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FIDESZ: one year in government

June 1st, 2011

On the first anniversary of the establishment of the Orbán government, pundits and politicians weigh in to assess the centre-right government’s performance so far, and to outline the possible government strategies of the coming years.

Towards a labour-based economy

In an interview published in Magyar Hírlap, Tibor Navracsics, Minister of Public Administration and Justice, reflected on the government’s first year in office, and summed up the most important steps taken. Navracsics noted that Fidesz had laid the foundations of a “labour-based economy” by introducing a flat tax and reforming social policy. Government efforts focused on introducing incentives designed to speed up job creation in the long run, and make work more attractive than living off benefit.

“Dilettante and Perverted” governance

Attila Mesterházy, chairman of the opposition Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) says that the past year has been marked by austerity measures, arrogance, dilettantism and perversion. The social policies introduced by Fidesz “make the rich richer and poor poorer”. There is no sign whatsoever, he suggests, of the promised efforts to create work-places. Furthermore, Mesterházy adds, the government has tried to entrench its power by weakening democratic controls.

Fear-mongering is unfounded and counterproductive

The demonization of the right-wing government renders impossible both reasonable criticism, and understanding the reasons behind the landslide victory of FIDESZ in last years’ elections, writes Ádám Petri Lukács in Népszabadság.

Petri finds many of the aims and policies of the government problematic, but considers unfounded the sometimes hysterical voices which warn darkly of imminent dictatorship.  “There are many things I like in the initiatives of Fidesz. And there are others I do not. Some things are against my taste, others are irrational, but there is nothing highly fearsome. If the majority at the next election decides that what the government has done was mostly wrong, it will dismiss Fidesz.”

Petri is critical of the government’s draconian legislative policies, the new media law and  its proposals for the reform of the education system. But bad policies do not mean that the government’s “permanent re-writing of the Constitution” is illegitimate or irrational.

As for symbolic politics, Petri identifies some of the initiatives of the government as  anachronistic and outright ridiculous, but suggests that strengthening patriotism in itself is a noble aim. “Though there is little to be proud of in Hungary at this point, it would certainly be better to live in a more cheerful, confident country, embracing openness and tolerance. For this we need a strong identity, symbols and common experiences.”

Referring to the 2009 TÁRKI-WWS social values survey, Petri notes that Hungarians are more traditional in their attitudes, less concerned about the importance of human rights and expect more state intervention than citizens of Western European countries.

The most important task for politically-minded Hungarian intellectuals would be to start a dialogue in order to strengthen tolerance and inclusiveness, he writes. But crying wolf and making references to the Weimar republic both exaggerate the problems and make dialogue impossible.

The claim voiced by otherwise smart and sensible intellectuals that Fidesz is the “spiritual kin” of the radical Jobbik movement is highly absurd. Fidesz rejects racism while Jobbik is a xenophobic fringe party. Fear-mongering left-wing intellectuals ignore the fact that János Lázár, parliamentary group leader of Fidesz and mayor of Hódmezővásárhely established a successful example of Roma integration. Lívia Járóka, a Member of the European Parliament delegated by Fidesz, submitted the European Roma Strategy. If such achievements are not acknowledged, there will be no room for dialogue about common aims.

In the absence of credible left-wing alternatives

Szabolcs Szerető, a columnist for the pro-government Magyar Nemzet, is surprised to see that labour unions which were largely silent during the introduction of austerity measures by the previous Socialist government, have recently started threatening strikes. Support for the governing parties remains, nonetheless, largely unchanged, Szerető points out. According to recent polls, the centre-right parties’ support is at a staggering 48 percent, only 5 points below last year’s election results, and Viktor Orbán is considered to be the most popular Prime Minister since 1989. The numbers show that “the opposition parties are still in crisis” and that “Hungarians see no alternative to the governing centre-right coalition.”

Péter Medgyessy, former Socialist Prime Minister (2002-2004), in an interview with the right-wing Magyar Hirlap, is also critical of the strategy of the left-wing parties. He acknowledges the achievements of the Orbán government and notes that the opposition parties do not offer credible alternatives to the governments policies.

Hard times only to come for the government

FIDESZ is experimenting with a new style of politics, writes the conservative-liberal political scientist Gábor Török in his blog. The policies of the Orbán government fit more or less into a single, coherent political vision. Whereas previous governments tried to avoid conflicts and did not dare to touch welfare institutions, the centre-right coalition is clearly promoting a strong state that supports the middle classes, even if that necessitates unpopular steps, including cutting benefits. Török suggests that the coherence of the government policies may also help the opposition parties come up with a credible and clear-cut left-wing vision.

Though FIDESZ retains its firm lead, the number of uncertain voters is growing significantly – left-liberal analyst Zoltán Novák notes in Heti Világgazdaság. The most severe structural reforms, including higher education reform and health care cuts, are yet to be announced, and the decline in support for FIDESZ is likely to continue. It is unclear how FIDESZ will react. If its popularity weakens as the next elections (2014) approach, the party may have to renege on some of the most unpopular reforms.

Hopes of swift change are over

Gábor Borókai, editor in chief of Heti Válasz recalls Fidesz’s campaign slogan in 2006: „We are worse off than four years ago”. That slogan was not sufficient to topple the left wing government which led Hungary into a deep debt crisis, he reminds his readers. „To say now that we are worse off than one year ago sounds more credible”, he admits, for Hungary is no longer in a position to borrow more than what is necessary to finance its debt.

„Our morale is certainly worse than one year ago. The illusion of a swift change has evaporated. We are all preparing for a long winter.”

Borókai – who was Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s spokesman under the first Fidesz-led government from 1998 to 2002 – believes the administration should be more frank and thorough in communicating the real problems, instead of concentrating on superficial PR campaigns.

“And yet, the majority may continue to keep faith (with the government), if they understand what is going on around them. If …”

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