Nationalist Viktor Orban seeking third term announces pre-election handouts to pensioners, families

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced pre-election handouts to millions of families and pensioners on Wednesday after his right-wing Fidesz party suffered a surprise by-election defeat ahead of an April 8 national poll - Reuters reports.

Fidesz is well ahead of rivals in opinion polls for the national election, but was caught off guard by the victory of an opposition-backed independent over its candidate in a by-election on Feb. 25.

Since December Fidesz's popularity with registered voters and decided voters has fallen six and four points, respectively, according to a survey prepared by Iránytű Intézet (Compass Institute) last week.
31 percent of voters and 44 percent of decided voters told the pollster they would vote for Fidesz-KDNP in the April 8th general election, down from 37 percent and 48 percent, respectively, in December 2017.
Contributing to the decline in Fidesz' popularity has been a string of scandals beginning with the surprise revelation that the government secretly admitted 1,300 asylum-seekers despite spending billions of forints publicly vowing not to admit any.
Allegations that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's son-in-law was involved in a criminal conspiracy orchestrated from the prime minister's office to defraud Hungarian and EU taxpayers of hundreds of millions of euros hasn't helped Fidesz's popularity either.
Finally, the governing political alliance's surprise defeat in a recent mayoral by-election in Minister János Lázár's home town of Hódmezővásárhely revealed that independent candidates enjoying the backing of opposition parties could defeat Fidesz candidates, at least on a local level.

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Seeking a third consecutive term, Fidesz is campaigning with a fiercely anti-immigrant message and promises of more state spending, including on wages and pensions.
In a video clip posted on his Facebook page, Orban said the country's around 2.6 million pensioners would receive a one-off voucher for food purchases and that every Hungarian family would get a refund of 12,000 forints ($48) on its heating bill.
"In the past weeks we have suffered from extreme cold weather in Hungary, the gas consumption of families has increased and so did the gas bill... Therefore, we decided on a winter reduction of gas bills," Orban said.
It was not immediately clear whether the refund would be financed from the state budget or by gas firms. Most gas distribution companies are owned by the state after Orban's government took over much of the energy sector from foreign firms over the past eight years. Hungary's national weather institute has said this winter has been milder than usual and that January was the sixth warmest since 1901.
The Economy Ministry was not immediately available to comment on the cost of the new measures.
Reuters' calculations showed the two measures could cost a total of over 60 billion forints ($239 million), but Peter Virovacz, an analyst at ING Bank, said this posed no risk to the budget deficit target.
"This can be covered from the reserves," he said. "We can regard this as a gesture ahead of elections."
Orban said last week that opposition parties would unite to try to oust his party in the national election and would turn Hungary into a haven for immigrants.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 March 2018 09:18