Fidesz and Orbán found wanting

Viktor Orbán's political strategy in the last eight or nine years was based on two premises: everything the government in power did was wrong, life in general was terrible, people were getting poorer while the socialist politicians were corrupt and stole the country blind. But, just wait, when we come–the message went–everything but absolutely everything will be not just better but simply perfect. Practically overnight there will be law and order, unemployment will be eliminated, new jobs will be created, everybody's pay check will be a great deal bigger, the Fidesz politicians will be honest, and altogether a new era will dawn in the country. And the larger the electoral victory the better everything will be: "greater majority, greater changes." And the poor, naive Hungarians who are not very sophisticated politically and who know even less about economics believed all that. Or at least many of those millions who cast their votes for Fidesz did.

As usually happens, the new government was even more popular immediately after the election than before. More and more people remembered having voted for Fidesz when in fact they didn't even vote. This honeymoon lasted for quite a few months, especially since the opposition parties' presence in parliament is so insignificant that for all practical purposes Hungary's political scene bore a suspicious resemblance to a one-party system.

But sooner or later the bubble had to burst, and it did in the last three months. Between May 2010 and February 2011 Medián registered a 12%, Szonda Ipsos a 11%, and Tárki a 9% loss in popularity. That is considerable, but when we add the March data it seems that the trend is accelerating. At the end of March Tárki announced that between December and March Fidesz had lost one-third of its supporters. Szonda Ipsos shows similar trends. In the last two months Fidesz lost more than half a million voters. With the exception of voters in their twenties Fidesz lost in all categories, but especially among the seniors, the poorer strata, and the unemployed. In these groups Fidesz lost 18-20%. Interestingly, Fidesz couldn't even keep its voters in the countryside where the party is usually very strong. In villages and small towns Fidesz lost about 10-11% of its supporters.

Those who abandoned Fidesz in their disappointment didn't flock to other parties. They joined the ever-growing number of the "undecided" that at the moment is 46% and even higher among the poorer and older groups in the population (55-60%). As for people's expectations, the situation is no better from the government's point of view. Last month 61% of the people felt that things will be even worse in the future. This month that number is up: 68% of the people are pessimistic concerning the future. I might add that the percentage of those who categorically say that they would never again vote for Fidesz is also up: 35%.

Pessimism about the future is not unfounded. I am actually astonished how bad the second Orbán government is. The first time around was bad enough, but because they didn't have unlimited power as they do now they could make fewer blunders. Now they pile mistake on mistake.

When it comes to mistakes I would like to list a few. From day one the government, instead of tackling the problems of the economy, spent its energy on symbolic gestures toward their nationalistic followers. While these moves may have pleased the right wing of the party faithful, they alienated Slovakia and made the western powers suspicious of Hungarian intentions.

The second obvious mistake was that they didn't follow the Bajnai government's prudent handling of the economy but blindly followed a plan of economic recovery based on a higher deficit. When it became obvious that Brussels will not accept that scenario, the Matolcsy-Orbán duo were left high and dry. They couldn't go to the voters and admit that the promises they made couldn't be fulfilled, so they came up with all sorts of clever ways of acquiring more money. But the remedies–very high levies on banks, food chains, and telecommunication companies–actually slowed the economy and investment.

The third problem was that Orbán and his Fidesz friends felt that they had to change absolutely everything regardless of whether it worked in the past or not. The whole administration had to be reorganized, ministries were closed and new mega-ministries were created, but the only result seems to be total chaos. For months the government couldn't function.

Fourth, and this is a very important consideration, it seems that the flow of European Union subsidies came to an end. In the last eight months no EU money has been available. Why? Because the old socialist plan of how to spend the convergence money that was approved by Brussels was scrapped by the new government. They had to have a new plan, the New Széchenyi Plan, which must be approved by Brussels. But as far as I know, the Hungarian government hasn't even begun negotiations about the details. According to people in the know, it is very easily possible that no subsidies can be distributed until the fall. That is, if the European Union approves the Orbán plan.

Fifth, there was the public works program that had been put in place by former governments. That naturally had to be scrapped. The result was that in January there were another 100,000 people without work. According to the March statistics of the OECD, the Hungarian rate of unemployment in January 2011 was 1.6% higher than a year before. This is the worst figure among the countries belonging to OECD.

So, there is every reason to be pessimistic. Unfortunately for the time being I don't see any indication that the Orbán government plans to change course.

 

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Ron
Guest

Sixth: Within two weeks VO will sort out the country from crime, and people would feel save.
Seventh: Hungarian sports will improve significant. Soccer Hungary-Nederlands 0-4.
Eight: No more stealing. Exception of course the pensions.

Ron
Guest

Part of the election program:
http://www.xpatloop.com/news/hungary_opposition_party_fidesz_releases_election_agenda
What has been accomplished so far?

Member

Revenge.

M1944
Guest

when orban switched from liberalism to conservatism, too many insane hungarians became his supporters.
what is wrong with hungary, the land of ferenc deak?

Minusio
Guest
“Viktor Orbán’s political strategy in the last eight or nine years was based on two premises” – Actually you mentioned more than two. But I disagree anyway. Orbán spent the eight years in opposition, and especially the last four, with only one aim in mind: I will never be defeated and be humiliated in a tv debate again. Now he is where he wanted to be (a natural for someone with three “victors” in two generations). Sorry, no programme, no debate, no democracy. That was all, folks. His loss in popularity, stupid ministers, aching poor and pensioners, EU disgrace, you name it, all of this doesn’t matter. He has what he wanted: absolute power. And unless there is some Egyptian-style uprising, he’ll keep it, never mind elections or opinion polls. I don’t know of any other country that has such a high undecided rate (for which the socialists are clearly to blame). And I don’t know either what rabbit Orbán will pull out of the hat in 2012 when quite a lot of debt is due for repayment, but I know for sure that he is here to stay until the bitter end. I hear a few intellectuals in Budapest… Read more »
eszti
Guest

I understand the complete disillusionment that many Hungarians felt with MSZP in power, and they had to go. The problem now, of course, is that many people are realising that Fidesz’s methods aren’t necessarily going to place the country ‘back on track’ in terms of economic or social development– but what viable political alternative is out there?! To me, this is the main problem here: that political positions of the ‘left’, ‘right’ of ‘liberalism’, of ‘socialism’, of ‘greenness’ have been dragged through the mud and are associated with particular political parties, politicians and events, and not what these concepts strive for and actually mean.
Furthermore, they are insufficiently and inadequately represented, and there is no party on the horizon to do this, compounded with the fact that we insist in thinking in terms of left and right and thus really in 2-party terms. Progress and alternatives are difficult with this mind set…

John T
Guest

eszti – totally agree with you. But if you are Hungarian, it is up to you and people who think in the same way to make your voice heard and bring some decency, honesty and sensible thinking back to politics. It’ll be hard work, but unless this happens, Hungary will continue to bump along at the bottom, when it should be capable of achieving so much more.

Kirsten
Guest

Eszti: “I understand the complete disillusionment that many Hungarians felt with MSZP in power, and they had to go.”
I am sorry to ask about a thing that I certainly should already know but what exactly in what MSzP did led to this disillusionment (in addition to “lies” in 2006) and made people hope that Fidesz could make it differently? Looking at it as an outsider, Fidesz and OV did so many things during the MSzP years in government that were not exactly in line with parliamentarian democracy that the outcome now is close to what I have expected.

Member

Kirsten: “what MSzP did led to this disillusionment (in addition to “lies” in 2006) and made people hope that Fidesz could make it differently?” I think this is an excellent question. For that matter Orban attacked many of the ideas that Gyurcsany came up with, and now he is reinventing the wheel with the same or more drastic ideas. Gyurcsany was caught saying “we lied”, Orban has lied and have been lying to Hungarians and to the International community but because he does not say so, it is OK.

eszti
Guest
@ Kirsten and someone: I wouldn’t say that the depth of mistrust towards MSzP is necessarily rational, or that Fidesz even had all/better answers, and this was why MSzP had to go. I think the things that weigh most heavily on people’s minds in relation to MSzP is a)the levels of corruption and nepotism in their ranks, the dishonesty with which public money was dealt with over their 8 years in power; compounded by the general deterioration of the economy, quality of life, state of agriculture/the countryside etc. (!!) while they were in power; 2)a lot of people are uncomfortable with the fact that the leadership are ‘old communists’ and that there has not been a change of guard in leadership, 3) the nationalism question. For populism, Fidesz gets all the cookies, and nationalism strikes a chord with a LOT of Hungarian voters. I’m not saying it’s right (I don’t think it is, though there is not enough work into explaining WHY this is still the case and what can be done about it), but granting rights and citizenship to overseas Hungarians is popular, and MSzP’s opposition to this further brought into question whose interests they were working towards. Unfortunately… Read more »
John T
Guest

I read last week that Gordon Bajnai has set up a think tank. If this develops into a larger political organisation, does anyone rate him? From what I saw, he made a fairly decent job of his time as PM, having inherited what was a very poisoned chalice.

eszti
Guest

@John T: Interesting point that I’ve been thinking about, with the problem that I don’t feel that I ‘measure up’ in a lot of Hungarians’ eyes to being Magyar; I was born here but grew up overseas (but I live here now). Selectivity over who is representative, instead of willingness to work together, is of course a lot of the problem..

Kirsten
Guest
Eszti, thank you very much for your comments. From what you write I get the impression that the biggest problem is that people may not sufficiently distinguish between parties and party interests (which are entirely legitimate) and those of the “state” (the organisation of public affairs, so to speak, adherence to law). Because a lot of things that go wrong with what individual politicians do (in any country) can be remedied if there are people in relevant places that make in an orderly way penalisation possible. There seems to be too little awareness that what has to be achieved is a separation of the state interests from party interests (which is of course difficult). In my impression Fidesz is going exactly in the opposite direction of what is necessary if they consider Fidesz to be equal to the nation and the state. It is equally unhelpful (or cynical) to consider the separation of these two interests “unrealistic”. But if this idea of a separation of party interests (the exact form of the tax system, budgetary matters, care for the environment etc.) from state interests (law is abided by, rules are followed, the police is doing its work, schools are functioning)… Read more »
P2
Guest

pray tell eva, do you expect people who “know about economics” to vote for a party with the word “socialist” in its name, who were fresh from secretly plunging the nation into massive and unsustainable public debts, before requesting an IMF bailout?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest
P2: “pray tell eva, do you expect people who “know about economics” to vote for a party with the word “socialist” in its name, who were fresh from secretly plunging the nation into massive and unsustainable public debts, before requesting an IMF bailout?” MSZP had a very bad rap thanks to the devilishly clever smear campaign orchestrated by Orbán. Yes, between 2002 and 2006 the socialists’ economic policy was wrong but from 2006 they were on the right track. And this was exactly the time when they lost their supporters due to the newly introduced austerity program. One must keep in mind that it wasn’t the speech at Őszöd that made people disillusioned. The drop in popularity was immediate after the announcement of the program. During the summer of 2006 already. Bajnai’s program has been praised all over the world and even in Hungary but he just continued what Gyurcsány began. Since the elections as the result of the Orbán government’s non-existent economy policy everything that had been achieved between 2006 and 2010 has been pretty well lost. The government added to the trouble by the introduction of the flat tax. I’m convinced that the austerity program Orbán has to… Read more »
John T
Guest

P2 – Whilst the MSZP were certainly the main culprits in raising the debt, the previous Fidesz government was also irresponsible with the finances too. And of course, the income / expenditure situation is not helped by the fact that so many people are fiddling their taxes. What the country needs is a zero tolerance attitude to corruption at ALL levels of society. Trouble is I can’t see that happening for some time – and it appears that the current government is allowing the “jobs for the boys / girls” approach to continue.
The simple principle for me is honesty and transparency in political / public service and in business, with severe penalties for those who abuse the rules. I trust you support this principle.

Kirsten
Guest

Éva: “I’m convinced that the austerity program Orbán has to introduce as a result is going to be much more painful than either Gyurcsány’s or Bajnai’s.”
I also think that the current Fidesz policies will be followed by new austerity measures. But I am not so sure that OV is going to be the one to enact them. 🙂

Odin's lost eye
Guest

John T you write * “I read last week that Gordon Bajnai has set up a think tank. If this develops into a larger political organisation, does anyone rate him?” *.
I fear that if this outfit is even suspected of thinking anything political it will be smeared, accused and suppressed. NO one, but NO ONE, will ever again be allowed to challenge Fidesz.
P2 In many ways I will agree with you. Someone once described Socialists as being like Columbus. A man, who did not know where he was going. When he got there he did not know where he was. When he got back he did not know where he had been. He did it all on someone else’s money.
There is only one recipe for success. It contains all of John T’s points plus sound honest money. The need for people to work cleverly. To listen to and learn from others (even if they are not Hungarians). They may just know how to do it.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

John T.: “Whilst the MSZP were certainly the main culprits in raising the debt, the previous Fidesz government was also irresponsible with the finances too.”
Yes, I forgot to mention that in my last comment. Orbán was very prudent in the first two years but not in the last two when he thought that he had to “give” in order to “get” votes. So, he appointed Matolcsy as finance minister and banked on stimulating the economy by domestic consumption. As we know it didn’t work. That’s why I don’t understand why they decided this time to go the same route.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“So, he appointed Matolcsy as finance minister and banked on stimulating the economy by domestic consumption. As we know it didn’t work.”
Matolcsy never was finance minister, it was Mihály Varga.
And we all know the economy stimulation worked.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Johnny Boy: “So, he appointed Matolcsy as finance minister and banked on stimulating the economy by domestic consumption. As we know it didn’t work.” Matolcsy never was finance minister, it was Mihály Varga. And we all know the economy stimulation worked.
Pardon, economics minister. The stimulation didn’t work. Take a look at the gdp during those years.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“The stimulation didn’t work. Take a look at the gdp during those years.”
I did. The annual GDP of Hungary was (million HUF):
10 451 208 in 1998
11 650 643 in 1999
13 345 301 in 2000
15 288 748 in 2001
17 219 439 in 2002
Though I know you’ll never admit that you’re wrong.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Johnny Boy: “I did.
Take a look what about by 2002.
http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?c=hu&v=66
It’s clear that the change in 2000 didn’t produce growth. By 2002 look what happened.

Kirsten
Guest

Johnny, these are nominal numbers…

Ron
Guest

Johnny Boy: “I did.
Here some figures in USD and international ranking. Actually under Medgyessy Hungary qua ranking did it much better. Of course after 2007 a major decrease took place.
http://www.nationmaster.com/time.php?stat=eco_gdp-economy-gdp&country=hu-hungary
The impact of these special policies by Orban was zero.

Minusio
Guest

@Kirsten: “I also think that the current Fidesz policies will be followed by new austerity measures. But I am not so sure that OV is going to be the one to enact them. :-)”
So what do you think will happen? Do you think he won’t be in power in 2012? Or do you think that his way of redistributive “procurement” will continue not to be regarded as austerity?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Minusio to Kristen: “Do you think he [Orbán] won’t be in power in 2012?” I don’t want to sound naive but I suspect that this government is so incompetent that anything can happen.

Kirsten
Guest

I do not see the Hungarian economy growing as much as expected by Fidesz currently. I understood that they have relatively favourable forecasts of growth from 2012 onwards, which is difficult to imagine with current policies. Money will be spent on renaming all documents etc. instead on an improvement of public administration etc. If they really want to reduce debt or live up to the deficit plans (not this year with the income from the pension funds but later), additional austerity will be needed. And I do not see how this government could be able to explain that when there has been now a practically continuous series of austerity measures since 2006.

Ron
Guest

I do not know why, but recently I am thinking about the the two envelopes joke.
The new Prime Minister finds a note from his predecessor: “There are two envelopes in the upper drawer. When you are in trouble for the first time, open the first envelope. When you are in a big trouble for the second time, open the second envelop”. In a couple of months he got into trouble, opened the first envelope he got from his predecessor and read: “Shift the blame onto me”. He did so and got out of troubles. In a next couple of months he got into a big trouble again and opened the second envelop. It said: “Prepare two envelopes”

Kirsten
Guest

Éva, I think you used the most appropriate words. I read here that most Hungarians currently do not see any viable alternative to Fidesz but what OV’s government is creating appears sometimes like a house of cards.

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