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November 2011

Political prognosis

In November 2011, the second Orbán-government showed signs of a willingness to change course for the first time since assuming power more than a year ago. Apparently, the government is coming to terms with the fact that such a correction is essential to stop the continuous erosion of support. Such a correction, however, is not likely to come before the Spring of 2012.

The most radical and also most risky corrective measure would be the calling of early elections. There are at least three serious considerations which would make early elections feasible. First of all, the new electoral system was clearly created with the present political situation in mind. Under the present circumstances, in which a relatively still strong government faces a divided and two-tailed opposition, the electoral system would over represent Fidesz in the next parliament.

However, it is far from obvious that the same political circumstances will arise in 2014. If the opposition manages to become just a little bit stronger and is able to cooperate, the inherent tendencies of the new electoral system might even lead to a huge opposition victory. This is a clear argument for early elections: having the vote in Spring would find the opposition parties disunited and organisationally weak and unprepared. It would also give serious legitimacy to the re-elected government.

On the other hand, there are considerable arguments against early elections as well. No matter how likely it now seems that Fidesz would win the contest, an element of uncertainty always surrounds any election. Additionally, most present Fidesz MPs would not make it to the next Parliament, which will only have 199 members. Although the same scenario would likely arise in 2014 too, the MPs would not welcome the loss of two years of their mandates and the access and influence that comes with them. Finally, if Fidesz believes it can win in 2014 then there is little point in securing power until 2016 now.

Another corrective measure could be Orbán's departure from the post of prime minister and the appointment of a new, more technocratic PM - for instance, Mihály Varga -, with the simultaneous strengthening of Orbán's position of party chairman. Such a solution would tackle some of the credibility problems of the government's economic policy, as the government would be free from direct political calculations, while Orbán could still retain his dominant position. This could give rise to a 'double speak' on the government-Fidesz side, with the government pursuing more orthodox ideas and measures with Fidesz constantly 'demanding' more populist measures. It would also allow Orbán to assume the role of a 'spiritual leader' on the right.

The biggest disadvantage of this scenario would be the inevitable clash between Orbán and the PM. However subordinate the role of the PM would be under these circumstances, Orbán is an experienced politician who knows that actual constitutional power can change and embolden even the most loyal supporter.

Fidesz has always been attracted to surprising, 'unorthodox' solutions - and both early elections and the changing of the PM would definitely qualify as such. Therefore, we deem both these outcomes feasible. The most likely scenario, however, is that Orbán introduces a smaller change and simply replaces Matolcsy - hoping that the removal of the minister embodying the failed economic policies combined with the weakness of the opposition would be sufficient to stop the downward trend in the support of Fidesz.