Incumbent Viktor Orban wins fourth consecutive election as Prime Minister, which raises concerns for Hungary’s democracy as the Fidesz party continues to extend their control.
April 3, 2022, Viktor Orban was elected to his fourth consecutive term as Prime Minister of Hungary after defeating opposition leader, Peter Marki-zay. Orban’s party, Fidesz, yet again won a two thirds supermajority in parliament with 135 seats won in the 199-seat parliament. This two-third supermajority grants Orban and the Fidesz party opportunity and power to continue to reshape Hungarian politics. Orban won 53% of the votes, compared to Marki-zay who won only 35%, which was much lower than expected. Hungary has become a highly polarized country, which has become a threat to democracy, and has allowed for Fidesz to increase its control.
In the election, the Fidesz party had clear advantages over the opposing party, United for Hungary, due to Fidesz’s control of parliament. In 2010, Orban amended the Constitution to nearly cut the size of parliament in half. Additionally, there have been reports of the use of gerrymandering to increase the party’s chances of a supermajority, although this has been denied by the party. Fidesz appears to have unfairly redrawn the map in 2011 to make left-leaning constituencies have larger voter populations so that it gives them fewer chances to win. Although this does not affect the popular vote, gerrymandering allowed Fidesz to earn 91% of the districts in the 2014 election. The election system had also switched in 2011 from a two-round voting system to a single round voting system. This was another attempt made by Fidesz to try and limit the success of the opposition. The two round system provides the opportunity for the left to narrow all candidates to one in the second round of voting, improves the chances for that one candidate from the left to have a stronger chance of defeating their opponent.
In 2010, Orban had granted Hungarians the ability to vote while outside of Hungary, which permitted nearly 500,000 international Hungarians the right to vote. In the 2018 election, approximately 96% of the mail-in votes were in support of Orban. In the 2022 election, ballots were found partially burned and in a landfill in Transylvania, Romania, which is an area were many ethnic Hungarians have dual citizenship and therefore have voting rights in Hungary. The ballots that were found were all votes for the opposition. The opposition has also been expressing concern for years over how easily mail-in votes can be manipulated.
Fidesz control over the media and heavy use of propaganda has made it increasingly difficult for the opposition to be heard and gain support; even the largest independent new outlets have been taken over by Fidesz. Propaganda and media control have been a large issue, as Fidesz has made unconstitutional initiatives to control the narrative in the media, and slander Peter Marki-zay. Klubradio, an independent radio station, was taken off air and the radio channel is now used to promote the government and instill pro-Fidesz rhetoric. Orban’s approach towards controlling the media is very indicative of democratic backsliding and arguably stealth authoritarianism because he is clearly restricting the opposition’s ability to be heard, but he does not jail any of his opponents. This helps create an illusion for the public that the country is still a strong democracy, which can mask what he is doing to some degree.
The opposition’s struggle to compete against Fidesz in recent elections is in part due to inequitable funding between parties. Fidesz has been able to manipulate the system to exceed the spending limit, which had made it increasingly difficult for the opposition to compete. Fidesz was able to spend approximately eight times more money on political ads then the opposition, which had surpassed the campaign spending cap but there is nobody to above Orban to enforce the rules. It was also found that Fidesz has approximately 20,000 campaign billboards throughout Hungary, while the opposition only had approximately 2,000.
Fidesz is systematically working to undermine democracy in Hungary, and the election fraud in the 2022 election is proof of this. For the 2022 election, the opposing parties had decided to unite and pool together their resources under one party. One far right party and 5 centrist-left parties united and took some of Orban’s seats in parliament. This had brought the opposition a bit closer to winning, but Fidesz had still won by a wide margin, nonetheless. Although, it is worth noting that pre-election polls suggested the opposition would have better turnout that would result in a much closer election. Threatened by the opposition, in November of 2021, Orban passed a voter tourism law to allow Hungarian citizens to register to vote in any district and resulted in voters being strategically moved into other districts.
A number of initiatives have been taken by Orban and the Fidesz party to modify the Constitution in their favor, which has resulted in a high amount of democratic erosion, and greatly contributes to Orban’s ability to control the media, elections and his power overall. Orban has also limited the power of the Constitutional Court by restricting the court’s ability to strike out laws in the Constitution, which means that Orban can amend the Constitution, and the proper checks are not in place to restrict him. Because of this, it becomes easy for Orban to control the media without resistance.
The democratic erosion seen in Hungary is also a threat to democracy elsewhere. Hungary is part of the European Union, and Hungary’s current political position can infringe on the ability for the EU to make decisions that require unanimous voting, such as inviting countries into NATO. This can cause an increased threat to the stability of Europe. Hungary under Orban has also supported Russia in the war between Russia and Ukraine, which had been cause of contention amongst voters during election season, and it is aligning Hungary closer to authoritarianism. Hungary has also broken away from Poland, originally a political ally, as Poland has decided to aide Ukraine, and Orban is supporting Russia. Orban’s initiatives and rhetoric are even resonating with right-wing American Conservatives; Tucker Carlson, the television host for Fox News, had even spent some time with Orban in Hungary.
You make a good point about the extreme polarization in Hungary posing a threat to democracy. I think one of the most profound ideas in Varol’s Stealth Authoritarianism is how many of these autocratic leaders are raising costs to the opposition through legal channels in order to stay in power, and like you had mentioned, this creates an illusion oftentimes that Hungary is still a democracy. Hungary’s democracy has been slowly eroding since Orbán came to power in 2010, and even now with the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine he recently criticized Zelenskyy, referring to him as an “opponent” in his victory speech this month. This polarizing rhetoric, the “us” vs “them” ideology probably stems from his history of using populist and polarizing tactics in order to secure his power, and is a tactic which he is still using to assert his control.