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Opposition hopes pinned on COVID crisis

September 28th, 2020

Critics of the government believe that a protracted COVID crisis and its impact on the economy might give the opposition a chance to send the government packing.

In Magyar Hang, Attila Tibor Tóth, a centrist analyst and a strong critic of the government suggests that the opposition could not realistically hope to win the elections in 2022, were it not for the coronavirus pandemic. Crises usually play into the hands of the opposition and represent a threat to governments, he writes. He recalls the financial crunch of 2008 which not only brought down the governing left wing but led to the landslide victory of Fidesz in 2010, and subsequently to what he calls ‘a new regime’. Now, Tóth continues, the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis accompanying it will be just as severe a challenge to that new regime. What’s more, things will not be back to normal by 2022 and increasing unemployment, poverty as well as the pain of those who lose loved ones might stir anger against the government. The analyst remarks however that the first wave of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown had no such political impact. In fact, the opposition narrative of sweeping misery was not credible, since people were much better off than 10 years before. In addition, the government launched some popular measures, like the moratorium on debt repayment. But the more protracted the pandemic becomes, he argues, the more difficult it will be for the government to satisfy peoples’ need of existential security. Nevertheless, given the relative weakness of the opposition, Tóth believes crisis management by the government would have to be extremely disappointing to enable opposition forces to win the elections.

In a somewhat similar vein, Jelen’s Zoltán Lakner looks for a historical precedent in the great depression of 1929 which brought down Count István Bethlen, one of Hungary’s most successful prime ministers after 10 years in government without any serious challenge. Lakner thinks crises represent a chance to governments to prove their competence and efficiency, and Prime Minister Orban has proved both over the past 10 years in tackling the red sludge catastrophe just a few months into his first term, (See BudaPost, October 29, 2012) and then the floods three years later (See BudaPost, July 12, 2013). Those however, the commentator warns, were difficult but short-term challenges. A protracted pandemic which can only be mitigated by imposing severe restrictions on people’s activities might result in much more difficult problems, Lakner argues. The longer the crisis lasts, the less credible the government’s claim that they are the only ones who can guarantee a safe and secure life to the population. All this, he admits, will not automatically bring down the government, but its rule will be more fragile over the forthcoming months than ever before, he concludes.

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