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Government’s six month balance sheet

December 15th, 2014

Left-wing analysts comment on the latest opinion polls, and speculate that the governing party’s decline cannot be stopped. Liberal and moderate centrist commentators believe that any suggestion that the government’s fall is inevitable is mere wishful thinking. Conservative columnists call for more caution and sensitivity in the practice of government.

According to the latest opinion polls, published by the Medián and the Tárki pollster companies, Fidesz has lost 800,000 to 900,000 sympathizers since the October local elections. It remains, however, by far the most popular party with 25-26 per cent support among all respondents (with 45 per cent among decided voters) followed by the MSZP (12-18 per cent) and Jobbik (14-15 per cent). The numbers suggest that while Fidesz support has declined, the opposition parties have not become more popular. According to one poll, PM Orbán’s personal popularity has also sunk by 16 points.

In Népszabadság, Ákos Tóth ponders the reasons behind the Fidesz decline. The left-wing pundit claims that what he calls the government’s increasingly pro-Russian strategy, the diplomatic dispute with the US, the deepening internal rifts within the party and some controversial new policy plans (including the closing of shops on Sundays and drug tests for children) are the main reasons of voters’ dissatisfaction with the Orbán government. Tóth speculates that Fidesz has lost its appeal and its decline cannot be stopped.

Véleményvezér predicts that the Prime Minister will try to regain popularity and strengthen his standing within his party by coming up with even more potentially divisive and unexpected proposals. The moderate blogger goes so far as to suggest that PM Orbán may even lose what Véleményvezér describes as “absolute power within his party” unless he restores his image as a leader who has the unconditional support of voters. In order to achieve this, PM Orbán will have to take risks, and shock the public with unexpected proposals similar to the utility rate cuts which helped to restore the government’s popularity in 2012, Véleményvezér maintains. The blogger suspects that the plan to close shops on Sunday and introduce drug tests for children were intended to achieve this aim. Their failure will, however, not discourage Mr Orbán, who can be expected to improvise other policies in order to consolidate his lead, Véleményvezér predicts.

The decline of Fidesz cannot be stopped, László Navra writes in Kettős Mérce. The left-wing blogger thinks that Fidesz by now has been unmasked as a highly corrupt party, and it can by no means restore its credibility. Fidesz politicians who stand personally accused of corruption can no longer credibly claim that they are alternatives to the Left, whom they label as a bunch of thieves, Navra suggests. He concludes that despite what he considers the inevitable decline of Fidesz, it is unclear what the alternative could be, other than a Fidesz-Jobbik coalition government.

The final countdown for Fidesz has started, Albert Gazda surmises in Cink. The liberal pundit finds it inevitable that Fidesz will sooner or later fall. As discontent grows, Fidesz is likely to come up with even more divisive improvisations, Gazda comments, and cites as examples the government’s plan to introduce a new highway toll system and close large surface shops on Sundays. Gazda believes that Mr Orbán has surrounded himself with highly opportunistic people who are fully loyal to him, but at the same time are unable to come up with useful innovations and ideas, and thus the government’s decline is unlikely to be contained. Although the opposition parties are as unattractive and unpopular as they were before the decline of Fidesz, “a competent opposition may emerge”.

Népszava’s Róbert Friss attributes the decline in Fidesz’ support to the fact that the government has proposed policies which interfere with voters’ everyday lives. Hungarians want stability first and foremost, and thus any changes that impact their daily habits are unwelcome, Friss believes.

Writing in the same daily, editor-in-chief Péter Németh wonders whether the PM has lost his widely envied political instincts and his ability to guess voters’ preferences. The left-wing columnist wonders if the government wants to provoke voters with its recent highly controversial proposals. In conclusion, Németh speculates that the PM’s leadership may in the future be challenged within Fidesz itself if the party faithful come to the conclusion that he has lost his appeal to Hungarians, once and for all.

It is an epic exaggeration to claim that Fidesz has failed, Márton Bede surmises in 444. The liberal commentator cautions against far-fetched conclusions grounded in opinion polls more than three years ahead of the next elections. Bede finds it peculiar for a government whose power is uncontested to make such big mistakes and unsettle so many of its supporters in such a short time. He lists similar root causes for the plunge of the governing party in the polls: highly annoying policy proposals which include the internet tax, the new highway toll system and the ongoing diplomatic conflict with the US. Nonetheless, Fidesz still has enough supporters to easily win an election if one were held tomorrow, Bede adds. He concludes by suggesting that as the left-wing parties are not seen as possible alternatives to the current government, the ruling party’s grip on power will only be loosened if a war erupts between different interest groups within Fidesz, and explodes the party from within.

The grace period is over, Mandiner’s Ákos Balogh contends. The moderate blogger thinks that after winning three elections in a row in 2014, many believed that anything goes for Fidesz supporters. This belief has now been disproved, and the rhetoric which worked so far cannot mobilize Fidesz supporters any longer, Balogh suspects. Declining support, he continues, should be seen as a wakeup call for Fidesz, despite the fact that there will be no elections any time soon. If Fidesz becomes unpopular, the opposition will challenge its legitimacy, as Fidesz did in 2006, when the Socialist Liberal coalition’s popularity plummeted after former PM Gyurcsány’s famous “we have lied” speech.

In Magyar Hírlap, János Zila recommends that Fidesz adapts to the new circumstances and shows more caution in rhetoric as well as in governance. After winning three elections in 2014, Fidesz can no longer hope to mobilize its supporters by accusing the former Left of corruption, although the Left has not become any less corrupt, the conservative political scientist believes. Zila speculates that Fidesz has new challengers – first and foremost the TV channel RTL Klub which in retaliation for the ads tax (see BudaPost June 23) wants to convince voters that Fidesz is a highly corrupt party. In order to stop the decline, Fidesz needs to show more caution in governance and communicate its policy proposals more coherently, Zila recommends.

Despite the decline in Fidesz’s popularity, the Left has not increased its support, Dávid Megyeri points out in Magyar Nemzet. Accusations of corruption yielded no new support for the Left, since voters know that the Left is concerned with poverty only as long as it is in opposition, the conservative commentator claims. Voters still remember the series of corruption scandals of the former Socialist-Liberal governments which undermine any attempt of the Left to present itself as a credible alternative to the current government. Megyeri contends that the decline in Fidesz’s support is not overwhelming, and the party’s popularity in 2012 was way below the current levels. Nonetheless, Megyeri believes that Fidesz politicians should show more sensitivity in their public appearances and abstain from showing off their wealth.

In the same daily, Zsuzsanna Körmendy recommends that the government should avoid proposing new laws without consulting the public beforehand. She mentions the retracted internet tax, the proposed overhaul of the highway toll system and the ban on selling live fish as examples of mindless and hastily introduced policy proposals that may easily upset voters. Instead of submitting ill-prepared proposals, Körmendy suggests that the government should try to seek the opinion of Hungarians first, rather than reacting to their concerns in the wake of mass demonstrations.

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