April 6th, 2009

Socialists formally tap Bajnai for PM, Lendvai for party chief

The minority governing Socialist Party elected Gordon Bajnai prime minister candidate and Ildiko Lendvai party chair with an overwhelming majority at its extraordinary congress on Sunday.

The national council of Hungary’s liberal Free Democrats voted support for prime minister designate Bajnai at a meeting later in the day. Free Democrats leader Gabor Fodor reiterated his party’s position after the meeting that it was ready to support the government, however, the Free Democrats would not restore the government coalition with the Socialist Party.

Bajnai, who was appointed Economy Minister last year, said he would undertake the post till the next general elections scheduled for 2010, and would focus on crisis management.

“I aim to steer Hungary out of the crisis, protect jobs and families, and stabilise the Hungarian economy,” Bajnai said, adding that the country, beset by the global economic crisis, had no time to waste.

Lendvai has headed the Socialist group in parliament since 2002. She consented to being nominated for party chair on condition that the party should be led by a three-member executive committee in the year to come, that outgoing party chairman (and outgoing PM) Ferenc Gyurcsany should be appointed the party’s head of Tancsics Foundation, and that her deputy, Attila Mesterhazy should be her successor as parliamentary group leader.

In the vote, Lendvai was supported by 90.7 percent of the deputies, and Bajnai garnered 92.9 percent of the votes.

Commenting on the Socialist congress’ decision, the main opposition Fidesz party reiterated its call for early elections, saying that Bajnai’s crisis management measures would be detrimental for the poor.

Bajnai announced his austerity proposals last week, including the abolishing of the 13th month wages in the public sector and the 13th month bonus pensions from 2010 on, reducing sick payments and freezing per-child family benefits for two years. He said that he would only accept the post of prime minister if the Socialists continued to support his measures and did not attempt to water them down.

The necessary signatures for a no-confidence vote against Gyurcsany have been collected and they will be submitted to parliament early next week. With Sunday’s decision of the Free Democrats national council, the liberal deputies have full authorisation to support Bajnai, and it is up to a vote in parliament scheduled for April 14 to elect him prime minister. If he is approved by parliament, he will be the third prime minister of the Socialist Party since 2002. After Peter Medgyessy, who was in office from 2002 to 2004, Gyurcsany is the second Socialist PM who leaves his post for political reasons.

On Sunday afternoon, an estimated 25,000 people gathered in Budapest’s Heroes’ Square and demanded the dissolution of parliament and early elections. The demonstrators sent a petition to President Laszlo Solyom, then, led by the radical nationalist Hungarian Guard, some of them continued their protest in front of Parliament into the early evening hours.

Gyurcsany resigned from premiership on March 21 and from the party chairman’s post a week later in what he called a move to eliminate an obstacle to a stable government majority and cooperation required for changes.

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