Orbán is resorting to something he had never done before.
Apart from dealing astrological sums to his cronies and loyalists Orbán is emptying the budget in yet another way: by taking on record debt, cutting taxes, returning last years’ taxes to and good old-fashioned handouts to pensioners.
During previous elections it used to be just potatoes.
Before the April 2022 elections it is:
- 13th month pension to be sent out in February
- One-off, lump sum pension bonus of HUF 80000 (sent in November)
- Covid-induced general debt moratorium extended until next election
- Fuel price control (that also served to play fuel stations in to the hands of a crony and squeeze out foreign players)
- Utility price control (since 2014) remains in place despite the price increase
- After a decade of frozen wages 15+15% wage increase promised to academics
- 21% to nurses
- 10% to teachers
- 20% to nursery workers, etc. Orbán even advertises this on his own, personal Facebook that is usually reserved to ooze statesmanship and being above it all.
- Police is weirdly left out (for now) despite their dire situation.
- Minimal wage increase to 200k HUF gross (20% increase)
- Families with children get their 2021 income taxes back in a lump sum before the 2022 elections. (They don’t even have to apply for it!)
- People under 25 won’t have to pay income taxes.
- Free money for home owners to renovate – causing price hikes and more price controls following free money to buy (also causing price hikes and not much more).
(The list is updated as new spending is announced and is definitely still missing elements. These are just the most written-about and spectacular spending items.)
The spending bonanza hit a huge whole on the budget and brought on record-setting new debt but it is dismissed as economic stimulus for those who want to believe it. All this during massively overheating inflation. It is now a race against time for Orbán. Does the next economic downturn catch up with him before the election – or can he deny it long enough to win four more years of immunity and enrichment opportunities?
Apart from buying votes, the spending is also useful to enrich cronies even more and to empty the budget and tie the hands of whoever follows Orbán in power.
It will also raise the question – can welfare populism save an ailing autocrat, or does the thawing bring forth more discontent? If fear and dependence is not sufficient any more and he needs to entice voters as well – does it mean the end of an era?