Public patience is coming to an end: What can Viktor Orbán do? Not much

Some of you want me to outline a scenario that could follow the unheard-of loss of popularity of the government, Fidesz, and Viktor Orbán personally. I am no fortune teller but, contrary to those readers who believe that the events of the last two months will have no adverse effect on the Orbán government in the long run, I see some signs that may lead to the eventual collapse of the system.

I base this admittedly hedged forecast (note the “some” and “may” in it) on data suggesting that Viktor Orbán has lost the trust of millions of his followers. I understand from news reports that Orbán and the Fidesz leadership by now have come to recognize the seriousness of the situation. Apparently they are preparing the ground to rebuild the prime minister’s tarnished reputation. The word is that he is planning to be more “active,” which in this context means that he will show his compassionate side. Today he visited an orphanage and held one of the little girls in his lap. The picture was shown all over, of course.

But I think the situation in which the prime minister finds himself won’t be fixed by a few smiles and friendly gestures toward his constituency. He has lost the people’s trust. And for that development he alone is to blame.

ATV showed a short video today on which a journalist confronts people on the street and tells some of Orbán’s latest fairy tales about the decrease in poverty, the increase in job opportunities, the excellent GDP figures, and the reduced utility prices. First of all, a few months ago when journalists tried to engage people on the street in conversation about political issues most people either refused to answer or the few who did usually praised the government and Orbán. Today’s video shows that people are no longer afraid to speak, and when they speak they don’t hide their opinions. The most frequently recurring answer was: Orbán is lying! What he says is not true. If that belief takes hold among the electorate, Orbán’s political future is in doubt.

There is another problem that, in my opinion, will prevent Orbán’s political comeback–and we know that without him there is no Fidesz either. The coffers are empty. No longer can the government appease the populace by throwing a few thousand forints their way, as they did when they lowered utility prices, an admittedly brilliant political stroke. Today they cannot give anything. On the contrary, they have to extract more and more money from the people in the form of taxes because otherwise they cannot keep the deficit under 3%. And if they overstep this magic figure, the excessive deficit procedure may be imposed, and this may mean the loss of subsidies from Brussels. It is obvious that they are desperate. They know that they should not irritate the already antagonistic voters with more and more taxes, but they seem to have no choice because they already spent the money on all sorts of superfluous projects, like stadiums, MOL shares, bank purchases, and so on. And then there is the corruption that has resulted in the loss to the public purse of billions in taxpayer money. Their past irresponsible (and worse) financial maneuvers may well be their undoing.

Another consideration is what I see as an erosion within Fidesz-KDNP. I already mentioned the revolt of KDNP’s chief Zsolt Semjén on the issue of a new law on the status of churches. He was joined a few hours later by Rózsa Hoffmann, who in the past was a faithful executor of Viktor Orbán’s ideas on education. Suddenly Hoffmann discovered that diverting children from gymnasiums is a very bad idea and that making employees of the Prime Minister’s Office work ten hours a day is not even legal. Or, there is the case of János Bencsik, a Fidesz member of parliament since 1998, who expressed his strong opposition to compulsory drug testing of children. As he put it, not even László Trócsányi, minister of justice, or Gergely Gulyás, the legal wizard of Fidesz, could make such a law constitutional. Even Gulyás thought that Máté Kocsis’s suggestion was “unorthodox” while “the world of the law is generally orthodox.”

The latest attempt at acquiring another 20 billion forints by making M0, a six-lane highway that more or less encircles Budapest, a toll road enraged not only commuters from nearby towns but also the Fidesz mayors whose districts would be affected by the decision. Again it was a last-minute ad hoc decision without any consultation. The mayors are not the only ones up in arms. Attila Chickán, minister of the economy in the first Orbán government, said that the decision will have a negative impact on the lifestyle of the people of Budapest.

The M0 will be a toll road Are these people tired of governing?

Highway M0 will also be a toll road.
Are these people tired of governing?

And finally, young until now pro-Fidesz journalists have become disillusioned. Perhaps the best example I can cite is Ákos Balogh, editor-in-chief of Mandiner. I highly recommend his opinion piece that appeared today. The title is telling: “When ‘The Anything is Possible’ Ends.” Everything that worked in the past no longer works or, even worse, is counterproductive. In fact, Balogh goes so far as to state that the Orbán government, instead of remedying the “mistakes” of the last twenty years, itself became part of it. It did not finish the regime change as it promised but “it completed its failure.” Fidesz is good at campaigning but “sparkles less when it comes to governing.” Fidesz does not want to recognize that “something has changed,” and not only in foreign affairs as a result of the Ukrainian developments but also at home. Although “in theory” there will be no elections until 2018, “a government can be demobilized by broken public trust.” The lesson: “There is never such a thing as ‘Anything is Possible’ because there is always a fault line after which everything falls apart.” “The borders of  ‘Anything is Possible’ are not sharp, one can only conjecture about them. One can know only after the fact when someone has overstepped them. Perhaps he already has overstepped them.” Harsh words from a former true believer.

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Member

I think disillusionment and lack of trust is a good start to bring down any government in a democratic system, where there is a viable opposition capable to govern. It is not the case in the fascist style state and dictatorship of the present Hungary. There is no constitutional, judicial and police protection for the people opposing the Fidesz/KDNP/Jobbik Government. There are still too many people on Fidesz payroll, too many are in with them in the moral and financial corruption on which their power rest.
There is no solution worked out yet by anyone, what will happen, when the Government falls, not to mention where to get the money to operate a soon to be bankrupt state.
Let’s hope the opposition gets organized soon.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Two developments are interesting:
1) Jobbik cannot join the demonstrations and does not oppose them
2) According to opinion research Jobbik has a 27% support

Paul
Guest

“a government can be demobilized by broken public trust”

Indeed. And it has happened – less than 30 years ago.

But in Hungary?

Perhaps we can study a recent parallel to assess the likelihood of this – for instance the MSzP/Liberal government 0f 2006-2010. An ineffective government (to be kind), with unpopular, incompetent and corrupt leaders. Serious internal strife in the governing party (including an ex-PM who admitted lying to the people). A coalition partner bleeding popular support to the point where it couldn’t get any MPs elected.

Add to that the most serious world-wide financial collapse since the 30s, the rise of a popular extreme right-wing party, violence in the streets, and a very effective opposition, attacking the government at every opportunity, within parliament, and (especially effectively) outside parliament.

In other words, a government in far, far worse condition than Orbán’s (which was re-elected with a 2/3rds majority just 8 months ago and has total political and economic control of the country). Did that government fall? Was it demobilized by broken public trust?

No. It staggered on – despite everything Fidesz and Orbán could throw at it, and almost zero public support, until the next democratic elections.

Paul
Guest
And, as gybognarjr points out, where is the viable opposition, waiting in the wings, ready to take over? The only organised, capable, and popular opposition to Fidesz is Jobbik. And replacing Fidesz with Jobbik wold be like shooting yourself in both feet, instead of just one. If a miracle happened and the Orbán government fell, who on earth would take over? And how would they run a country where Fidesz control every constitutional, legal and logistical aspect? No, there is no popular revolution about to happen in Hungary. The most likely scenario is ‘continue as we are’ until the next election (when Fidesz will again get elected…). There is a slight chance that the ‘men in suits’ behind Fidesz will start to see Orbán as a liability, so there could be an internal coup (but replacing him with who?), but that’s as exciting as it gets. And would we seriously want it to get more exciting than that? What do we want, exactly – a collapse into anarchy, with some hastily assembled left-liberal coalition, or EU sponsored ‘technocrat’ government (led by who?) desperately trying (and failing) to run a country where Fidesz will be blocking them at every step? Or… Read more »
Member

Thanks for the lis Eva of the current “rebellions” from Orban’s circle. Few of them actually only “rebelling” now, as they want to pave their way into apposition that maybe become available if and when Orban is out. I have the least respect actually for those individuals, as when they had a chance they did nothing. Now they have nothing to loose. If Orban is out, these same people will com e forward claiming that they were removed by Orban because they did not follow his politics. BS. They only opened their mouth now because Orban pushed them aside.

I would love to know more about Simicska and Demjan…

Kirsten
Guest
Paul, I would not be so negative. What Eva reports indeed appears to be a change in mood. It is not some groups of people “protesting” because Orban just targeted their lives in the “interest of the whole nation”. No, the incompetence is increasingly being felt. I mean who feels that some urine tests can be a serious way to secure a decent living for people. To see that Orban’s moves are increasingly bizarre and without any improvement for the population does not require much brainpower. What people will do now that they recovered their senses (a bit) is another question. Given the rather low level of political skills on the part of the broad public, that can be everything, rather unlikely seems to be an orderly return to “democracy”. (The other politicians currently around will make that sure. And also, after having read here so often that Hungarians are utterly disillusioned about Europe and democracy, a sudden switch would appear like just another quick shot.) Some1’s power struggle among Fidesz grandees (in principle the eternal Orban faithfuls against the more independents) appears quite likely to me, but whether they can manage to continue in an authoritarian but less bizarre… Read more »
alfredo
Guest
I can also imagine that Orban – as another masterstroke – at one point in the near future will resign and force new elections. Let the problems be solved by a disfunctional coalition government or by jobbik. His support would still be significant at such elections, especially in the right-wing heartlands (e.g. West-Hungary) so he could still get say 35% in the Parliament in the worst case scenario. He would take a backseat and continue his demolishion style opposition tactics and plot his comeback. Sarkozy is also about to make a comeback, Berlusconi did it several times, Orban did it already, he figures he can do so again. Meanwhile his personal loyalists (including the subordinates, advisors, cronies of such loyalists) are absolutely everywhere from the constitutional court to the prosecution from the general courts to the audit office from the media authority to the energy office from the central bank to the security services. Orban, in addition, owns energy trading companies, construction companies, enormous land holdings etc. He could survive just fine until the new political formations self-destruct. What Orban and Fidesz will not do is to behave like MSZP did, which never dared to resign because they feared that… Read more »
googly
Guest

“I understand from news reports that Orbán and the Fidesz leadership by now have come to recognize the seriousness of the situation. Apparently they are preparing the ground to rebuild the prime minister’s tarnished reputation.”

This is what I predicted would happen. They are not idiots over there at Fidesz, and they didn’t get where they are by totally ignoring public opinion.

However, I have consistently said that, while this is probably just a temporary dip in Fidesz’s popularity, the current unrest can lay the groundwork for reform of the non-fascist opposition, and has taken the shine off the government. They will have to work very hard to reclaim their former strength, while also keeping the EU from punishing them. In the end, their economic policies will be their undoing, years from now, and the only question is will they try to stay in power through blatant ballot-rigging and clearly unfair elections.

Kirsten
Guest

Alfredo, he does not need only “cleverness in legal matters” but also money to prove to the population that he does something also for them. He uses the public money, which is in short supply anyway, for personal preferences: stadiums, Russian electricity, firms in Switzerland. He needs more taxes all the time, without giving much in return. Hungarians might have been willing to sacrifice something for their “proud nation” but it should be “proud” and not the poor house and laughing stock of Europe.

Julian Edmonds
Guest

Hallod-e a nép dalát?

Enjolras: Hallod-e a fölkelt nép,
Haragos, lázas énekét?
Egyetlen dal tör fel a népből,
Es a rabság véget ér.
Tán csak szívünk dobban úgy,
Ahogy a dob dübörgi szét,
Azt, hogy egy új világ jön,
Majd, s hogy a holnap szép.

Combeferre: Állsz-e mellénk, hogyha kell?
Kiállsz-e értünk, harcunkért?
A barikádon túl, van-e világ, amit remélsz?

Courfeyrac: Ha igent mondsz’ gyere és harcolj a szabadságért.

Students: Halljad hát a fölkelt nép,
Haragos, lázas énekét!
Egyetlen dal tör fel a népből,
És a rabság véget ér.
Tán csak szívünk dobban úgy,
Ahogy a dob dübörgi szét,
Azt, hogy egy új világ jön,
Majd, s hogy a holnap szép.

Feuilly: Adsz-e mindent, hogyha kell,
amid csak van, a szent ügyért?
Oly sok lesz, ki meghal majd,
S ki adná könnyen életét?
Hisz mártírok szent vére öntözi hazánk földjét.

Students: Halljad hát a fölkelt nép,
Haragos, lázas énekét!
Egyetlen dal tör fel a népből,
És a rabság véget ér.
Tán csak szívünk dobban úgy,
Ahogy a dob dübörgi szét,
Azt, hogy egy új világ jön,
Majd, s hogy a holnap szép.
Éljen a köztársaság! Éljen!

Member

@Eva Coincidentally in the most expensive Hungarian movie, the “Hidember” that is about he life of Szechenyi, he did not commit suicide but was murdered. The decision of rewriting history by Szechenyi not taking his own life was made to cater to Karoly Eperjes, a truly religious Hungarian actor who is a huge supporter of Fidesz. Saints and big Hungarians could not commit suicide, as that would be a sin.

Member

Some 1: The death of Széchenyi is not a proven fact, there is a theory for murder or suicide. The movie “The Hídember” only gives a Hungarian biased theory. One should not make a statement without proof and no proof exist. Just think about the murder of JFK. Can anyone say, with a positive proof, who killed Kennedy? Film makers can’t for sure, but it sells tickets.

Member

It is my understanding that historians accepted that Szechenyi committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. This is how they found him. Yes, there are conspiracy theories for everything. I do not want to get into details here but if anyone is interested to read up on it, he has explained to one of his friends how a “perfect” suicide should be executed, and that is exactly how they found him. I cannot recall the name of his friend although but he was a priest if I am not mistaken.

Member

Some1: Considering, that on one hand, Széchenyi was not completely sane at the time of his death, on the other hand, the Austrian Secret Service was fairly efficient and they had vast experiences in political espionage and murder, the true facts will never be found out, so I think, both suicide and/or murder could have happened. In reality, had Széchenyi lived longer in Döbling, it is highly doubtful, that it would have made a difference. I am sure the Austrians in charge at that time must have evaluated this also, if they had a plan for Széchenyi at all.

Member

OT
@ Juian; No offence but this is English language blog. The original concept of the musical was played in France, and was “discovered” by a very successful West End director, Peter Farago who sent it to McKintosh, who produced the full blown English version. Farago was a ten year old kid when his parents immigrated from Hungary in 1956! I just thought that it is kind of cool.
If you wish to put something in Hungarian , a better choice would be Sandor Petofi’s Foltamadott a Tenger.

Member

@gybognarjr: Good point.

buddy
Guest

I loved that ATV video, especially the fact that the interviewer was trying to argue with the people, take Orbán’s side, but they wouldn’t have any of it.

Istvan
Guest
Clearly something is happening when I read the 992 comments (and counting) on the story about the Vida law suit against Goodfriend in Oringo today. Really amazing some people thought it was really funny that Orban ordered Vida to file the case and would not allow NAV to pay her legal costs. Other people wrote posts that made me laugh so hard I cried. The standard response is this is “ridiculous and pathetic.” “We are going on the road that everyone knows is impossible . Will the people believe that Vida is as innocent as the newborn?” “Please send a division of Marines – our heroic Hungarian soldiers will surrender in two hours – national horror satisfied.” Or this one “It has been like a soap opera. Every day there is one chapter. i am ready to buy the popcorn for tomorrow.” “If you had asked for $ 100 million, then it would be fine.” There were Orban supporters too among these hundreds of posts, but relatively few here is one “Goodfriend lies, And the lie does not need to prove because the US position? My position is that the US is full of murderous cops.” “If this Tasteless Goodfriedről… Read more »
Member

Istvan: You think the articles are funny with the comments? Just look at Kálmán Olga and Futó Barnabás. One has to laugh for hours it is so pathetic. Especially, that a man like Futó was not disbarred decades ago, on his first day in court! Of course, many of the judges are of similar quality, or rather they lack it completely!
Orbán just wants to find a way to get out from the corruption mess and as long as Vida is in the picture, the purpose of P.P. 7750 is not understood by his followers. Accordingly, it is established now, without a doubt, that Hungary is NOT a constitutional state, therefore it is NOT a democracy. That is the case with or without Vida Ildikó, who cares!
We all know, that no meaningful investigation cannot be done on the corruption, it is organized by the Fidesz on the highest level and the Viktor is the most corrupt Mafia boss in Hungary and being the prime minister is just his side job.

o'magyar
Guest

Very few Hungarians have remained sane in the past 25 years.

The people are angry, and nasty, and not able to prevent even further abuse.

A stubborn civil war is very possible, just to assure looting opportunities to the gangster class.

Member

OT: @ Eva, I just came across these photos about ’56. Some were not published before. #22 Is it familiar?
http://life.time.com/history/the-hungarian-revolution-of-1956-photos-from-the-streets-of-budapest/#22

Guest

Eva: “The word is that he is planning to be more “active,” which in this context means that he will show his compassionate side. Today he visited an orphanage and held one of the little girls in his lap. The picture was shown all over, of course.”

http://www.ww2f.com/topic/33697-hitler-and-children-all-photos/

latefor
Guest

I’m not sure if Orban is really aware of the fact that his PR Department is totally hopeless.

Re: Paul “If a miracle happened and the Orbán government fell, who on earth would take over? ”
Well, this is a million dollar question! I’d say, it would be total ANARCHY! Dogs eat dogs!

Kovácsné Margitka
Guest
The era of serene, calm and predictable governance is beginning — so said Mr. Prime Minister. Amen. So please don’t doubt our leader. Mr. Prime Minister is trying to work, to dream and to realize those dreams, to make the lives of ordinary Hungarians better, in other words to govern an entire nation. It’s a hell of a job. Errors were perhaps committed, but starting today, a new era is dawning. The consolidation of the system. The system, NER, is solidifying, entrenching itself by the day and this is what is important. Orban has been the most successful of any Hungarian politicians and therefore the opposition collectively envies his success. This is typical Hungary unfortunately, I must say, people instead of being happy for the success of others, envy and distrust success. I believe we still have a lot to do. But the results speak for themselves. Paks 2 is about to be built, lots of new places for our kids to play and watch sports (instead of sitting at home watching that facetube), town after town is becoming very beautiful, there is order in the rural villages and towns, and the gipsy kids can finally study in their very… Read more »
Member

KOVÁCSNÉ MARGITKA:
You forgot to add one or two achievements such as 250,000 less poor people, 1.0 million more jobs in 10 years, so there are already 500,000 more today. Also Hungary is the motor of the European economy, so Hungary Performs Better! All people have to say;
“Thank you Supreme Leader, Heil Viktor, Heil Leader! (in Hungarian of course)

P.S. There is one easy, but elusive promise Mr. Orbán made in Feb. 5, 2010 at the Millenáris Park, but he cannot seem to remember; “THE FIDESZ WILL RESTORE HUNGARY’S RAGGED PRESTIGE.”
(“A FIDESZ VISSZAÁLLÍTJA MAGYARORSZÁG MEGTÉPÁZOTT TEKINTÉLYÉT!)
I guess the Supreme Leader is still working on this, and perhaps with the help of comrade Putin, he will succeed sometimes soon. Later is better than never.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

alfredo: I can also imagine that Orban – as another masterstroke – at one point in the near future will resign and force new elections.

It’s only one of the instruments in the usual toolbox. Why would it be a masterstroke?

By the way, when a sitting government calls for an anticipated election, it is always because they hope to win. Nobody in their right mind plots a trick shot such as: ‘we’ll lose this one to the other guys, then they’ll fail and we will come back’. The main reason is that, especially in a small country, much of the success depends on hardly predictable external economic factors. And if the economy gets better while the other guys are in power, you’re doomed.

Member

Kovácsné Margitka: Is this sarcasm (as I believe most of the readers of this blog, at least outside Hungary, would understand it) or are you serious? Nowadays you really can’t tell…

444.hu just published an analysis of the interview with Orbán in “Napi Gazdaság” (http://444.hu/2014/12/12/orban-kezdodik-a-higgadt-nyugodt-es-kiszamithato-kormanyzas-idoszaka/ ), where these words about “serene, calm and predictable governance” were said. Sounds like the very opposite of what opposition sources have been claiming: that Orbán’s government is losing its supporters and losing its head, too, making hasty and desperate decisions.

latefor
Guest

Some1 – said “It is my understanding that historians accepted that Szechenyi committed suicide by shooting himself in the head”.

Another Hungarian PM, Teleki also commited suicide. With all due respect, somehow I just can’t believe that Orban can be driven this far. He seems very strong in his beliefs and I don’t think that he can be easily brought to his knees.

Member

@latefor: I hope you do nothing I was suggesting Orban commits suicide. I made the comment regarding Szechenyi and how certain issue are “dented”.

Concorde
Guest

It is just a matter of time now. Many politicians understand that if they want to continue politics they will have to take very clear distance with Orban.

There is no coming back. The people who are the most involved will do more and more mistakes because they panic. There is no case in history when a politician comes back and survives such a situation. Whatever he says it will be used against him.
The illusion is broken.

The two questions which are left are when and how?
And after that, what political situation when fidesz disapears.

Anyway, thanks for your blog!

Hanga
Guest

Concorde, I agree that the tipping point is close. I think it could be similar to any ‘revolution’ like event when people know what they don’t want but don’t necessarily know what they want.

And Fidesz will survive, MSZP also got some 8-10% in 1990 and 25 years later it’s still with us with higher percentages (of course it’s now a satellite of Fidesz).

Fidesz is now much more entrenched, aggressive and resilient than MSZP (the dreaded “communists”) was in 1990. The reform-communist, technocratic leftist political elite had no ideology whatsoever and the revolutionary fervor totally disappeared by the 1980’s. The left as such gave up in the end.

Fidesz and its hard core voters of 1m at least couldn’t be better organized. Also in many parts of Hungary, voting is an identity issue and they will vote for the dominant party of the right wing.

Kavé
Guest
Did somebody say “era of serene, calm and predictable governance?” As we all know, fish – especially carp in the form of spicy fish soup – is essential to the Hungarian Christmas table. A familiar sight at this time of year are the live carp tanks in food shops and the live carp trucks parked at markets. Who would think to intrude on this most beloved Hungarian custom two weeks before Christmas? CSAK A FIDESZ! As of December 17th all shops selling live fish must drug (!) all fish being sold. This showed up on kormany.hu today. I could not make this stuff up if I tried: “A Földművelésügyi Minisztérium december 17-én hatályba lépő rendelete megszabja, hogy bár az értékesítésig a halak tárolhatók tartályban, azonban eladni csak olyan kábítást követően szabad, amellyel biztosítható, hogy a hal az eszméletét nem nyeri vissza. A rendelet szerint élő állapotban nem értékesíthetők horgásztóból kifogott halak sem, ez esetben is csak olyan kábítást követően szabad eladni halat, mellyel biztosítható, hogy a hal nem nyeri vissza az eszméletét.” http://www.kormany.hu/hu/foldmuvelesugyi-miniszterium/elelmiszerlanc-felugyeletert-felelos-allamtitkarsag/hirek/halat-csak-kabitva-vihetunk-haza Talk about trying the patience of the Hungarian public… 85 percent of the Hungarian public will have fish for Christmas eve dinner. Any idea of the secondary… Read more »
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