nyomtatásPrint article

April 2011

Political Prognosis

The loss of popularity experienced by the governing Fidesz - which started slowly at the beginning of the year but then accelerated rapidly - makes it clear that its defeat at the next elections is no longer a completely unrealistic scenario. However, the opposition parties are still unable to overcome their internal difficulties and meet their strategic challenges. As a result, the most important stabilising factor for Fidesz is the weakness of the opposition.

As far as the Socialists are concerned, their main difficulty results from the activities of former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány. Until recently, the challenge posed by Gyurcsány had been a 'hidden' problem: an internal difficulty that undermined the capacity of MSZP to recover and develop a coherent strategy, but had little impact on the day to day operations of the party. In the last couple of weeks, however, Gyurcsány changed his approach. Although the party leadership, and especially party chairman Attila Mesterházy would have been content to let the matters remain as they had been and to postpone overt conflict to a future date, the former prime minister launched an offensive that can only lead to the escalation of tensions.

Ferenc Gyurcsány never gave up his ambition to once again become a crucial player in Hungarian politics. This does not mean that he had developed a clear strategy for his return - but it does mean that his ultimate aim had not changed. Two circumstances led to the former prime minister launching his offensive in April. The first had to do with the competitive position of MSZP. At the end of last year, the support of Fidesz seemed robust and almost unchallengeable. By early Spring, on the other hand, it became apparent that the popularity of the government was comparable to that of its predecessors after their first year in office. This loss of popularity of the government resulted in changing perceptions and expectations towards the Socialists as well: whereas in December 2010, stabilising the support of MSZP - in the face of the massive popularity of the government - actually exceeded expectations, this was no longer the case in April. In fact, by the Spring, questions arose as to why the Socialists seemed unable to profit from the weakening support of the government.

The second reason behind the offensive strategy of Gyurcsány is the attitude of the party leadership and the party chairman. The decision making process of Attila Mesterházy is based on risk evasion: when faced with two choices, he usually chooses the one appearing to be less risky. The entire career of Mesterházy is a reaffirmation - for him - that the best way to succeed is to avoid conflicts and to strike deals with all relevant groups. This attitude - Mesterházy's willingness to 'wait his turn' and avoid conflicts - was more and more interpreted by the former prime minister as a sign of weakness. Additionally, while Mesterházy did not seem to realise the changing expectations towards MSZP, Gyurcsány exploited them mercilessly. Finally, the decision of the state prosecutors to launch a formal investigation against Gyurcsány also left him little other choice than to go on the offensive.

By focusing on the situation of the roma people in Hungary, Jobbik once again managed to be the most vocal critic of the government in April: in a case involving alleged 'roma crimes', Jobbik became the opponent not only of Fidesz but of the entire political elite. On the surface, this might suggest the strengthening of the position of Jobbik: the party was able to dominate the political agenda and trigger a strong reaction from the government - and the prime minister himself - while the parties of the left could hardly enter the debate. Despite these successes in agenda setting, the strategic dilemma of Jobbik remains unsolved: focusing on the roma issue makes it almost impossible to become a potential governing party. The radicalism inherent in the anti-roma strategy might be appealing to a number of protest voters but makes it more difficult to appear as a viable and credible alternative to the Fidesz-government.