Fidesz MP and ministerial commissioner Kristóf Szatmáry and Gábor Hollai of Momentum Movement, both candidates in Budapest’s 16th district, held a candidates’ debate on Tuesday evening, reports index.hu. The event marked the first time this election campaign when a Fidesz candidate dared to debate their opposition challengers.
During the invitation-only event that was broadcast live on Facebook, the two candidates debated four main topics: Hungary’s economy, healthcare, corruption and the international situation.
The topic was mostly dominated by Szatmáry. The ministerial commissioner overseeing trade policy listed Fidesz’s achievement in the past two parliamentary cycles from 2010, including the increased employment rate, the increased consumption rate, and the household utility cost cuts. According to Szatmáry, without Fidesz, Hungary’s economy would be on the same level with that of Greece. There would not be this high stability and predictability, he argued.
Hollai could not really dispute the economic results. Instead, the Momentum candidate noted that it is futile to speak about predictability when the government can confiscate one’s tobacco shop with a stroke of the pen and impose sectoral taxes at will. Hollai pointed out that the current performance of the economy is only acceptable when compared to the socialist-liberal governments before Fidesz. “If we compare the current government’s performance with the Gyurcsány government (2004-2009 – ed.), then we have set the bar really low,” Hollai said, and added that Hungary’s economic performance should be compared to its competitors.
Finding common ground in bashing the former prime minister, Szatmáry jokingly added that other countries in the region were lucky they did not have a Ferenc Gyurcsány.
Turning to healthcare, Hollai went on the offensive and asked his opponent why, if the economy is so strong, public healthcare is in such poor condition. According to Hollai, the fact that hospital conditions are terrible is supported by the increasing number of hospital infections and that 26 percent of all deaths in Hungary could have been avoided with a better healthcare system.
Although Hollai acknowledged that Fidesz alone cannot be held responsible for the poor state of healthcare, he holds Fidesz responsible for failing to make structural change to the healthcare system even though they had a supermajority in the parliament. According to the Momentum candidate the government should have spent billions on healthcare instead of soccer stadiums.
Szatmáry defended the government’s stadium building program by stating that because of these investments 400,000 more people do sports regularly (mostly professionals) and they will be healthier and their medical costs will be much lower. Szatmáry said he had been hospitalized twice recently and yet did not get an infection.
As the broadcast cut just as Szatmáry started to present his views on challenges faced by Europe and Hungary, the exact positions of the candidates on the topic are unknown. However, it is very likely that at some point Szatmáry accused Momentum of planning to dismantle the anti-immigrant fence on Hungary’s southern border, since when the broadcast came back, Hollai was heard repeating that “Momentum doesn’t want to dismantle the fence.”
In the last section of the debate, Hollai cited what he said were Szatmáry’s questionable business dealings and unreported income. The Momentum candidate asked how Lőrinc Mészáros could realize revenues of HUF 71 billion (USD 281 million) only last year. “It cannot be an excuse that [politicians] stole under Gyurcsány too. This does not justify anything.”
Although his time was up, Szatmáry stated that it is mostly the political left that is corrupt. Defending the marvelous enrichment of the gas pipe fitter turned billionaire, Szatmáry claimed Mészáros won public procurements that were fair, transparent, and strictly regulated by law. Szatmáry concluded that “corruption is a political weapon that the opposition deploys when it has nothing to say.”