What we may expect if Fidesz wins the Hungarian election by S. K.

We can hear more and more about the election of next year and about the “fact” that it is a foregone conclusion: Fidesz will win it. They are certain about it.

I don’t know how seriously we should take this, nor do I know, as it is impossible to gauge, what it actually means, how decisive, or how measly that win may be, but I am willing to assume it will happen. So, what is to be expected in that case? Actually this forecast had its day a few times before, but only once proved to be correct and even then only by a hair's breadth.

What I propose to do here is assessing, based on the earlier experience and on the character of the players, what can be expected if Fidesz should win in 2010.

Let us see therefore what happened when they did win and how they conducted themselves in their time in power.

Although in 1998 Fidesz entered into the election campaign with a great lead and declared that they were not willing to enter any coalition, during the campaign their advantage melted away and at the end they were forced to form a coalition with the Smallholders’ Party. The coalition partner was led by a ludicrous poseur, József Torgyán, who has often reminded me of a baboon and who was a veritable embarrassment to the whole country, beyond being a corrupt and ineffectual politician. In due course Fidesz wrung every advantage they could from this partner and then got rid of them by applying copious amounts of bribery and blackmail. The Smallholders never recovered after that.

The beginning of Fidesz governance started with trumped up charges of clandestine observations and strange explosives lobbed against their political opponents, but the parliamentary committee could not determine what happened and the unsubstantiated charges remained hanging in the air, unproven ever since.

In 1992, the state provided a beautiful, historic building to Fidesz as headquarters. They turned around and instantly sold the building to a bank. So far so good but what followed wasn't. The transaction provided 440 million capital to the party. They invested this money partly in 16 different businesses and partly in the Orban family’s nascent mining empire, established by the party leader’s father. A year later the companies, hollowed out and deeply in debt, were sold surreptitiously to two unknown foreigners with the help of stolen passparts, leaving the tax and social security authorities holding the bag for hundreds of millions. (Some of the details of this and a few other Fidesz tricks you can find here).

Almost immediately following the take-over, Fidesz apparatchiks flooded all areas of public and private life, they forced office holders out and took over all manners of positions (the public broadcaster, MTV, fired over 1200 employees on one single weekend, without explanation), while society was like Sleeping Beauty, completely oblivious.

The new Fidesz government made fundamental changes to the government structure in order to establish the party’s stranglehold over the country. First they established the Chancellery. This in effect concentrated the party supervision over the ministries, an overseer above the management of the government, following the German bureaucratic tradition. The minister running this Chancellery was Orbán's trusted advisor since college, István Stumpf. There was not much need for any power play over the ministries because Orbán’s college buddies and friends constituted most of the cabinet. The cabinet looked like an intimate club, no qualification was necessary other than the personal attachment to Orbán.

A tradition of one hundred and thirty-one years was overthrown when the Orban government ceased to keep any minutes or records of the weekly council meetings, to make sure that no examination of their deliberations could ever occur in the future.

In order to insure the unconditional support of the coalition partner, the Smallholders, Orbán soon enough handed over one third of the national budget to their Ministry of Agriculture headed by Torgyán, that set out to squander the money by spending it on the most hair-raising projects and on paying for huge unrelated expenses and bribes. This coalition partner invented new forms of profligacy, corruption, nepotism and waste unprecedented even in the corruption-rich annals of Hungarian history.

Fidesz also besieged the institutions of democracy. They introduced a new schedule for Parliament that hence was only sitting only every three weeks instead of the legal requirement set in the Constitution of weekly meetings, thus withdrawing the government from the scrutiny of the House. No investigative committees were allowed to convene at the request of the opposition as was customary in the past.

Besides practically undermining the political system, they also set out to establish the politics of symbols. The government decided soon enough to move the “sacred” crown, a historic artifact and national symbol, together with the other crown jewels, from the National Museum, where it was accessible to anybody, to the Parliament, where access to it was restricted and controlled. A couple of years later they moved the crown again, only for a day, to Esztergom, the capital in St. Stephen's day, just to increase the pomp and circumstance of a day of celebration. Because Orbán participated on that day and because he never hesitated to boost his own importance by the proximity of the crown, they put the piece on a boat and ferried it up the river for the day.

Orbán also established a state agency with an unbelievably rich, actually unlimited budget, whose single mandate was propaganda on behalf of Fidesz and the documenting of his, Orbán’s activities minute by minute.

There is no room here to enumerate the known simpler, pedestrian cases of nepotism, corruption, awarding of highway contracts, party financing, awarding of state contracts to cronies and rapid increases in wealth of Fidesz cadres that nevertheless consumed billions of the budget. At the end they didn’t even dare to submit their yearly budget to Parliament, instead they opted to make one for two years, thus securing the approval without subsequent parliamentary scrutiny for unbridled waste and corruption. All this was predicated on the assumption that they will be reelected into majority, and in their new mandate there would be no one to scrutinize the spending.

But so much revelry and amusement is enough for now. Let us surmise what we may expect following the election in April or May next year.

I personally do not believe any of the predictions that assume Fidesz’s limited room for action: talking about changes while continuing the restrictive policies of the present government. It seems almost certain that the new-old government of Fidesz will continue where they left it off, undermining the institutions of democracy and the solipsistic advancement of their personal and political fortunes. But this time they will add the element of revenge as they made it clear in countless occasions. And they have lots to avenge indeed.

They also showed little or no scruples when it came to uprooting established practices for their own sake, they always manipulated public reactions with boilerplate slogans to placate public opinion. Nor does it seem likely that they will be bound by EU influence or rules. They established their positions towards the EU and they always gave preference to nationalism as opposed to solidarity, particularly if that was to their advantage. And the public is conditioned to believe now that whatever is to Fidesz’s advantage is also to the nation’s advantage. This will give them a period of free rein to rampage.

As it is now, the prospective Fidesz government will have no alternative, nor potential checks and balances, as it seems at the moment. There is no competition, nor available coalition partner to trust with the role of applying some brakes. The Constitutional Court, the judiciary and the bureaucracy is already  stuffed or cowered into supporting them.

Kézcsók Contrary to most optimistic fools, who claim that Fidesz will govern reasonably, I expect that the coming Fidesz government will be the most narrow-minded, self-serving and most corrupt government imaginable. In fact, I also expect that they will outperform our darkest expectations and fears with their boorishness, corruption and cruelty. And who can forget this picture?

In addition to all of the foregoing, they will return fast to the practices of the not quite buried socialism by expanding “state” i.e. Fidesz control, paternalistic pressures and most of all, the personal cult of Orbán, all of which is well in action already. To find relief from these foreboding prospects, we should put our faith in the wisdom of the electorate. So far that worked with surprising certainty. However, in the absence of any electable alternative and the hysterical state of minds in Hungary, I cannot expect much this time from that “wisdom.” And in the climate of hopelessness I expect, many of the supporters of democracy will find it un-worthwhile to make the effort of the long and gloomy walk to the voting station.

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whoever
Guest

They might be shabby, but they are not totally undemocratic.
How do I know this?
Because in 2002 there was a set of elections, and as the governing party, Fidesz lost.
Once again, no dictatorship was established between 1998 and 2002.
They used state TV for propaganda, but people made their own minds up. And so, we can surely conclude that Fidesz are a democratic party. Not perfect – perhaps more flawed than the MSZP, SZDSZ or MDF – perhaps. But we need to keep things in perspective.
Isn’t this what is known as “crying wolf”?

Erik the Reader
Guest

The most corrupt goverment of MSZP, SZDSZ brought Hungary to bankruptcy and hopefully they will be held accountable. As Orbán said there will be a day of reckoning and retribution. The leaders of MSZP will have to pay for their acts.

Mark
Guest

I actually find S.K.’s account of what FIDESZ rule is likely to be like entirely plausible. Many of the same thoughts have occurred to me.
There is though one difference between now and 1998-2002. For the first two years, before the DotCom bubble burst, Hungary enjoyed rapid economic growth. From 2000, when the global economic environment was less favourable the government was able to use the state budget to prime the pumps. This time FIDESZ are in a much more unfavourable economic predicament, and whatever economic policy prescription they follow (and I favour one based on an entirely different logic to the current government’s) the next four years will be tough. Unfortunately when Orbán has been placed under pressure in the past, he has always raised the temperature.

NWO
Guest
Like Whoever, I may find Orban’s grasp of democracy cramped and his reliance on cronyism in politics and business both depressing and self defeating (for the country at least) but to suggest as SK seems to that FIDESZ’s hold on corrpuption is so much more egregious and extreme than the other sides is to sadly ignore 20 years of Hungarian histroy. The fact is MSZP has used its time in power to richly line the coffers of itself and its friends, and SzDSz has done much the same (while-lets face it-having no success in fundamentally changing the quality of government or the services provided by the State). Corruption is a two way street, as by the way is the preference for giving power to political sychophants instead of capable professionals. I have no illusion that Orban will change his stripes and that FIDESZ will take advantage of this opportunity to actually do something good for the country, but let us not pretend we are going to go from a world of light to one of dark. In this country, the all colors are gray. The country needs some great reform movement establishing itself out of the mess of the established… Read more »
Mark
Guest
NWO: “I have no illusion that Orban will change his stripes and that FIDESZ will take advantage of this opportunity to actually do something good for the country, but let us not pretend we are going to go from a world of light to one of dark.” I think we all know that there are some serious problems with the Hungarian model of democracy that are tied to the way in which politics and money are fused closely together. It also needs to be said that the apparent “apathy” of the population (which in reality only exists on the surface, for there is huge frustration and anger beneath it) has been encouraged by a political class, which without exception is oligarchic and paternalistic in its practices. Even those who are supposed to be most sympathetic ideologically to civil society tend to denounce anyone they disagree with as “populists”. However, it is a mistake to believe that there is no difference between the centre-left and the right. The centre-left parties, and the MDF accept on an ideological level pluralist principles. FIDESZ does not – it believes ideologically in a united national will, and is prepared to brand anyone who contradicts that… Read more »
whoever
Guest

If Hungary is ever to break out of a deepening dependency cycle with the IMF, World Bank, EBRD etc. then there will have to be a party with the national interest truly at heart, the equivalent of the Latin American insurgency of the last 10 years. Otherwise a theoretical commitment to democracy means nothing – and economic and social policy will continue to be determined by the creditors.
Frankly, I dont think Fidesz are up to the job. But the democracy offered by the other parties is little more than a sham with the main policies already predetermined. I expect disunity and uncertainty in the next couple of years – but further exposure of real problems could give a chance to actually address them.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Whoever: “Frankly, I dont think Fidesz are up to the job. But the democracy offered by the other parties is little more than a sham with the main policies already predetermined.”
I have a somewhat better opinion of the other three parties. They haven’t acting in an undemocratic manner. The same cannot be said of Fidesz

whoever
Guest

In a strictly constitutional sense, I agree that the SZSDZ and MSZP have not been undemocratic.
However, in the sense of how parties interact with their electorate, the agenda which emerged after the 2006 election was patently not the one offered by either the MSZP or SZDSZ during the campaign.
The continued movement towards privatised public services is being driven by unelected individuals and institutions.For the MSZP, it has been “The Great Unmentionable”
The end result is that the coalition effectively broke the trust which existed between them and the people that they were elected to SERVE.
I’d say this wasn’t exactly democratic. The success of the FDP in Germany shows some people like neoliberalism – but at least the FDP are honest – that is what they stand for.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Whoever: “In a strictly constitutional sense, I agree that the SZSDZ and MSZP have not been undemocratic. However, in the sense of how parties interact with their electorate, the agenda which emerged after the 2006 election was patently not the one offered by either the MSZP or SZDSZ during the campaign.”
Well, that’s already something! In fact, lot of people claim that with an opponent who operates in a non-democratic way, democratic forces are defenseless. Fidesz is a ruthless lot while the other side keeps talking about democracy. Here is the result.
I don’t know what the answer is. After all, the other side can’t behave the way Fidesz does. To sink down to that level. But if they don’t, they are trampled on until their strength is completely dissipated. Some of this is their own fault but a great deal of it is their total inability to fight that kind of opponent.
I agree, the parties on the left don’t really know how to “communicate” with the electorate. They think that if they put out a lot of posters and huge billboards is enough. It isn’t. They could learn a lot from the United States and, yes, from Fidesz.

NWO
Guest

Mark
You are right that in rhetoric and philosophy all the parties are not the same. You are also correct that Orban’s talk of the “Nation” and things that are more important than democracy and democratic principles are both wrong and (potentially) dangerous. Much like, I would add, how the right wing media in the U.S. has reacted to Obama and now “dream aloud” of some sort of coup.
Nevertheless, whn push comes to shove, I continue to believe the elite are too interlinked with each other (especially in the business sphere) that some sort of dangerous, vindictive blood letting on the part of FIDESZ will not happen. Will there be some high profile corruption cases brought? Yes. And they should be brought. Will Hungary become some sort of CEE version of a 1980s South American country or a Central Asian state with only a thin veneer of democracy, no.

Mark
Guest
whoever: “In a strictly constitutional sense, I agree that the SZSDZ and MSZP have not been undemocratic.However, in the sense of how parties interact with their electorate, the agenda which emerged after the 2006 election was patently not the one offered by either the MSZP or SZDSZ during the campaign.” I think you are getting to the heart of the fundamental problem of the political system in Hungary, and why current economic difficulties have posed such a severe problem for it. Post-1989 liberalism – as in much of the rest of CEE – tended to substitute the forms of democracy for its content. Therefore it obsessed with constitution building, elections, market economies and forgot that a functioning and legitimate democracy is a social pact between rulers and ruled, and between the ruled themselves. In the European context, this settlement has been created through social struggle, and it is fundamentally based upon social citizenship. Because of the – understandable – anti-socialist political context in 1989 Hungary’s political elite have failed to grasp this point. What we’ve really had is a caricature of some of the more disturbing tendencies that have undermined democratic institutions over the last two decades in a number… Read more »
Mark
Guest

NWO: “Will Hungary become some sort of CEE version of a 1980s South American country or a Central Asian state with only a thin veneer of democracy, no.”
I agree, but if we look closer in the neighbourhood, I don’t find it too hard to believe that Hungary might become like Slovakia under Meciar or Croatia under Tudjman.
NWO: “Will there be some high profile corruption cases brought? Yes. And they should be brought.”
Obviously, if crimes have been committed all those responsible ought to be punished, but I think FIDESZ (and Hungarian public opinion) are naive if they believe they can cleanse the system through trials, or will be able to control the process. I lived in Italy in autumn 1992, and watched the Milan prosecutors attempt to try the Socialist party machine in Milan. Yes, they sent Craxi (Prime Minister, 1983-7) into exile in Tunisia, but eighteen months later one of the largest beneficiaries of that machine, Silvio Berlusconi was elected Prime Minister (admittedly after having changed his political clothes). This was an outcome which the (highly politicized) prosecutor’s office certainly didn’t intend.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
I read somewhere that Viktor Orban wishes to become one of the greatest Hungarians ever. He wished to have an era named after him, like the Horthy era, the Kador era, He is, I think, a demagogue but a demagogue with a pathological desire for control (of everything). He is annoyed that he was ousted form what he believes is his God given right to lead Hungary and will (try) to punish all who gainsaid him this right. This punishment will of course include the Hungarian people who betrayed him in the last two elections. I have noticed that when his senior party members speak saying one thing and later change their tune this is because in their second utterances they are acting as Orban’s glove puppets (I hate to think where Orban has his hand during this process). If (and it is still a big if) and when Fidesz return to power Orban will find that things are very different this time. He will have the IMF looking over one shoulder and the ‘Europeans’ over the other. This was not the case in his first term. If Fidesz run true to form Orban will create a lot of well… Read more »
NWO
Guest
Mark: Your post time stamped 9:47AM, I believe is almost exactly right on. The one thing I believe you fail to mention is that what the population wants (an abundent welfare state and income levels similar to Austria’s) and what they have been promised by almost every Government is not achievable and will never be. I blame the politicians for not having the guts to speak the truth and I blame the people for (for lack of a better phrase) being lazy and wanting their cake and eating it too. The fact that unlike Poles Hungarians are by in large not willing to emigrate even temporarily to achieve a better life i believe is damning on this whole soiety. To go way out into the deep end of generalization unsupported by data, i do often get the feeling those with ambition and drive had by in large left the country either at the end of WW II (voluntarily or otherwise) or by January 1957. On a more serious note, Mark, as to your response to my comment and your concren that Orban could be a new Meciar or Tudjman, again I think you overstate the case. I don’t doubt that… Read more »
Andras
Guest

NWO, unfortunately, as far as those who had drive and ambition, the biggest tragedy largely occured before the end of II. WW. The holocaust, beyond the human tragedy, practically wiped out the urban middle classes, much of the enterpreneurial strate of the Hungarian society, not to speak of the losses in literature.

Andras
Guest
What we could be sure that FIDESZ would enter into a major retribution campaign after winning elections. In his recent interview Orban made this a priority issue. Plus, the promised re-making of the governmental structures would also means that that until September state buerocracy will be busy in dog-fighting for positions and jobs. At least, this was the two measures, which was highlighted in the latest interview of Orban. Than the remaking the budget with the aim cutting taxes and social contribution and at the same time reintroducing what the socialist government cut and resinforcing public institutions.Well, easy to promise, difficult to put in place, for such an indebted country like Hungary. Especially, will be difficult for an incumbent government which would like to reinforce state, get back certain services into the hands of the state and promised starved out institutions proper funding. In this sense, a real concern the rising cost of health service, the heavely indebted state of local governments, the run down situation of major public transportation companies – all problems which needs direct and urgent state intervention. Fidesz was succesfull in preventing any major reform in these areas. Now, Fidesz will herit a very difficult situation… Read more »
Andras
Guest

One possibility for Orban to escape from the inherent contradictions is to create a kind of French style presidential system, with a longer term of mandate for the president. This development was already suggested by Stumpf and others close to FIDESZ and since the transition lingering around. So it would not be a completly sudden and unnatural development.
It is clear, that there is a need for reinforcing the institutional framework of the democratic system and to strengthen the rule of law and implement pro-growth policies .A presindential system could help this process, while maintains democratic accountability. If we look France, the IVth Republic was also in ruins, and the gaullist system helped a lot to overcome a major crisis, which broke the IVth Republic. Personally, I would prefer to less radical reshape of the current system and to adopt a more peicemal consolidation within the current framework. But it seems, that the population is ready to give unprecented power into the hands of Orban. Really, lot of depends on Orban’s personal choice, which kind of consolidation he would prefer, and to which direction he would lead the country.

Mark
Guest
NWO: “The one thing I believe you fail to mention is that what the population wants (an abundent welfare state and income levels similar to Austria’s) and what they have been promised by almost every Government is not achievable and will never be.” It isn’t achievable within the current international economic environment and without some major and very radical changes within Hungary that are going to take decades to implement. But because of this the two planks of Hungary’s post-1989 project – democracy, and a liberal market economy are in sharp contradiction with each other. I’ve been saying this since 1997-8, and indeed wrote in late 2002 in connection with the prospects of the Medgyessy government that the welfarist demands of the population were in sharp contradiction with the nature of Hungary’s post-socialist political economy. As far as I’m concerned this isn’t new, but it is now driving a serious political crisis. NWO: “For whatever one wants to say the combination the still significant foreign investor base in Hungary and Hungary’s reliance on the EU and a desire to get into the Euro will prevent any threat of a slide from democracy (however imperfect) into crude authoritarianism. Moreover, the business… Read more »
NWO
Guest
Mark I disagree with you fundamentally that democracy and liberal market capitalism are fundamentally contradictory. I agree, however, the Hungarian public (and for that matter most people in government) does not understand the long term benefits benefits of capitalism. In Poland, for example, the people understand have reaped the benefits much more than in Hungary. On your FDI point. Future levels of FDI are not likely to be the same as past levels in Hungary. It is also true that part of the problem is the Hungary remains uncompetitive and without either a substantial and unprecedented increase in labor productivity or a significant devaluation of the HUF (achieving thesame end by different means), the country will remain uncompetitive. Nevertheless, there is already an important stock of FDI in the country. And conveniently, much of it has a German color to it: Audi, Siemens, T-Com and Daimler (on the way). All of the companies have the ear of the Chancellor. She is the one politician in Europe that Orban feels he needs and Germany is the one important country now controlled by the Conservatives) that he will not want to piss off. BTW, just wait for Sarkozy to get involved in… Read more »
whoever
Guest

” In Poland, for example, the people understand have reaped the benefits much more than in Hungary.”
By leaving Poland? (and generally, not coming back)
“without either a substantial and unprecedented increase in labor productivity or a significant devaluation of the HUF (achieving thesame end by different means), the country will remain uncompetitive”
And as for investment in local plant, supply-side measures to boost skill levels, identifying niche sectors? Surely a massive problem in Hungary, and for other countries in similar positions, is a lack of social and cultural capital which actually can be invested in… as well as cash?
For example, if I were a venture capitalist in, say, Putnok, looking to invest money in a legitimate, high-tech local company. What kind of options would I have?

Sandor
Guest
Andras:”One possibility for Orban to escape from the inherent contradictions is to create a kind of French style presidential system, with a longer term of mandate for the president. This development was already suggested by Stumpf and others close to FIDESZ and since the transition lingering around. So it would not be a completly sudden and unnatural development.” I would not deny the desire, but doubt the likelihood. The main obstacle on the road to the “imperial” democracy is the fact that Fidesz hasn’t increased their voters’ base by one iota since 1998. They are boasting large percentages, but that is a high proportion only of the certain voters. They are however, a minority in absolute terms. The fidesz might win a majority of 50-55%, but I don’t expect the winning of supermajority necessary for such constitutional change. But if it should come about it easily become self-defeating too. The country doesn’t have the capacity to withstand the radical reforms. If however, Orban would manage some changes that will turn the electorate against him and the following election would award the mandate to his opposition, whoever that may be at the time. In such situation he will be the victim… Read more »
Mark
Guest
NWO; “I disagree with you fundamentally that democracy and liberal market capitalism are fundamentally contradictory.” I don’t think that they are contradictory in general terms, but in the specific circumstances of post-socialist Hungary. As for FDI we’ll see. I’m more pessimistic – for as long as its profits are guaranteed and property rights are protected investors naturally won’t care too much about the government. If they are threatened in the crude way Suez have been I doubt that diplomatic intervention with Orbán will be too sucessfull (especially if it is public diplomacy). Instead Hungary will end up paying huge ammounts in compensation five years later when the courts have ruled, which will be paid ultimately by Hungarian taxpayers, not the FIDESZ clients who run off with the business – in the meantime huge damage to investor confidence will have been done, which will only strengthen the sector of the business elite dependent on state patronage. At the end of the day I think you believe Orbán can be forced through international pressure to compromise. His hugely self-destructive behaviour since 2002 should suggest that when confronted with the prospect of loss-of-face Orbán escalates the confrontation (even when it is senseless from… Read more »
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