As late as Monday, Kovács denied that he was withdrawing from the race, but former finance minister Péter Medgyessy is now the only remaining MSZP candidate for the post. Medgyessy, who is not a party member, said in an interview with the Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet that he would only become a member of an MSZP cabinet if he was Prime Minister.
Should he be elected Prime Minister, he would choose Kovács as foreign minister, Medgyessy said. As far as co-operation is concerned, Medgyessy urged the MSZP to begin talks with the Free Democrats (SZDSZ), but he ruled out any partnership with either the Workers' Party (MP) or the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP).
According to a Gallup poll conducted between 28 April and 10 May, FIDESZ has caught up with the MSZP, Magyar Nemzet wrote on Thursday. If the elections were held now, both parties would receive 26 per cent—or so say the 1800 persons polled.
Smallholders still divided
As the Smallholder (FKGP) saga continues, József Torgyán reiterated, after being expelled from the party's parliamentary faction, that he would not sit among the independents. The statement came as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán confirmed Torgyán as FKGP leader.
While Environment Minister Béla Turi-Kovács early in the week said Zsolt Lányi would challenge a decision by the Budapest Municipal Court (according to which the Budapest convention that elected Turi-Kovács was declared illegal) he also said the party's support was at an all-time low.
The Budapest Municipal Court on Thursday ruled that Torgyán is still a member of the FKGP parliamentary faction, effectively invalidating the parliamentary group's decision earlier this month to expel Torgyán. Torgyán's Chief of Staff, Béla Béres, said the Court found that the decision to expel the party leader did not conform to the faction's rules.
Following the ruling, faction leader Péter Szentgyörgyvölgyi said he would file a complaint with the National Judicial Council.
Ministry of Defence Political State Secretary János Homoki, revently elected Smallholder vice-president at the Cegléd convention, stepped down from the party post. In a letter to the PM, he said "a rift has developed between the governing board of the Smallholders and its ministers delegated to the cabinet, which today proved to be an obstacle in implementing the government programme."
Hungarian-Slovene railway finished
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Slovenian counterpart Janez Drnovsek on Wednesday opened a 44km railway stretch linking the two countries. The Zalalövő-Bajánsenye-Murska Sobata (Muraszombat) stretch is part of a rail network that will connect the eastern part of Europe with the Adriatic. At the ceremony in Hodos, Orbán stated that it was the first railway built in Hungary since 1942, and that was in Transylvania. Drnovsek believes that, considering EU and NATO enlargement, the line has a great future and can "promote economic, cultural and ethnic ties."
In Hungary, 19km of rack was laid at a cost of HUF (Hungarian forint) 24 billion (EUR 93.1 million). The European Union provided EUR ten million through PHARE, while the German Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau provided DEM (German mark) 120 million (EUR 61.4 million) to the project.
Hungary will also build a bridge at Dunaújváros as part of the TINA road network, linking Graz-Veszprém-Dunaújváros-Ártánd. Another section of the motorway will connect Košice (Kassa)-Debrecen-Oradea (Nagyvárad).
"No anti-Hungarian front"
Or that is what Magyar Nemzet wrote on Wednesday, referring to the Slovak and Romanian positions on the Status Law. Magyar Hírlap, declaring "no Pozsony (Bratislava)-Bucharest axis against the Status Law draft," reported that Slovak Foreign Ministry State Secretary Ján Fígel had confirmed there is no talk of a "Slovak-Romanian anti-Hungarian front." Fígel added that the Slovak side only wants the "minority question" in the Carpathian Basin to be handled in accordance with European norms.
On the same day, Transylvanian daily Krónika reported on the Slovak equivalent to the Status Law, saying that the Slovak Republic has, since 1997, regulated the "situation, rights and responsibility" of ethnic Slovaks who are not Slovak citizens.
Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) Chairman Béla Markó meanwhile called for talks between Hungary and Romania. Tatiana Maxim of the Romanian Foreign Ministry said that consultation on the Status Law would follow in the coming week.
Romanian President Ion Iliescu is reported to have said that the Status Law should not be used as a pretext for nationalist standpoints. Magyar Nemzet on Thursday reported an Iliescu spokesman stating that the Status Law must not lead to a situation where the Hungarian state shapes the administrative structure in Romania or a division along "ethnic lines" among citizens of the Romanian state.
In response to opinions voiced in neighbouring states, Foreign Ministry spokesman Gábor Horváth reiterated that the law would not apply in other states, only in Hungary. He said Hungary would continue its consultations with neighbouring states, but added, "some countries have made political statements, but raised no specific questions."
And in other news...
- A suspension of Malév's and British Airways's Budapest-London flights was only just avoided as the two airlines quarrelled over landing slots last week. In the end, BA yielded and withdrew one of its three daily flights to London.
- Croatia and Yugoslavia will ask Hungary to extradite a former Yugoslav Air Force pilot detained on an Interpol warrant on 10 May. Emir Sisić was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Croatia after in 1992 having shot down a helicopter with five Italian EU representatives on board. Police spokesman László Garamvölgyi said Croatia had 40 days to present documents supporting an extradition. Yugoslavia, on the other hand, says Croatia cannot ask Hungarian authorities to hand over Sisić, as Croatia was not a recognised state at the time of the shooting down.
- István Stumpf, head of the Prime Minister's Office—which, by the way, is expected to move back to the Sándor Palace in Buda castle next year—on Thursday launched the Government's Information Society Strategy. HUF three billion (EUR 11.6 million) will be allocated to the scheme. Stumpf said the aim was to make computers and the Internet affordable and more accessible.
- On 12 May, a man, incensed by an ice cream van's "music," beat up its driver and stole the van. This lead to a police chase in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County that lasted for an hour and a half. During this time, the unnamed 33-year-old even had time to pick up three hitchhikers.
Paul Nemes, 18 May 2001
Magyar Távirati Iroda
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