I no longer remember how often Fidesz has been reorganized over the years. Too often. From the outside it is difficult to decide whether these reorganizations were necessary, but every reorganization–and it doesn't matter where it occurs–usually entails a certain disorganization, if not chaos. At least initially. Why Orbán feels compelled to make these changes I'm not sure. He claims that the reorganization is necessary because of the European Parliament (EP) elections this year and the national elections next. Fidesz's party chief looks upon the EP elections as a dress rehearsal for the national elections where Fidesz victory is considered to be absolutely essential for the survival of the party and perhaps Viktor Orbán as well. I can't imagine that Orbán could remain at the head of the party if Fidesz loses a third national election. Therefore, I'm certain that he will do his utmost to win.
As things stand now few people would put money on an MSZP victory. Those who declare their party preferences overwhelmingly support Fidesz. It's true that the gap between the two parties has narrowed somewhat in the last three months, but Fidesz's lead remains impressive. Although one cannot predict the future, it is highly likely that the economic crisis will hit Hungary hard in 2009. If so, that should strengthen the party currently in opposition. Surely, this is the hope in Fidesz circles: the crisis will be very deep, the government will have to resort to "brutal" austerity measures, and therefore supporters of the government will not grow but decrease. Perhaps there will be such a smashing Fidesz victory that, unlike in 1998, Fidesz will not need another party's help to form a government. (Moreover, the party that helped Orbán in 1998 is long gone. Fidesz made certain that it would disappear from the face of the earth.)
But there are other signs that bode less well for the party. The actual size of the Fidesz voting bloc has not grown in the last two or three years. The paper gain is due to the high number of undecided voters who three years ago voted for MSZP and now don't quite know what to do. The question is whether they will be willing to cast their votes for Fidesz or, when the chips are down, they will after all, even if reluctantly, vote for MSZP. Some polls indicate that more than half of the undecided voters trust the current government in handling the crisis. Considering that Orbán refuses to reveal his party's future economic policies, this result is not surprising: his remedies most likely would be just as "brutal" if not more so than the current ones.
And then there is this troublesome Jobbik that may take a chunk out of the Fidesz votes. According to polls about 20% of the population find radical right-wing ideology attractive. Jobbik's strength is growing. Two or three months ago pollsters were unable to measure the size of its followers. By December they registered 3% and, given the country's economic prospects, that number could go up. That is one reason that Fidesz's rhetoric has become more shrill of late. Kövér, who had been relatively quiet in the last few months, suddenly became active, I believe in response to Jobbik's growing popularity. Fidesz wants to hang on to its more radical voters.
There are several scenarios. The first is that Fidesz wins and Jobbik gets into parliament because it manages to get over five percent of the votes. In this case there are two possibilities. (1) Fidesz needs Jobbik's help to form a government. That wouldn't be a desirable outcome for Fidesz. (2) Fidesz wins an absolute majority and Jobbik gets over five percent of the votes. Fidesz is in an ideal position. Orbán will be able to get Jobbik's support from the outside. A very bad outcome would be if Jobbik received a little less than 5% and thus wouldn't get parliamentary representation but would have taken away almost five percent of possible right-wing votes. So, all in all, I think that Orbán is taking the situation more seriously than the polls would seem to warrant at the moment.
Orbán was secretive about the reorganization plan that will be made public on February 1. He indicated that everything will be different, including the work of the presidium (chairman and four deputy chairmen). The party will be entirely reorganized, with different people. Different people? From the brief description it is not clear whether the personnel changes will affect the top leadership or only the team assisting Orbán and his closest entourage. Whatever the changes, they are not reflected in the Fidesz list for the EP elections. The new list is not radically different from the old one. There are a couple of new names but most of the old candidates remain. János Áder, speaker of the House between 1998 and 2002, was added to the list as was Tamás Deutsch, an old college friend of Orbán with whom Fidesz doesn't know what to do.
Otherwise it was announced yesterday that Viktor Orbán will visit Austria, Germany, and France where he will meet politicians and deliver speeches. Tuesday in Germany he will speak at the cabinet meeting of the Thuringian provincial government. His topics will be European security and energy policy. Wednesday he will travel to Vienna where he will give a speech to the region's financial gurus, including representatives of national banks and ministers dealing with economic matters. Apparently the Hungarian National Bank will also be represented. I'm really curious what will happen in Vienna because financial and economic matters are not Orbán's strength. Finally, in the second half of the week he will go Paris where he will make a speech at the UMP's (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) opening salvo for the EP elections. According to Fidesz's spokesman Orbán will meet François Fillon, the current prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the former prime minister and currently head of the senate, and other "leading politicians." Maybe yes, maybe no; Fidesz likes to exaggerate. Recall Orbán's American trip when very little materialized from the promised meetings with important American politicians.
István Nyakó, MSZP spokesman, used biting sarcasm about Orbán's "continental tour" wondering what kind of advice he will be able to give western politicians about handling the crisis. Or if this is a fact finding trip then he is only four months too late. I am looking forward to the details and reaction from the other side.