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Fidesz still ahead as campaign starts one year early

February 4th, 2013

Although the next election is scheduled for the spring of 2014, most observers believe the campaign is already underway. PM Orbán’s Fidesz-KDNP alliance leads the polls, but analysts do not rule out an opposition victory.Analysing the latest opinion poll statistics in his blog, political scientist Gábor Török argues that Fidesz has managed to halt the sliding trend of the past two years. By mid-2012, it had lost roughly half of its electorate, but the core 1.3 to 1.5 million appears to be unwavering in its support, which guarantees the governing party a substantial lead over its main rival, the MSZP. True, he continues, among the huge mass of the undecided, Fidesz is a lot less popular, which will make it difficult for Mr Orbán’s party to expand its constituency. On the other hand, all left-wing opposition groups combined are already as strong in the polls as Fidesz. But they face an uphill struggle to thrash out some kind of alliance; they have to agree on programmes and candidates, and will also have to convince their own voters to transfer their votes to each other’s candidates. Török thinks the Fidesz strategy aims to mobilise its core supporters with a consistent and positive rhetoric, chanting the usual litany: “there is no austerity, the economy is a success, there is a freedom fight going on and we are reorganising the country.” He admits that this narrative “does not fully cover reality,” but it does “offer a secure and warm home to true believers.” Török suggests that this may prove a winning strategy, if the left-wing opposition fail to win over at least two million voters. He remarks, however that in 2006 Fidesz failed to win the elections despite having almost 2.3 million voters behind it.

In Magyar Narancs, András Keszthelyi, a former chief advisor to the last two left-wing prime ministers, Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai, believes rather that Fidesz will now steer towards the centre. So far PM Orbán has been busy preventing any of his followers from defecting to the far right Jobbik party. By now, Keszthelyi continues, the limits to Jobbik’s appeal have become clear: while it does address issues that are relevant to a large proportion of the public, it has no answers that could be translated into policy. Once Fidesz feels that its right flank is safe, the party may turn towards the centre, where there are a million people who have already voted for it in the past and at least half of them have not found a new political home. Therefore, Keszthelyi argues, PM Orbán’s main concern over the remaining 14 or 15 months before the elections will be to preserve peace and stability. He doubts however that the Premier will be successful in that effort. On the one hand, Keszthelyi believes the administration is extremely inefficient in handling certain crucial issues. Only half the EU development funds available to Hungary from 2007 till the end of this year have been used so far, and the new electronic motorway toll system that should be in operation by July and yield 75 billion before the end of the year, is nowhere in sight. The government reacts to such shortcomings with abrupt interventions and reshuffles which will prove damaging to the desired image of stability. On the other hand, Fidesz is a broad conglomerate of disparate forces and some of them will inevitably come forward with their own bright ideas that might stir up public controversy. The Christian Democrats are fighting for their own vision of the family, excluding unmarried couples (despite the fact that half of all births are to unmarried mothers); while some radical minded right-wing pundits regularly produce diatribes that provoke unfavourable reactions at home and abroad (See BudaPost, January 9). To cap it all, Keszthelyi thinks that Fidesz will have to keep political tensions at a high level, in order to motivate its core constituency. Taken together, all these reasons dictate against an easy path back to the political centre, if that is what the Prime Minister intends, Keszthelyi remarks. Finally, the left-liberal analyst does not think that it will be easy for the disparate opposition forces to coalesce, given their own divisions and “the inability of the Socialist Party to grow.”  “What Fidesz has today may be largely sufficient to win a comfortable majority in 2014.”

In 168 óra, sociologist Iván Szelényi is convinced that the left can easily win even a two thirds majority in parliament in next year’s elections. Szelényi was forced into exile in the mid-1970s for depicting a nonconformist image of communist societies in a manuscript co-authored with György Konrád, but has remained a moderate left-winger throughout the decades since. His main concern about the campaign is that the left-wing opposition does not have an undisputed candidate for the post of Prime Minister. The Socialist Party has changed a lot, he writes, but its leader, Attila Mesterházy is not charismatic enough. There are also many potentially left-wing voters who would not vote for a Socialist Premier. Gordon Bajnai, on the other hand, is vulnerable: he comes from the old Communist Youth League, used to run joint enterprises with the extremely unpopular Ferenc Gyurcsány, under whom he served as a cabinet minister, before succeeding him as Premier. As for Fidesz, Szelényi thinks the ruling right-wing party overreacts to the danger represented by Jobbik. It keeps making gestures towards radical right-wing voters, in order to keep Jobbik at bay, but by doing so, it loses many more voters in the centre. That is why Szelényi thinks the left could well beat Fidesz “even by a two thirds margin.” He speculates that PM Orbán would not survive a third electoral defeat as leader of his party. The moderate opposition within Fidesz would gain influence and as a result, Szelényi argues, democracy could be laid on more solid bases, with a renewed left and a renewed right.

In his editorial in Heti Válasz (print version), Gábor Borókai quotes angry statements by left-wing pundits who practically accuse the government and the PM in person of fascist inclinations. He thinks the reason is a common assumption that “if you are outside the liberal consensus, then you are wicked.” The quotation comes from the American conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg’s book – recently published in Hungary – under the title “Liberalfascism.”  This shows, Borókai says, that the tone of the campaign being waged in Hungary has international origins. Those who belonged to this ‘liberal consensus,’ were able to deeply indebt the country, and to launch police attacks (in the autumn of 2006) in order to intimidate their rivals, without becoming the target of international reprobation. The present government, although it has improved all economic indicators except the growth rate, comes under attack, perhaps because it has reduced the influence of those who bailed out previous governments with their credits. Borókai thinks the outcome of the elections will depend on whether the population will “digest the swift changes introduced by the government in its efforts at transformation.” Meanwhile, he predicts a harsh campaign, reaching “new moral depths.”

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