Zoltán Pogátsa's blog on economics in English

Zoltán Pogátsa's blog on economics in English

Monday, 23 January 2012

Massive Pro-Government Rally in Budapest Reality Check for Opposition

Many observers will have noticed that a giant pro-government rally was held over the weekend in Budapest. There is always a tug of war over demonstration sizes, but one thing is clear: at around 50-100 thousand demonstrators, it was bigger than the largest opposition rally, held together by essentially all non-Jobbik opposition forces on the 2nd of January in front of the Opera. That demonstration numbered somewhere around 35 thousands. Even Jobbik's 'let us reoccupy the streets' EU flag burning did not manage to bring together more than a couple of thousand.

How is it then, that in a country whose PM is criticised internationally for its rolling back of democracy, and its dire mismanagement of the economy, on the verge of a sovereign default, the government can pull together a larger rally than the opposition?

Opposition commentators have chosen either to ignore the issue alltogether, or ridicule it as some kind of Kim Il Djong type pro-governmental parade. Neither approach is very useful. The rally should in fact serve as a midterm reality check for the opposition in Hungary.

Elections are not won based on crowd sizes. The tens of thousands parties are able to mobilize and bring into the streets are only the most active fraction of the roughly 2,75 million you need to bring out on election day. But opposition parties do not fare any better in this respect either. Fidesz still holds onto some 40% of secure voters, with Jobbik trailing at around 22%. The Socialists have not moved an inch forward, hovering between 20 and 25%, pretty much what they got in the last elections. The Greens are also stuck just below 10%.

Fidesz is still by far the largest political community in Hungary after all of the turmoil of the last two years. Why? In spite of what the opposition believe about the economic policies of Fidesz, the government has managed to hold on to the image of a polticial force that is fighting for the interest of ordinary Hungarians. This in spite of the IMF loan, the introduction of tuition fees, the nationalisation of private pensions, the huge losses on MOL shares, etc. etc. Whether the opposition believe it or not, the magic of the contrast with the "last eight years" still holds. Hungarian voters see the very same figures and policies in the opposition that they voted massively against in 2010. The entire leadership of the Socialist Party, as well as the tiny Gyurcsány fraction are seen as used on a personal level. In terms of policies, they still have not made the crucial moves on party financing, corruption, as well as a credible, real left wing alternative to the government, away from the neoliberal agenda they had been pursuing for far too long prior to 2010. No change, no gain.

The small Green party is still seen as too young and inexperienced, and without a clear policy profile by most. Lately, they have been marred by internal strife as well.

Left wing chattering classes have been far too busy forging all kinds of prenatal Olive Coalitions, instigating Byzantine intrigue. Without the necessary reality check, they fail to notice that it is all pointless. Without a radical renewal of the Hungarian Left, realistically speaking they do not stand a chance of replacing Fidesz for the time being. Even a Socialist-Green coalition, itself an extremely confrontative and explosive match, would be nowhere in sight of an electoral victory, (even with the previous electoral system). Divisive, burnt oldtimers must go, and the new guard must adopt a much more visible and clear prosocial profile.