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Orbán still without a challenger

October 3rd, 2011

Journalists and political analysts of both leftist and conservative inclinations wonder who might emerge as a rival to Viktor Orbán either as prime minister or as right-wing leader. The centre-right governing coalition is losing support, but the opposition parties have failed so far to increase their own popularity.

The latest TÁRKI  poll puts Fidesz support at 24 percent, down from 45 percent in May 2010. But support for the MSZP and Jobbik is unchanged, hovering around 10 percent, while LMP stands at 3 percent.

Medián reports slight increases in the popularity of LMP and Jobbik.

In another poll, commissioned by Magyar Demokrata, the number of voters strongly opposed to  Fidesz is sky-rocketing. This poll suggests  Jobbik is rejected by 28 percent of voters, MSZP by 27 percent, and Fidesz by 25 percent, as against 4 percent in May 2010.

Attila Mesterházy, the MSZP president, claimed on Wednesday that the Socialists will become a possible and credible alternative at the next election.

Could the Socialists lead the left?

“The Socialist power struggle is their own internal party affair. But it is important for everyone dissatisfied with Fidesz, what shape the next elections will find the left in,”  writes Csaba Tóth, director of the liberal Republicon Institute in Népszabadság.

In his assessment of the possible consequences of former PM Gyurcsány quitting the MSZP and starting a new left-liberal party (see BudaPost, September 26), Tóth finds it unrealistic to hope that Gyurcsány can reinvigorate the left. The former PM is still a very unpopular figure, and his pro-market message will not connect him with those working class voters who have turned away from the Socialists.

Tóth believes however that a split might create some momentum for the Socialists, who could focus better on crafting a coherent message after Gyurcsány’s departure, instead of continuing the intra-party battle.

MSZP wants to solve all problems alone. … It could be successful only as a party of the left, but cannot lead the opposition,” disagrees Balázs Böcskei, director of the pro-Gyurcsány IDEA think tank in the same daily.

Böcskei thinks that the Socialists can only become serious challengers to the current centre-right coalition if they manage to reclaim the support of the liberals. According to Böcskei, the current MSZP leadership is steering the party too far to the left when it echoes outdated anti-capitalist slogans dating back to 1968. The anti-market rhetoric and the corrupt image of the Socialists are bound to alienate liberals, Böcskei warns.

If Gyurcsány wants to attract liberal voters, he needs to establish a new party, Böcskei concludes, acknowledging that the new left liberal party will most likely not recruit enough voters to become a major challenger to Fidesz.

It is also unclear whether the MSZP and Gyurcsány’s new left liberal party could co-operate, as many on the left hope. “With the split, MSZP may set out on the path of the Polish left, which has still not yet recovered from its fragmentation,” Ibolya Jakus adds in 168 Óra.

A split in Fidesz?

“The radical right is not the only possible alternative to Orbán. He can be defeated by [parties] committed to democratic rule of law and the principles of the market economy,” says János Kis, former president of the liberal SZDSZ in an interview in Magyar Narancs.

According to Kis, the economic policies of the Orbán government have clearly failed. The flat tax, criticized even by right-wing economists, has increased the deficit without boosting demand. The government now needs to improvise and find a balance between cuts which fill the holes in the budget, and populist initiatives aimed at silencing public discontent.

By doing so, Kis predicts, the government will deepen the economic crisis and will alienate many of Orbán’s supporters, part of whom will be attracted by Jobbik. The government has so far been trying to take the wind out of the sails of the radical right-wing party by sending a strong anti-market message, but this will not work in the long run. If investors turn away from Hungary and the economy collapses, the governing party will be held responsible.

Kis adds that many voters who are now too disappointed to choose Fidesz “are not open to right-wing radicalism.” Such moderate conservatives who do not share the government’s anti-market and anti-democratic language could be mobilized by a new centrist party.

“Today there is no sign of plans from within Fidesz … to remove Orbán.  But just as it was on the agenda after their defeat in the 2006 election, it may emerge again, if moderate and democratic right-wingers realize that Orbán’s politics lead to a catastrophe,” Kis contends.

Only uncertainty is certain

“If Fidesz cannot save the world and the country (which seems rather unlikely now), will there be an alternative that can restart everything from scratch?”, asks Index.hu.

The news portal doubts whether Attila Mesterházy’s promise to build a Socialist Party capable of defeating Fidesz in 2014 can be fulfilled. In order to provide a credible alternative, the MSZP should first make clear who could be its coalition partners.

Though a new party could probably mobilize those disappointed voters who have no  clear party preferences, Gyurcsány is too hated to gain widespread support.

Index.hu does not consider Jobbik as a real threat to Fidesz. The “weird and outdated ideology” of the right-wing party is only supported by radical-leaning voters, and as a ‘niche’ party Jobbik cannot connect to the wider public, so “it will stay in the ghetto”.

Lehet Más a Politika (LMP) also fails to attract votes from diverse electoral groups, Index.hu adds. LMP “has settled down around the centre, but it is unlikely that they can occupy the whole political void. It is impossible for them to ever reach about 40 percent support.”

“Today we have no idea who will replace Orbán. If he can be replaced at all”, Index.hu concludes.

Bajnai’s comeback?

“The likely challenger to Fidesz will be a party which can convince voters that it will cautiously implement well thought-out and negotiated policies. There seems to be no such party in parliament. … Looking around in Hungary, only former PM Gordon Bajnai  has that kind of image,Véleményvezér writes.

According to the conservative blogger, the primary source of disappointment among Fidesz voters is that they are fed up with a government improvising without in-depth analysis, deaf to both advice and criticism, and introducing retroactive legislation. Such  voters could be attracted by Bajnai, who has the image of “being capable of negotiating important decisions and implementing them without having petty partisan interest in mind. Although this image is mostly the result of smart political communication rather than actual deeds, one must admit that no other former prime minister could successfully promote such an image,” Véleményvezér believes.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself believes the Socialists will not be able to resurrect themselves from the ashes. As Heti Válasz reported, the Prime Minister told a meeting of right-wing intellectuals in mid September that last year he could not make up his mind whether the Socialist Party would be capable of reinvigorating its ranks, but has now reached the conclusion that it “will not rise again.” “He did not exclude the possibility, however, that someone else might profit from popular discontent with the government.”

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