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Tobacco shop scandal rolls on

May 13th, 2013

Left-wing, liberal and centrist commentators wonder whether Fidesz will try to cover up a scheme in which their local politicians could influence the distribution of tobacco shop licenses according to the political leanings of those who applied.

Heti Világgazdaság published a tape recording of a conversation among local Fidesz politicians in Szekszárd, in southern Hungary on how the authorities should distribute tobacco shop licenses (see BudaPost). The tape seems to confirm allegations by a local Fidesz city councillor, who told HVG that they had been asked to identify Fidesz sympathisers among the applicants, whose names should have been kept secret by the National Tobacco Trading Agency. Szekszárd mayor István Horváth claimed that the recorded discussion was an informal discussion among local Fidesz politicians and denied that he had access to the list of the applications.

In Népszabadság, Miklós Haraszti deems it a clear proof of malfeasance in office that Fidesz politicians had access to the list of candidates applying for the licenses. In an interview with Heti Válasz, days before the airing of the tape, János Lázár, head of the PM’s office acknowledged that Fidesz politicians in Szekszárd did indeed discuss the concession applications in private conversation. He denied, however, that these talks influenced the decisions of the independent tender committee. Hargitai remarks that in a country where the rule of law is respected, it would be inevitable for those involved in such corruption to face legal proceedings – and then serve prison sentences. It seems here however, he concludes, that neither the authorities, nor the public in “half-Asian Hungary” (a term used in jest by PM Orbán) have been alarmed by “institutionalized political corruption” and the misuse of power by Fidesz politicians.

Fidesz is at a crossroads, Véleményvezér writes. The centrist blog, which has grown increasingly critical of the government over the past year, contends that the tapes serve as undisputable evidence of corruption. If the Fidesz leadership decides to stand up against the obvious abuses, they could claim that they indeed are trying to fight corruption, Véleményvezér speculates. If, however, the governing right-wing party tries to cover up the case and defend its corrupt politicians out of fear of losing public support, the country will become similar to Latin American undemocratic regimes, Véleményvezér warns.

Fidesz has crossed the line, and now they will do anything to stay in power, to avoid becoming accountable, Árpád W. Tóta claims in Heti Világgazdaság. The liberal commentator believes that Fidesz politicians feel they have no other option but to close ranks, since if they lose power, the assets they have gained through what Tóta considers corrupt business practices could be confiscated.

In Magyar Hírlap, Zsolt Bayer, a passionately pro-government columnist terms the concession scandal a shame. The story, he says, reminds him of the years of Socialist rule. “We cannot afford to look even remotely like the Socialists,” he continues. It would be difficult to explain how the wives or other relatives of local mayors happen to win licences “just by chance” he writes. But he also considers the campaign conducted by the Socialist opposition around the tobacco shop concessions shameless, since the Socialists did not shrink from applying illegal methods during their own terms in office. “They should be expelled from politics and the administration once and for all,” Bayer writes, “and that is precisely why we cannot afford stories like the one around the tobacco shop concessions.”

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