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Is Orbán a social democrat?

December 16th, 2013

Right-wing commentators contend that PM Orbán’s vision is closer to social democratic ideals than the policies of past socialist-liberal governments. Left-wing pundits, on the other hand, accuse Fidesz of favoring the rich instead of supporting those in need.

In an interview with Heti Válasz, Zsuzsa Hegedűs, the Prime Minister’s adviser on welfare said that the current government is left-wing in terms of social policy. Quoting a French journalist, she labeled PM Orbán a social democrat, who fights for the underprivileged majority against financial and political elites.

Orbán is neither a social democrat, nor a Christian conservative, Tamás Mészáros replies to Ms Hegedűs’ remarks in 168 Óra. The left-wing commentator maintains that the Orbán government favors austerity and restrictions in economic policy. As a result of a series of welfare cuts and of the flat tax system, the number of Hungarians living in poverty has skyrocketed to 3.2 million, Mészáros claims. He accuses the Fidesz government of systematically cutting back welfare provisions and weakening the rule of law in order to “reward its vassals”. Zsuzsa Hegedűs’ suggestion that PM Orbán is a social democrat is a mere rhetorical stunt, Mészáros concludes.

In Népszava, István Ujlaky finds it intriguing that many underprivileged Hungarians seem to be supporting the current government. He substantiates his argument by referring to the Baja by-election story (see BudaPost October 15) where the votes from the poorest Roma neighborhood secured the victory of the Fidesz candidate. He also offers other anecdotal evidence to endorse his claim. Ujlaky finds that strange because he contends that the current right-wing government serves the interest of wealthy Hungarians. Rich families can save a lot thanks to the utility tariff cuts and the flat tax system, while the same policies help the poor only marginally, and the same applies for the tax rebates to families with children, he remarks. The Orbán government cut the unemployment benefit, he adds, restricted access to disability pensions (see BudaPost July 11, 2012) and introduced what Ujlaky calls harsh anti-homeless regulations (see BudaPost through October 7). If the underprivileged nonetheless support Fidesz, “it will be the victory of propaganda over reality”, he believes. In an aside, Ujlaky suggests that the left-wing parties should do far more than they have so far to gain the support of the poor – without which they are unlikely to defeat Fidesz.

In Hungary, the word ‘Socialist’ does not stand for ‘social’, Zsuzsanna Körmendy writes in Magyar Nemzet. The pro-government columnist argues that the Orbán government has done a lot for Hungarian families in need. The tax cuts for families with children have been beneficial both to poor and middle class families – average families with three children will pay 40-50.000 less tax a month (see BudaPost October 26), while the amended regulations on maternity benefits allow mothers to go back to work without losing their benefits, Körmendy points out. While in government, the left-wing and liberal parties did nothing comparable in terms of welfare, Körmendy contends and adds that the opposition parties still don’t have a coherent welfare strategy to put forward.

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