BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday he aimed to speed up an extra month of payment to pensioners as he ramps up a pre-election spending spree.
Ahead of what is expected to be a tight election early next year, Orban has showered the electorate with handouts, including a $2 billion income-tax rebate for families, waiving income tax for young workers, home renovation grants and extra pension payments.
Hungary’s 2.5 million pensioners represent nearly a third of the vote in the central European country of just under 10 million people.
Under current plans, pensioners would receive an extra two weeks of payment next year, partly reversing a decision to axe a 13th month of pension by a previous leftist government before Orban took power in a 2010 landslide.
“From January 1, we want to restore the second week’s worth of payment but I am fighting for this to be faster,” Orban told public radio in an interview. “So that it is not just the second, but the third and probably even the fourth.”
“So that I will be able to stand before voters come the next election and say that what the Gyurcsany-Bajnai (leftist) government took from pensioners, we will have restored to the last penny.”
Paying back one week of extra pensions this year will cost 77 billion forints ($253.76 million).
Orban said any wage and pension rises should be funded by economic growth driven primarily by investments, not higher borrowing.
As Orban ramped up his spending spree despite calls from the central bank to rein in Hungary’s budget deficit faster, the six-party Hungarian opposition alliance ran a first round of primary elections to pick Orban’s challenger.
No precise date for the election has been set.
A patchwork of parties that includes the former far-right Jobbik, which has redefined itself as a centre-right grouping, as well as the Socialists, liberals and greens, upset Fidesz in municipal elections in 2019.
The parties hope that can serve as a blueprint to unseat Orban, in power for more than a decade, next year.
An August survey by think tank Zavecz Research put support for Orban’s Fidesz at 37% of all voters, while combined support for the six opposition parties stood at 39%.
($1 = 303.44 forints)
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Sam Holmes and Barbara Lewis)