Hungary: Orban’s price cuts in time for the election campaign

Status: 01/14/2022 3:46 p.m

In April there will be elections in Hungary. Prime Minister Orban uses this time to hand out election gifts, such as lower food prices. The opposition sees this as nervousness.

By Wolfgang Vichtl, ARD Studio Vienna

The election campaign has started in Hungary. Pork legs and chicken breasts are getting cheaper. Every voter should be able to afford a paprika chicken: despite galloping inflation – officially it’s 7.4 percent. Despite sharply increased prices for staple foods, in some cases well above the rate of inflation.

Wolfgang Vichtl
ARD Studio Vienna

“Hungary protects families”

Shortly after President János Àder set the date for elections – the earliest possible date, April 3 – Prime Minister Viktor Orban took to Facebook and announced some new goodwill.

Food has become more expensive everywhere in Europe – because of the rise in fuel prices, says Orban. But: “Hungary protects the families” from the consequences. And Orban lists: the frozen gas prices since last November, the interest rate freeze for mortgages, the fixed prices for electricity. In addition, there is a thirteenth month’s pension for the elderly, and young Hungarians under the age of 25 will not have to pay income tax from this year.

And now a price brake for milk, sugar, sunflower oil, flour, pork legs and chicken breasts. All of this must not be any more expensive in the near future than it was in mid-October.

“Price reduction is always good”

Orban’s Chancellery Minister threatens: These foods should not suddenly disappear from the shelves. It will be checked, and the dealers face penalties. They are election gifts for the many who don’t have that much money.

“Look,” says a pensioner at the market in Budapest. “What can I say? Lowering the price is always good.” He gets the election gift. The housewife, who is shopping at the next stand, is a bit surprised: “A kilo of peppers costs more than a kilo of meat.”

The dealers lose profit

László Csejtei is a butcher and not enthusiastic. The lost profit from the price freeze is now his problem. In any case, the government is not replacing him. He says it doesn’t work that way. It reminds him of old, dark times: “We have to make a profit. If that doesn’t work with some products, then we have to make a profit with others. It’s like going back to socialism – with officially prescribed prices.”

Opposition has common candidate

The opposition sees this as a sign of increasing nervousness in the government camp – after initial shock. Because this time it should be much tighter than the last ten years. For the first time, the otherwise hopelessly fragmented opposition, from left to right, from green to liberal, agreed on a common list and a common top candidate in order to have a real chance with the electoral law changed by Orban’s majority.

The common candidate is also arch-conservative, Catholic, pro-European and cosmopolitan: he is mayor in a former stronghold of the Orban party Fidesz, elected against the trend and popular: Péter Márki-Zay.

Orban draws from state coffers

Hungary’s economy is in a “cruel situation,” was the reaction of the opposition. What Orban is doing about it is “like someone trying to stop the floodwaters with a teaspoon,” says Márky-Zay. It won’t stop inflation.

But Márky-Zay also knows that Orban draws from the state coffers, which are likely to be empty if the opposition wins – against the propaganda dominance of the Orban-friendly media in Hungary and against the mood that Orban is trying to create for himself with election gifts.

Compatible with EU rules?

Orban could also cut VAT. At 27 percent, it is the highest in the EU – with the exception of food. And the question remains whether what Orban is doing is compatible with EU rules. But that bothers the Hungarian prime minister less than usual at the moment: “We don’t know what Brussels is doing – there’s no common sense anyway,” he says. And: He was prepared to “defend everything in Brussels”.

Until the election on April 3, Orban is all about it, apparently with all his might.

Orban’s election campaign with food price freeze

Wolfgang Vichtl, ARD Wien, 14.1.2022 · 14:48

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