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Changes in the government

May 5th, 2012

Left-wing commentators think the new minister of the Ministry of National Resources lacks qualifications for the job,  aside from the fact that he is an old friend of Viktor Orbán’s, while a centrist political analyst suggests that  Zoltán Balog has gained enough experience in his current post to make a good Minister.

A possible government reshuffle has long been rumoured. On May 2nd the first ministerial changes were announced: Miklós Réthelyi, head of the Ministry of National Resources will be replaced by Zoltán Balog, a protestant pastor who until now has worked as state secretary responsible for social inclusion, dealing especially with Roma affairs. In that position he oversaw the drawing up of a new Roma strategy in Hungary, and the adoption by the European Commission of Hungary’s proposal that all EU countries be required to submit their plans to integrate the Roma. He was also an advisor on religious affairs to the Prime Minister during the first Fidesz government (1998-2002). The Ministry will be renamed the Ministry of Human Resources, incorporating the departments Balog has been running so far within the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration.

Ákos Tóth in Népszabadság alleges that Balog has nothing to boast of, beyond being a personal friend of Orbán’s. His only achievements – he says – have been some „highly damaging” statements. Tóth regards Réthelyi as a minister who carefully avoided confrontation and did little, while he accuses Balog of failing to come up with genuine strategies of social inclusion. Balog may be the caretaker of Orbán’s soul, but nothing else, he concludes.

Richárd Molnár in Népszava finds it ridiculous that Orbán should announce a change of ministers while on an official visit to Kazahstan. Molnár calls Balog „pernicious” and cites two statements by the undersecretary as proof. According to one,  people employed in public works receive half the minimal wage because they tend to be half as productive, according to the other, ‘poor’ families can manage to take care of themselves, while „lumpen” families have difficulties in making ends meet.

Ferenc Kumin, a centrist political analyst at Századvég, a center-right think-tank, defends the new minister and says his appointment was not unexpected. In an interview on Info Radio, he called Réthelyi’s departure predictable, as Orbán originally offered him the post for two years rather than four. Kumin said Balog has had to face social, health and educational issues as an undersecretary, and has thus acquired the necessary experience to deal with the larger issues for which his new ministry will be responsible.

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