Orbán in trouble

I know this is a surprising if not ludicrous idea according to most people. How can I say this when according to the latest polls Orbán's party could easily win the election if it were held this month? How can I say this when there is a minority government and when no one knows what Gábor Fodor will do? How can I say this when Viktor Orbán almost daily "negotiates" with, for instance, businessmen and representatives of the IMF and announces at least twice daily that he wants to have a new "contract" with everybody who is anybody. Yes, I'm sticking by my guns: the more he talks, the more he acts as if he were only a few steps away from being Hungary's prime minister, the less likely it is that he will have the opportunity to become prime minister earlier than 2010 and perhaps not even then.

The performance of the last few weeks seems to me a series of desperate moves to extricate himself from the web of contradictions that he himself spun. His trouble began with his boastful speech to young political scientists. The politician who until then had publicly claimed that the country's economic problems could be solved by simply lowering taxes and giving people more money privately proposed to seminar participants (they were sworn to secrecy) an austerity program twice as severe as that of the current government. When the private became public and he was confronted with the charge that he must have been lying to the Hungarian people, he tried to explain things away. But however he tried and is still trying things don't sound any better.

A few weeks ago, Orbán announced with great fanfare that he and his men are ready to take over the reins of government at a moment's notice. The program? Ostensibly it is outlined in Tibor Navracsics's pamphlet entitled "For a strong Hungary." But when one looks at this pamphlet there is almost nothing specific in it. One cannot learn from it how Orbán would tackle the country's problems.

Orbán's own statements don't clarify matters. One day he says that he is ready to plunge into the Fidesz program and govern with gusto; the next day he says that in the case of early elections and a huge Fidesz victory he would do nothing for a while. Not for a year at least. During this period he would talk things over with different interest groups. Which one is true? Perhaps neither. Because on the third day he comes up with another plan: a government of experts. People without political ambitions. After two years of the "rule" of these experts the Fidesz politicians would come to reap the benefits. (It's difficult to understand how these experts would govern within a parliamentary system. But then we know that Orbán is not the biggest fan of parliamentary democracy.)

And then yesterday Orbán said that if elections were held this Sunday, by July 1 there would be a huge tax cut and by September 1 thousands and thousands of people would be added to the private sector work force. How can that be? The answer seems to be that foreign companies would flock to Hungary in response to Orbán's election. And I guess they would build plants at warp speed. All this borders on insanity. Yes, I think Orbán is losing his cool. He makes hasty, often contradictory statements and daily he gets himself deeper and deeper into trouble. And MSZP not surprisingly takes advantage of all of this. I just heard that the MSZP political strategists are already printing up leaflets "explaining to the pensioners the difference between the Swiss indexing and the raises calculated solely on the basis of the rate of inflation." Surely, there it will be in black and white that while now the average pension is over 80,000 Ft. if in the past few years pensions had been calculated according to what Orbán proposes the average pension would be only 53,000 Ft. I don't understand Orbán. He burned himself twice before with the pensioners. Once in 1993 when his huge lead at the polls evaporated within a few months when he made it clear that he would cut back on pensions because it is a drain on the economy. As a result Fidesz barely got into parliament in 1994. He made another similar mistake in 1998 when he would not honor Horn's promise of a very considerable hike in pensions. Pensioners have never forgotten that. I heard a right-leaning economist/sociologist say to György Bolgár today: "Viktor Orbán lost the elections at the very moment that he refused to give the expected raise to the pensioners." And here we are: the third time he is making the same mistake. What is in his head?

Yesterday I saw a headline in one of the newspapers: "Orbán's last hope for early elections is SZDSZ and its new president." Well, if that is his last hope–I said to myself–Orbán is in big trouble. Fodor might not be a political maven, but even he knows that early elections are not in SZDSZ's interest. Even if Fodor were willing to make common cause with his old roommate, the party leadership would not stand for it. So if this is Orbán's last hope, he has already lost the game. Today Fodor said that he is willing to talk with Orbán, just not about early elections.

I think it is becoming increasingly evident that there will be no early elections. Orbán is desperate, and desperate politicians make an awful lot of mistakes. Orbán is no different.