On April 3 of this year, Hungry re-elected their prime minister Viktor Orban for his fourth consecutive term. His political party, Fidesz won 54.18% of the national party list vote and 83% of single member districts. Against Orban was a six-party opposition alliance, United for Hungry, with Peter Marki-Zay as their leader. After his loss, Marki-Zsy decided he will not be a member of the recently elected parliament, although he did win a seat, and will focus on the town he is mayor of. This leaves the Fidesz opposition without a leader after the extreme hit they took in the parliamentary election . So how did Orban get into this position where he is getting elected for his fourth consecutive term and his political party is winning a super majority? In the 2010 parliamentary elections, the alliance of the political parties KDNP and Fidesz won a two-thirds majority in parliament and appointed Viktor Orban as their new prime minister. Orban used this super-majority to rewrite Hungary’s constitution. Hungary’s new constitution, called the Fundamental Law of Hungary, became Orban’s way to weaken the Hungarian democracy and expand his own powers. The judicial branch of government took the biggest hit in the new constitution as the Constitutional court would no longer be selected by an all party parliamentary committee but directly by parliament, which allowed the Fidesz’s supermajority to pack the courts and pass further reforms easier. One of Orban’s amendments to the constitution included cutting the size of parliament in about half before he proceeded to gerrymander the country in his favor. He also passed a law introducing “voter tourism”, which allowed any Hungarian citizen to legally register to vote in any district. Along with court packing, Orban selected friends and loyalists for long-term positions of power in government and in other cultural institutions such as media and public universities. Orban’s action raised red flags for the European Union as many of the laws and policies went against their political standards. Freedom of press has also been abused under Orban’s rule as he has created a massive media empire funded by the government that makes it hard for independent media outlets to exist .These state-run media companies omit anything that is critical of the government and focus on highlighting the government’s achievements with their oppositions opinions being excluded. Possible opposition for Fidesz not only faces the difficulty of not receiving fair media coverage but also must overcome the fake political parties created to split their votes. Campaign finance activities and spending in Hungary are monitored by the State Audit Office, which the government maintains control of. The ASZ has affected elections by only sanctions on opposition parties and overlooking problematic uses of state resources by Fidesz. During the COVID-19 pandemic, democratic backsliding in Hungary has been taken to another level. On March 30 in 2020, during the height of the pandemic, the government introduced an emergency law that granted extreme powers with no time limit to Orban. This law was withdrawn in June of the same year, but most of the provisions of the law were carried over into the new regulations. Included in these provisions was the government withdrawing financial resources from local governments and placing state companies under partial military supervision. The government owned media, selectively released information on the pandemic and censored questions at press conferences. Current events have forced Orban to recalculate and evaluate his current tactics as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has embarrassed him. Orban had been a long time ally and friend to Putin, not a good position to be in following the invasion. However, Orban quickly pivoted to a new stance he called “Hungary First”, under which Hungary would take no sides. This stance included not allowing NATO to transport weapons through Hungarian territories to Ukraine and offering no government support, financial or other, to Ukrainian refugees. Orban gained public support during the 2022 election by creating new government programs that directly benefit the citizens leading up to the election. During his campaign, the government exempted younger citizens from paying personal income tax, increased the federal minimum wage, and added a month of additional pension for retirees. The Hungarian government also protected their citizens from the global inflation happening because of the COVID- 19 pandemic by freezing interest rates, food prices, and gas prices. All of these acts increased Orban support leading up to the election which showed in the vote count. The rewriting of the constitution to limit separation of powers, limited freedom of press, and election manipulation all contribute to Freedom House’s assessment of Hungary as only a partly free country. Following his recent reelection, it will be interesting to watch how Orban continues to further consolidate his power in his next term.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.