In the wake of the elections in Hungary, there are one of two things that could happen. Viktor Orban could win his third consecutive term as prime minister, continuing his reign of diminishing Democracy, or he could lose and the fate of Hungary would be in the hands of his opposers. His first win transitioned the country from a dictatorship to a so called democracy, the years thereafter have demonstrated signs of democratic backsliding. His populist stance, policy making, and drive for power have all aided him in slowing chipping away at a traditional Democracy and shaping it into his ideal “illiberal democracy”.
Defining Democratic Backsliding
What is Democratic backsliding? In short it’s a term used to describe a state of a country in which the rulers, or political actors slowly break down the foundations of democracy, allowing the government to transform to one similar to or that of an authoritarian regime. Political actors can initiate either policy, ideals, or plans that slowly and at times without warning revoke the social rights of the people, and strip democracy of its checks and balances in government used to maintain order and corruption.
A Populist and his Supporters
Under the rule of Orban signs of Democratic backsliding can be observed. He has been able to use a variety of tactics to gain power, and utilize that power. He has been able to gain the support of his followers through the use of his populist views. His campaigns and speeches put his people first, putting values of religion, prosperous country, and success for his people at the forefront. He is a man of the people, bringing social issues as a platform for his ruling. His eloquent speaking, and values have adorned him as not only a good ruler but a necessary ruler for the people. His supporters believe that he has their best interests at hand, and wholeheartedly support his policy making that may in fact infringe on their social liberties and rights. Through this lense, we are able to see that his rhetoric has gained him the support and followers he needs to indulge in power moves and remain in power. When people believe that there elected officials have their best interest at hand, they are less likely to question or disagree with the political actors actions. This is essential to understand the beginning of Democratic Backsliding, and what it is that camouflages the deterioration occurring.
Weakening the Checks and Balances
His policy making have slowing stripped democracy of its checks and balances. He has made several attempts at pushing through these checks, to make his policies go into effect with a two thirds vote in parliament. He has made attempts at weakening rights such as freedom of press, religion, and targeting minorities. When it comes to policy, Obran wants to restrict freedoms to maintain power. He fears to much freedom could ultimately be bad for the country. At one point arguing that the public need not know all political business at the fear of foreign actors knowing, or causing a corrupt public. If a Democracy entails one to certain rights, and a Political actor takes the initiative to restrict them, he is not only reshaping Democracy, but stripping the components that make it a Democracy in the first place.
These Factors in Play
Combined these factors have allowed him to spark the deterioration of Democracy and hold the support of followers. His hold on the Public, and position in office further give way to a stronger possibility of more backsliding. Slowly but surely he has created his ideal “illiberal Democracy” which unlike western democracies, is prosperous nonetheless, while the people may have limited rights, and government might hold more power. His ideals and rhetoric have made him a strong ruler, giving him the way to implementing these changes.
Is it Really Democratic Backsliding?
Could it be possibly that we are simply witnessing a ruler unknowingly making decisions while still following the institutions of Democracy? We understand that different political actors have different goals and values that they utilize while in office. They follow Guidelines and rules, and use their power to the fullest extent possible. We may use our American government for example. With Trump in office we have seen him use his power as President to implement the Muslim Ban, attempt to build the wall on the border, and remove DACA. Yet, all these policies and plans must go to the hands of various individuals, go through a process, and ultimately get approved to have any affect. The checks and balances allow the Democratic cycle to continue. In this case, Orban has made it a goal to gain power and placed policies in place that weaken those checks to gain further power in his corner. As a result of weakened checks and balances, he has more liberty to push policy making and decide what they entitle. The different factors suggest it is indeed Democratic Backsliding being observed. His ruling is nothing less than a strategic attempt at rolling back into an authoritarian government with all the power in his hands.
What a Win could mean for the Future of Hungary
The election and possibility of a third term could ultimately further the democratic backsliding of Hungary and make it one step closer to an authoritarian regime. Orban has managed to ignite Democratic Backsliding, slowly stripping away a true democratic government. His ability to enthrall a crowd with promises for the people, combined with his policy making have all resulted in breaking down the institutions of Democracy. If he wins the election once more, they will reaffirm the continued support and power that he holds and will further push him to stray farther and farther form a true Democracy. The longer he remains in office, the more attempts he will make to break down Democracy and create his ideal Government.
Image:Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán. Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek Stf/AFP/Getty Images