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December 2011

Political prognosis

In 2011, the two main components of the governing philosophy of Fidesz were the centrality of 'unorthodoxy' and the notion of majoritarian democracy carried to its extremes. In 2011, it became clear that the controversial measures enacted at the end of 2010 - the curtailing of the rights of the Constitutional Court or the new media law, for instance - resulted not from accidents and were not temporary overreactions but signalled the underlying governing philosophy of the right wing party. Both in economic policy and institutional changes, the government willingly rejected the conventional approaches of most other democracies and attempted to create a new, 'Hungarian model' - based on unorthodox economic policy and a special - to many, unacceptable - interpretation of democracy.

While the government experimented with this 'Hungarian model', its support kept declining continuously and radically: by the end of the year, Fidesz lost more than half of the support it had commanded at the time of the elections. Thus, the combined strength of the left-leaning opposition parties is now within range of Fidesz. Under these circumstances, the strategy of Fidesz is built on two pillars: the integration of its base with politically motivated economic measures and the weakness and fragmentation of the opposition. From behind-the-scenes discussions with Fidesz leaders it becomes apparent that the party believes in crafting policies which explicitly favour those groups which are most likely to support Fidesz - the members of the so-called 'civic middle class'. Such means of support can be the flat tax, targeted tax breaks and the accompanying conservative-nationalist rhetoric. These groups - families, small entrepreneurs, etc. - all together add up to around 1,5-2 million people. According to the calculations of the party, if they vote for Fidesz at the upcoming elections, and the opposition remains divided, the party will have no problem securing another victory.

This strategy, however, has at least three serious flaws. First of all, despite its intentions, the government is not able to make sure that its target group is aided in all aspects of economic and social policy; some government measures - the across-the-board austerity measures, for example - will hurt these voters. Secondly, Fidesz assumes its target group to be, on the one hand, a beneficiary of government policies and on the other, open to the interpretations of Fidesz with regards to questions of democracy. However, these two policy areas are independent; there might be voters who are economically aided but are upset because of the concentration of power Fidesz is undertaking - and vice versa, voters who are not bothered by the democracy issue but are not better off economically. Dissatisfaction in either area can be sufficient to turn a voter away from Fidesz. Lastly. Fidesz does not seem to take into consideration the overall impact of its economic policy: if this policy results in a catastrophe and the Hungarian economy collapses, no government measures will be able to significantly help the target group of Fidesz.

The mass demonstrations of the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 might suggest that the opposition parties finally found a way to challenge the government. However, the success of these demonstrations will increase the tensions within the opposition. If the smallest opposition party, Politics Can Be Different (LMP) becomes convinced that it can adept to this new opposition strategy more successfully than the Socialists, than there is very little reason for it to accept its present subordinate position.

The peculiarity of the end of 2011 is that both Fidesz and MSZP rely more on the mistakes of their main opponent than on their own advantages. Fidesz is trying to keep together its shrinking base while hoping that the opposition will not be able to attract former Fidesz-voters. The Socialists believe that Fidesz will keep losing support and that this will somehow benefit them on the long run - without having to make a major effort. The party that devises a successful strategy that does not depend on the actions and position of its opponents will undoubtedly be the winner of the upcoming year.