Prime Minister Viktor Orbán believes that the reason for Fidesz`s dramatic loss of popularity is the pride and arrogance of the government camp. Therefore he has been preaching about common ground and renouncing doing policy with a crowbar. After all the scandals about luxury residences and outrageously expensive trips abroad, Orbán finally clearly announced: “No one can be above the law, no one is allowed to misuse his position and power.”
The Prime Minister is planning to offset the voters` growingly negative perception of the government with changes in staff and a reorganisation in the governmental structure, among other things. Personnel changes are expected not only at the top of the Fidesz faction but also within the government and the governing party. The changes will be implemented before the party congress in November.
The personnel changes will be accompanied by substantial changes of course. In consequence the focus of governmental policy in future will be the support of the lower middle class and the poorest people. Until now the government has primarily focused on the middle class.
Orbán also revealed that he intends to be prime minister again after the 2018 parliamentary election and will not run as president of the republic in 2017, despite repeated rumours he wants to do so.
The first important personnel change will impact the present Fidesz faction leader, Antal Rogán. Practically Rogán has already been already fulfilling the role of cabinet leader for some time, and he accompanied Orbán to Strasbourg recently when the latter was criticised in the European Parliament over his stances on immigration and the death penalty.
According to conservative weekly magazine Heti Válasz, Orbán wants to install Rogán as cabinet leader because the government’s political alignment and communication have become “orphaned”. Orbán pointed out at the same time that Minister in charge of the Prime Minister`s Office János Lázár is doing very well concerning the “technical” coordination of governmental work.
Heti Válasz detailed four attributes that Orbán says should characterise the ideal cabinet leader: 1) On certain occasions he should be able to act as a deputy for the government head. 2) He should be well-known. 3) He should have a good knowledge of both domestic and foreign politics. 4) He should be absolutely reliable. According to Orbán only Rogán can fulfil all these conditions, and no one else.
However, Orbán would not be true to himself if the installation of Rogán did not serve a double purpose. For one, Rogán would be strengthened as a politician because he would be reporting directly to the government head, meaning an increase in his power. Plus, his obscure real estate transactions and luxurious lifestyle have drawn criticism, and his elevation could be also evaluated as a move to take him out of the firing line connected to the position of faction leader but still give him a role with high responsibility in daily politics.
Many commentators evaluate the promotion of Rogán as Orbán’s bid to strike a balance against the particularly powerful and influential Lázár.
Kósa could become faction leader
Lajos Kósa, who was mayor of Debrecen for many years and is now president of the Parliamentary Committee for the Armed and Police Forces, is tipped as Rogán`s replacement. Orbán, who has had several conflicts with Kósa in the past, knows his strengths and weaknesses very well.
Another possible candidate is Bence Tuzson, the current Speaker of the Fidesz faction. However, it would be surprising if he were nominated because Fidesz normally rewards the same old trusted faces. And throwing a new recruit into the firing line carries a certain risk. Tuzson`s comment: “I have always tried to carry out my actual tasks in the best possible way. For the time being I am still the Speaker of the faction and I am trying to do my best.”
Orbán is planning further restructuring in the government apparatus. There will be an evaluation of the work of his cabinet so far. He has told pro-government daily newspaper Napi Gazdaság he does not think changing ministers is necessary but commentators are not convinced.
The most important question for Orbán is streamlining the Chancellery, which is a small government within the government: No less than ten state secretaries and twenty-five deputy state secretaries work for Lázár. In comparison the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which counts as a super-resort, is operated by four state secretaries and eight deputy state secretaries.
Lázár’s reputation is battered
Lázár has been almost permanently embroiled in conflict in the past year. He even pointed out at a press conference that he is the one who has to communicate all the bad decisions of the government – not Orbán. Lázár’s reputation has been seriously battered both by the never-ending conflicts and scandals about his lifestyle and arrogance.
His critics accuse him of turning against the prime minister several times, for example when he spoke out against the state support of football – Orbán`s favourite hobby – or when he sharply criticised Sándor Csányi, the director of OTP bank and president of the Hungarian Football League who received a national award from the prime minister.
Lázár also expressed his displeasure about the possible nomination of Rogán as cabinet leader and even hinted that he would be ready to resign, though insiders think this is unlikely. As an anonymous
member of the government told Heti Válasz, Lázár likes making “theatrical gestures”. Nonetheless, he remains loyal to Orbán, the source said.
In this regard Lázár should probably keep in mind the example of Hungarian EU commissioner Tibor Navrasics, who held a lot of power in 2010 as deputy prime minister and “superminister” but who was cornered and outmanoeuvred by Lázár (then a Chancellery state secretary) on the initiative of Orbán. The removal of Navrasics was a classic example of Orbán`s practice of playing out two potentates against each other within the governing party.
Minister of Foreign Trade Szijjártó took a hit
Speaking about the ministers of the third Orbán government, we can see that Minister of National Development Miklós Seszták has strengthened his position since last year. It’s understood that he is getting more and more tasks from Orbán to test his working capacity. The situation in the case of Minister of Agriculture Sándor Fazekas is just the opposite. According to Napi Gazdaság his seat is shaky.
The situation of Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó is more complicated. He has indeed fulfilled Orbán`s expectations concerning the opening towards the East and the strengthening of foreign trade, but his former good relationship with the alleged author of the Quaestor broker scandal, Csaba Tarsoly, is casting a long shadow over him.
As a consequence of the Questor scandal two of Szijjártó trustees, state secretary Balázs Kohut and Szilárd Benkő, had to leave the ministry. Benkő hit the headlines among other things for not being able to be named as cabinet leader because he does not have a university degree, or because he was driving an expensive Mercedes jeep provided by the ministry.
Orbán turns back from the doorstep
Orbán does not want to take any chances, that’s obvious. He recently explained: “We can’t allow anyone, either from inside or outside, to undermine people’s trust in us.” He wants his staff controversy-free.
This is why he arranged for his son-in-law, István Tiborcz, to sell all his shares in companies that had interests in public tenders, including Elios Zrt. that won a series of public contracts for street lightning in rural towns managed by Fidesz mayors.
After five years in power Orbán must also fight lassitude. Heti Válasz says he sees that Fidesz is losing its momentum and drive. Fidesz needs to interact with voters and may develop a new program to win back lost supporters. After its election victory last year the party program only consisted of the following words: “We will continue this way!”