told reporters that Kubatov’s words put one in mind of George Orwell’s seminal novel on totalitarianism, Nineteen Eighty-Four and its all-seeing power Big Brother. Kovács said it was “not unrealistic” to imagine that the data in the list referred to in the recording could at some time be used in the screening of candidates for jobs or grants, or the allocation of school places or hospital beds.
Fidesz chief of staff Péter Szíjjártó promptly denied that his party had broken any laws on data protection or the handing of personal data. As rival parties sought to make as much as possible of the issue on the last day of pre-election campaigning, Szíjjártó dismissed the claims as a smear campaign by the Socialists and the far-right nationalist party Jobbik. “The increasingly troubled Socialist Party and a desperate Jobbik are attempting to discredit Fidesz,” Szijjártó said. Jobbik leader Gábor Vona likened the recording to an infamous party address in which the former Socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány acknowledged that his party had lied “night and day” to secure re-election earlier that year. The leak of what has become known as the “lies speech” in September 2006 sparked anti-government rioting and, besides demolishing support for the Socialists, also sowed the seeds of a strengthening of the far right party Jobbik.
Fidesz promises small government
A Fidesz government would probably consist of just eight or nine ministries if and when the party forms the next government in June, its national council president László Kövér said last Wednesday. “The Orbán cabinet could be the most lightly staffed government in 20 years,” Kövér told the news agency MTI. Since the switch to free market democracy in 1990, the number of ministries have fluctuated at around 13 to 15, with the make up sometimes changing dramatically mid-term.
The streamlined Fidesz cabinet would probably comprise four senior ministries, Kövér said. There would be a chancellery that would deal with public administration and oversee the justice system, a “human affairs” ministry with a diverse portfolio encompassing education, culture, health care, social policy and sport. There would also a ministry responsible for the management of state assets, and a ministry of national economy would combine the roles of the current finance and economy ministries and present the budget to parliament, Kövér said.
The previous week, Fidesz chief of staff Péter Szíjjártó confirmed that Fidesz intends to table a motion to cut the number of members of parliament – currently 386 – roughly in half. Such a move would require a two-thirds majority in parliament. Further hacking away at bureaucracy in the interests of cutting costs and improving efficiency would see the number of local councillors around the country similarly halved, Szíjjártó said.