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March 2011

Political Prognosis

The early spring of 2011 marks the end of the first phase of the Fidesz-government. The one year anniversary of the elections of 2010 is a turning point for Fidesz with regards to both policy content and political strength. In terms of policy. the drafting and acceptance of the new constitution is the last major initiative aimed at changing the institutional landscape of the Hungarian political system. With the new constitution - and the parallel unveiling of the Széll Kálmán plan - Fidesz presented its vision for the transformation of Hungary- institutionally as well as economically. Concerning the political strength of the different parties, by March, it became apparent and undisputable that Fidesz has lost substantial support: the majority of the people no longer actively support the government.

Fidesz is still in a much better position after its first year in office than any of its predecessors. This, however, is scarcely much comfort to a party that deemed its victory 'revolutionary' and whose ambition is the complete change of virtually everything that happened in the twenty years preceding 2010.

There are four reasons behind the shrinking support for Fidesz. The first of these has to do with symbolic and ideological issues. Not only do initiatives based on a coherently conservative, right-wing symbolism make it easier for the left-wing parties to attack Fidesz and cause deep divisions among the electorate, they are also completely out of line with the median opinion of Hungarian voters. Despite the huge support Fidesz received in 2010, Hungarian voters are not overwhelmingly conservative - they have relatively centrist views on symbolic and ideological matters.

Many voters, who were uncomfortable with the strong ideological element inherent in Fidesz rationalised their support for the party in 2010 by projecting serious competence and an ability to govern effectively to it. 'Good governance', however, is only achievable if policy trends and institutional changes are combined with adequate personnel; if the government is able to put capable people into various high level positions. This has not occurred in the last year, mainly because of the substantial distrust within Fidesz towards the civil service in general and anyone who worked there between 2002 and 2010 in particular. As a result, Fidesz has not been able to significantly improve the quality of governance over the last year.

Fidesz promised a paradigmatic change in economic policy. In order to realise its vision, the party did not shy away from conflicts and antagonised many relevant actors. The results, however, did not vindicate these conflicts: the government failed to make marked economic improvement. In addition, the governing style of Fidesz, widely perceived to be arrogant, alienated many, previously sympathetic voters.

The decreasing support of Fidesz has a different impact on the various opposition parties, which in turn have devised different strategies as to how to react to it. The Socialists continue to base their political activities on their routine: without trying to be innovative, they mainly concentrate on avoiding serious mistakes. The Socialists seem to have a good understanding of the vulnerability of Fidesz but are unable to capitalise on this due to their internal problems.

Jobbik decided to presently abandon its hopes of becoming a potential alternative to Fidesz by pursuing policies more conform with establishment opinion and retreated to a policy field it is more familiar with: the party once again started talking more about the roma issue and increased its attacks on the government in social issues, while decreasing them in constitutional matters,