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The role of utility tariffs in the campaign

February 3rd, 2014

“The war on utility costs” is featured in two parallel analyses of the upcoming election campaign. A left-leaning commentator notes that Fidesz chose the cut in utility prices as its main theme for the campaign and the now united opposition must convince the electorate that they offer more substantial safety and freedom. A commentator for a pro-government daily notes that negative statements on the utility cost issue will hardly provide enough fuel for the left-wing campaign. Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics, in his regular column, sums up the dilemma as finding a good policy that is also popular enough to win an election.

Political analyst Zoltán Lakner, writing for 168 óra, welcomes the new unity reached by the hitherto disparate left-wing opposition forces. What they have in common at the moment is their loathing of Viktor Orbán, he says, but that should be turned into criticism of the government’s performance. While the Prime Minister will lead the campaign on the theme of “the war on utility costs”, the opposition must put other issues on the agenda that show the weaknesses of the government, such as what he calls the collapse of public education (re-organized and centralized by the government) and of health care, as well as a dire increase in poverty. Fidesz will fight a no holds barred campaign, he believes, and cites as the first proof the banning of posters from national roadsides. It is an uphill battle, he says, and the opposition will have difficulties unless it “turn the lights on”, and finds its own campaign themes, while at the same time cultivating the different identities of the parties in the present alliance.

A young political analyst, writing for Magyar Hírlap, agrees – up to a point. This campaign will be “an all-out war”, László Flick says, with no need for too sophisticated policy analyses. The stakes are high, and with the war on utility costs Fidesz has gained back some of the support it lost among the poorest in Hungary. Negative characterizations of the “war on utility costs” have not brought the intended results according to polls, he says, and the united opposition has yet to find a successful weapon with which to battle Orbán. They could only win, he argues, with an open confrontation, such as the traditional campaign debate between prime minister candidates. If Fidesz decided not to participate in such debates, he concludes, it could be accused of cowardice in the campaign.

In his regular column in Heti Válasz (print edition), deputy prime minister Tibor Navracsics re-interprets Barack Obama’s “good policy is good politics” dictum, arguing that good government does not equal election success. Plenty of governments have fallen, despite high praise from analysts, he warns, because they lost popularity with the voters. To govern well means setting the right goals, delivering on them, and making sure that less people are hurt and more benefit – but all this seems irrelevant at election time if the government is not popular enough.

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