Viktor Orbán states how he is shaping an “illiberal democracy” in Hungary. He claims that “democracy is not necessarily liberal. Just because something is not liberal, it still can be a democracy”. However, if it is described as “illiberal”, does Hungary even count as a democracy?
A simple definition of democracy is an “institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote”. Although Hungary does hold elections and give people the right to vote, there is not really a competitive struggle due to how the current government gives an unfair advantage to the party in power. Furthermore, if we look into more depth in comparing the characteristics of Hungary’s “democracy” to the characteristics of a conventional democracy, Hungary fails to meet crucial characteristics that make up a democracy. These characteristics include the freedom to form and join organizations, freedom of expression, right of political leaders to compete for support/votes, access to alternative sources of information, and free and fair elections .
Hungary fails to meet some of these democraatic requirements due to the tweaks that the Fidesz, the national-conservative right-wing populist political party, made to the electoral system. Before 2011, Hungary’s electoral system was a two round system where the two main parties would face each other. Therefore, it allowed the smaller opposition parties to run independently in the first round. During the second round, the smaller independent candidates would rally around a single candidate. However, the new electoral system shortened the system into one round, causing the leading dominant party to have the competitive advantage. The reason why the new system causes an unfair advantage for the dominant party, Fidsez, is the fact that it increases inner party infighting for the main opposition party against Fidsez. This “reform” definitely had an effect in the elections as the “new electoral rules helped the government (Fidsez) to win 67% of the seats with 45% of the vote”. This reform essentially divides and conquers the opposition by setting obstacles that prevent all of the opposition parties to rally under one candidate. This new electoral law goes against Dahl’s requirement that a democracy must hold free and fair elections as it creates conditions where the playing field is not level and favors one side more than another.
In addition to the electoral system, Viktor Orbán attempts to gain and keep power by using the media for his benefit. He censors many opposing new outlets and cements control in many of the news outlets circulating throughout Hungary. Orbán uses the advertising budget, which is estimated to be around $300m per year to bring the rival news outlets into their control. Mr. Orbán was very successful with this propagandist campaign as more than 500 Hungarian news outlets take a pro-government stance, compared with just 31 in 2015, according to research by Atlatszo. This tight control over the news media does not meet another one of the requirements for democracy as the freedom of expression is obstructed due to this censorship of the media. This behavior also signifies that Viktor Orbán is an authoritarian ruler as one of key indicators of an authoritative behavior is through their readiness to impose a restriction on civil liberties of opponents, including the media .
Further damage to Hungary’s democracy is Viktor Orbán’s attack on civil society where he targets organizations that do not fit in with his party’s nationalistic ideals. For instance, NGOs (nonprofit organizations) that oppose the parties ideals have been squeezed out of government funding and are now trying to survive by gaining foreign support. One organization that is significant in showing how Hungary’s democracy is deteoritating is through how Orbán’s supporters launched a smear campaign against George Soros, the founder of the Open Society Foundations. Open Society Foundations is an organization that works to fund civil society groups that protect human rights and migrants. Orbán and his supporters are attacking Soros saying that he is trying to turn Hungary into a immigrant, non-Christian nation. Essentially Orbán’s motivation is to attack any organization that puts the government’s legitimacy as well as “national identity”. However, this violates a requirement of democracy that the people have the right to form and join organizations. As cutting off organizations who do not fit into the government’s ideals is restricting the right to form and keep their organization. Civil society is an important factor to democracy as it encourages a diverse amount of opinions and ideas.
The Freedom House is a survey in looking at the amount of freedom in the world. What is shocking is that when evaluating Hungary, “between 2010 and 2016, Hungary deteriorated from the perfect score on political rights and civil liberties to the threshold of a partially free country”. It shows how much democracy in Hungary has deteriorated. The state of democracy in Hungary is worrisome and the EU should not tolerate this type of behavior.
 Schumpeter, Joseph. (1943). Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. New York: Harper & Brothers.
 Dahl, Robert. (1972). Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven: Yale University Press.
 Levitsky, Steven & Daniel Ziblatt. (2018). How Democracies Die. New York: Crown.