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January 2012

Political prognosis

In the end of 2011, Fidesz demonstrated its most radical style of government so far; a style that was farthest from its original notion of governing based on a wide popular majority. It seemed as if the party was determined to pursue a rhetoric of conflict, even 'war'. In a stark contrast, however, January saw a turn to a more consensual political direction. Considering this change of policy, three points need to be explained: why the government pursued a combative style in the first place; what caused the present change and what consequences this change might have.

The original combative style resulted from the combination of three factors: the desire to avoid responsibility; the genuine appeal to Fidesz of an 'unorthodox' approach and the strategy of trying to occupy the political institutions of Hungary for a long time. As to the issue of responsibility: meeting the fiscal requirements of a new IMF loan - or maybe even of previous commitments - would require serious austerity measures. It is much easier to blame these measures on outside pressure than to acknowledge them having been made necessary by the conscious - and often flawed - policy decisions of Fidesz.

This is not to say that the government has not considered the option of rejecting the IMF conditions and thus the IMF loan. In December, government rhetoric seemed to suggest that all options - including bankruptcy - were on the table and that Fidesz was examining how to profit from whichever scenario would materialise.

The appeal of 'unorthodox' policies is strongly connected to the desire of Fidesz to occupy the political institutions of Hungarian democracy for the long run. This long term strategy - to create and institutionalise a more or less permanent Fidesz power base - has been one of the most important objectives of this government; it has been the reason behind engaging in a number of seemingly irrelevant conflicts. The combative style is essential to keep the right-wing electorate intact. In addition, the structures created within Fidesz and within the government by Orbán - based on personalised leadership and loyalties - also necessitate a permanent state of conflict. Accordingly, the combative style, the allusions to a state of war is nothing more than a tool by Viktor Orbán to strengthen his own position and keep his voters - and party loyalists - intact.

The change of government policy is a change based on pragmatic considerations: by January, the prime minister realised that without an IMF deal - or at least the show of willingness for such a deal - the country would face extremely serious economic problems - the effects of which would surely hurt the position of the government.

As to the opposition parties, they were unable to break free from their strategic dilemma. The problems of LMP - Politics Can Be Different - were manifest in the dimensions of strategy, personnel and policy content. The most important of these is the strategic issue: the question whether LMP would be willing to participate in any cooperation between the opposition parties. The tragedy of the small green party is that - just like previously the liberal party, SZDSZ - it has not come up with a way to explain its policy of 'independence now - cooperation maybe later' as a rational and feasible option.

Among opinion leaders close to the opposition parties, the most newsworthy event in January was the reappearance of Gordon Bajnai. Bajnai is viewed by many on the left as a possible contender for the position of prime minister - the main obstacle is the lack of a realistic scenario as how he could get there. It is clear that there is some popular support for him becoming a serious contender in 2014 - but there is no organisational framework according to which he could realise this goal, as the most important party concerned, the Socialist Party, has no political interest in helping either smaller opposition parties or surrendering itself to the former PM.