Budapest riots rock Hungary but benefit Prime Minister

Photo: CTK

This week Budapest was the scene of violent riots and Hungary's Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany looked like a politician without a future. A political storm blew up over a speech, leaked to the media, in which he said the government had lied about the state of the economy.

Photo: CTK
Peter Szijjart spokesman for the opposition Fidesz party was keen to reinforce that point:

"The Prime Minister is continuous in lying because he admitted that he has been lying and he is still lying about lying. He has lied a lot in order to stay in power."

But the socialist party leader was equally adamant that he would not step down:

"I'm staying and I will do my job. I'm extremely committed to fulfil my programme - fiscal adjustment and reforms. I know it's very difficult and difficult for the people but this is the only route and direction for Hungary."

Well that was early in the week and few thought Ferenc Gyurcsany would survive. But at the end of a week he's not only still standing, he leads a government that's solidly behind him. His ratings are up and the opposition is in crisis. So how has he sailed through this political storm? I spoke to Krisztian Svabados, director of the Political Capital Institute in Budapest:

"I would say that he has survived a very serious political crisis and Hungary has survived very serious and never before experienced violence on its streets."

Photo: CTK
Yes, at the beginning of the week when the news of this speech broke...about lying to Hungary... it seemed impossible that he would not have to resign. So how has he survived? What are the factors at work?

"First of all he was very successful at managing the crisis. When, on Sunday afternoon, the first sentences of his speech were made public I myself thought that he can't defend himself and must resign. But he immediately made the full text of his speech public and was in much better shape by the evening than he was in the afternoon."

So what was in that text that has helped him and convinced Hungarians, or at least some Hungarians - perhaps a majority - that he was right and can still lead the country?

"He said that he was referring to all politicians of the last sixteen years when he said 'we lied' and that is what the majority of voters think too. The second thing is that he said 'we have to reform this country or else we fall'".

So have the opposition Fidesz mismanaged the campaign against the government?

Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, photo: CTK
"The main opposition party, Fidesz, is now in very deep political crisis, particularly the leader of the party [Viktor Orban]. It was him who used the mob and had people demonstrating on the street. He was the first person, a couple of weeks ago, to start using certain words that have been missing from Hungarian political vocabulary. These include the words uprising, resistance, and so on. So, he played with fire and he has burnt himself."

Has it now become easier for Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany to push through tough economic reforms?

"I think yes. Before the violence on the street, we had a very angry Socialist Party behind the prime minister - discontent within the party. But after the violence in the streets and after the week's events, the party and the coalition has become very disciplined, very strong and they are absolutely backing the prime minister. I think, legally, it will be much easier for the prime minister to push all laws and amendments that are necessary for reform through parliament."