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.