For more than a year now the Hungarian opposition didn’t offer an alternative economic policy for the country. László Kövér claimed that his party actually had a program but they wanted to keep it secret; otherwise the government parties would steal their ideas. Their constant criticism with no constructive solutions started to take its toll. Yes, the pollsters predict a huge Fidesz majority, but when it came to the specific question whether the Hungarian people have more trust in the opposition party to solve the country’s problems, the voters were not at all sure.
There is another reason for the publication of a program: the referendum, which may take place as early as March 2008 and which, according to Viktor Orbán, will be no less than an early election. If the answers to the three questions posed by the Fidesz are anwered in the negative (tuition, hospital, and doctor’s co-payments) then Ferenc Gyurcsány and his government might as well start packing. This in my opinion, is a pipe dream, but perhaps a rival economic program will help the opposition party sell itself to the electorate.
So finally, this weekend, Fidesz put forth its new economic program. The author is Tibor Navracsics, a newer star in the Fidesz leadership. He is more moderate than his boss, who in introducing the program made some rather dubious claims. Perhaps the most objectionable was that the Hungarian government is following "an eastern, a Russian model" as opposed to the Fidesz program, which is truly European. To compare Gyurcsány to Putin is too much for any objective observer. It is, in fact, the Fidesz that emphasizes the importance of the state and state property in the economy, as Putin did in Russia, as opposed to the current government that has already sold quite a few state enterprises and is planning to sell more. And then we haven’t even talked about the state of democracy in Hungary and in Russia. (I found it interesting that HírTV, a right-wing channel, left out the "Russian model" part of Orbán’s speech in its video. Perhaps even they found it over the top.)
The subtitle of the program "For a dynamic Hungary" is "Reconquering the future." This harks back to the slogan of the Fidesz campaign of 2002: "The future is here." I’m not quite sure whether it is a good idea to remind people of an election that the Fidesz lost. Most likely the authors of the program felt that everybody would remember the "good old days" of the Orbán government when the country was so-so rich. People’s memory is short, and their political beliefs greatly influence their memory. I remember people on talk shows who were convinced that their pensions today are considerably less than in 2002. In fact, their pensions are, in real terms, a good 20-25% higher than five years ago.
The Fidesz calls "For a dynamic Hungary" a "basic program" which, they claim, is different from the real program. I can’t figure out what an "alapprogram" means. Perhaps it is a shortened version of the final one. Or perhaps a draft intended as a trial balloon. In any case, if we compare the main items in this program to the original program with which the Fidesz campaigned in 2006, they are a great deal less ambitious. Left out are the most outlandish promises: assistance to people who use their cars to commute to work, a return to the original, rather extravagant government subsidies for new construction. No more talk about a fourteenth month of pensions. Nothing about the abolition of inheritance taxes.
Without going into the details, the Fidesz promises are still substantial: higher salaries for doctors, preservation of the state railways system and the tiny village schools, lower taxation, maintenance of public utilities in the hands of the state. The state should decide on the price of energy, and sales tax on building materials and services should be lowered to 5%. The program glosses over the question of funding for such government spending. The vague talk about expanding the very low Hungarian employment figures is inadequate.
Because the program appeared during the weekend there are almost no expert reactions yet concerning its contents. I read only two: one from Péter Ákos Bod, an economist whom Orbán pulled out of the hat in the last minute in 2006 as a possible candidate for the post of prime minister, and another from Gábor Karsai, also an economist, vice-president of the GKI Gazdaságkutató Intézet, an economic think-tank. According to Bod, the program is "good." Karsai thinks that under the circumstances lowering taxes is unrealistic. What’s new under the sun?