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The Orbán government’s mid-term balance sheet

June 4th, 2012

Commentators assessing the Orbán government’s performance in its first two years in office all agree that Fidesz has not yet fulfilled its promises. But while left-wing pundits believe it is the fault of the Prime Minister”s mistaken policies, right-wing columnists blame former Socialist governments and international organizations for causing Hungary so many problems.

In 2010, Fidesz pledged no less than a new change of system,” Hírszerző recalls (a phrase in Hungarian referring to the seismic political changes in 1989-1990). According to the left-liberal opinion site, Fidesz was helped to power by popular discontent, and was expected to restore democratic institutions, eliminate corruption and steer the country out of the financial crisis.

Two years later, however, the Orbán government has clearly not succeeded in fixing the economy, Hírszerző comments. Public debt is still above 80 percent of the GDP, the unemployment rate stands at 11.7 percent, the economy is again in recession and corruption seems to be as prevalent as before (see BudaPost May 14), Hírszerző contends.

As for the democratic institutions, which were weakened by the Gyurcsány government, Hírszerző describes the record of the government as disappointing. In the author”s view, the government has weakened most independent democratic institutions, including the courts (see BudaPost December 1, 2011) and the media (see BudaPost through June 18, 2011). The government also stands accused of designing  a new electoral law (see BudaPost through November 3, 2011) in order to entrench itself in power beyond its current term in office.

Hírszerző believes nevertheless that the government can be toppled in 2014. In order to reverse what it calls the harmful policies of the current government, Hungary will need a complete overhaul of the system – “probably a new system change, again”, it concludes.

Undemocratic turn and unpredictability

The government has dismantled democratic institutions. There are no democratic checks and balances constraining PM Viktor Orbán, György Marosán contends in Népszabadság. According to the left-wing columnist, the government’s policies are completely unpredictable and incoherent. By nationalizing the private pension funds and levying surplus taxes on banks, energy providers, telecommunication companies and foreign retail chains, the Orbán government demonstrated that it can do whatever it feels like, Marosán believes.

This unpredictability will paralyse Hungarian society, he fears, for Hungarians feel not only that they have no influence on political decisions, but cannot even predict what to expect from an erratic Orbán government. Marosán believes that is the reason why every second young Hungarian is allegedly planning to leave the country, in search of work abroad.

In a front page editorial Népszabadság adds that the Orbán government’s unsystematic approach has weakened both the welfare and the public education systems. Instead of helping the middle classes as it promised, the Fidesz-led government’s policies have resulted in deepening poverty and insecurity.

No clear political vision

, Véleményvezér writes. The liberal conservative blog contrasts the performance of the current government to that of the first Orbán cabinet. From 1998 to 2002, Fidesz followed a pragmatic policy line and was open to reasonable compromises. Although those years “were the golden era of the post-1990 period”, Fidesz was defeated in the 2002 elections by the populist left-wing parties, Véleményvezér notes, and believes that as a result, Fidesz then abandoned its pragmatism and principles in order to get back into power. It embraced whatever proposal seemed to boost its popularity, without considering whether the promises could be fulfilled after power was won. The commentator accuses Fidesz of  losing a coherent vision and identity in the process – its sympathizers are now held together only by their strong feelings and their common struggle against “the Communist beasts and their allies – international capital,” Véleményvezér concludes.

Fidesz in the footsteps of the Socialists

Citing the latest opinion polls, Ákos Tóth in Népszabaság contends that Fidesz have failed to become the dominant centrist political force. According to a survey conducted by TÁRKI, Fidesz has lost nearly two thirds of its 2010 voters. Fidesz is now supported by 16 percent of eligible voters, while the MSZP has closed the gap and now stands at 15 percent. Another recent opinion poll published by Századvég, however, found that the governing party maintains its firm lead. According to that survey, Fidesz stands at 24 percent and the Socialists trail with 15 percent.

Tóth claims that the sudden decline in Fidesz’ support can be explained by the ad hoc policies the Orbán government has enacted. He accuses the government of having disregarded classic conservative values, most importantly respect for private property. Fidesz made commitments to the poor, the middle classes and also to entrepreneurs, Tóth remarks. In government, however, Fidesz could not improve the situation of any  of these groups. As a result, Fidesz is now following in the footsteps of former Socialist governments, which lost public support because of their undetermined policies and unfulfilled promises.

In Mandiner, a right wing columnist, Gergely Huth, deputy editor of Magyar Hírlap, commenting on Tóth’s article acknowledges that TÁRKI’s opinion poll can be seen as a wake-up call for the government. He also admits that the mid-term balance sheet of the government shows rather mixed results. Hopes of swiftly overcoming the economic crisis and promises of one million new jobs were far too bold, Huth admits. He adds that the government made mistakes in symbolic politics as well, most recently by standing up for József Nyirő’s reburial (see BudaPost through May 30).

Nonetheless, Fidesz will hopefully admit and correct its mistakes, unlike the Socialists when they were in office. If they fail to do so, the centre-right coalition could lose the next election, as it did in 2002 after a term rich in achievements, Huth warns.

A trap set up by the MSZP and the IMF

The main message of the past two years is that the Orbán government has declared war on the colonizers,” Attila Csákó writes in Magyar Hírlap. Like other right-wing commentators, he too admits that the hasty policies of the government have created uncertainty. He also acknowledges that the government has not yet succeeded in pulling round the economy, but adds that it managed to reduce the budget deficit and helped families to convert loans denominated in Swiss Francs to Forint loans. Csákó is still optimistic that the structural reforms of the government, including cuts in welfare, will help boost the economy and create jobs in the two years before the next election.

Writing in Magyar Nemzet, Anna Szabó. According to Szabó, the Socialists could have asked for a longer grace period, as the Romanian government did. The Hungarian Socialists  decided instead to tie the incoming government’s hands by committing it to the early repayment of the loans, assuming that this could help them back into power as early as 2014. Szabó deduces from all this that the MSZP is only interested in power, and not the future of the country. Népszabadság in a report denies Szabó’s accusation. The left-wing daily claims that the IMF applied the same rules to both countries.

In the same daily, Miklós Ugró notes . Had they not in 2010 forced the Hungarian government to reduce the deficit at any price, the government could have stimulated the economy by increased public spending programs, which by now could have resulted in a higher growth rate.

But despite the restrictions which were forced on it, the Orbán government’s support remains very strong, Ugró remarks. Although Hungarians are aware that their lives have not been easier since 2010 than before, they also know that the government had no choice but to play by the rules set by the IMF and the EU, and that is why they still have faith in the Orbán government.

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