Democracy was rocky in Hungary in its early post-communist years. Several of the political parties in power were riddled with corruption and economic inequality plagued the country. This growing unrest against various corrupt political parties, especially the current socialist-led government, set the scene for Viktor Orbán and his right-wing party, Fidesz, to win a two-thirds majority in the parliament in 2010 (britannica.com). This elected Orbán as the prime minister of Hungary and gave Orbán a dangerous amount of control over the democratic processes of Hungary. With this majority power, Orbán promptly made sweeping changes to the Hungarian constitution in favor of his, and his party’s ideals. He then moved on to ensure his position of power by subverting the current election processes in Hungary. Viktor Orbán and his party, Fidesz’s, sabotage and consolidation of democratic functions under the power of the executive is a form of executive aggrandizement. It undermines the principle of democracy concerning checks and balances.
Orbán first focused his attention on the judicial branch in his quest for power. With his party’s two-thirds majority in the legislature, he was able to easily amend the constitution. Upon assuming office in 2010, he raised the number of justices on the nation’s constitutional court from 11 to 15 so he could appoint 4 of his own justices. He lowered the age for retirement of current judges and prosecutors in order to instantaneously free up spots for him to appoint people of his choosing. He also set up a new National Judiciary Office and appointed a longtime colleague as the head. The National Judiciary Office was given veto power over judicial promotions and also control over which judges would hear which cases. With this trifecta of changes, the judicial body of Hungary was now under Orbán’s control. This control of the judiciary allowed for the adoption of an entirely new constitution in 2012. This constitution centered around his party’s ideals of Christian and nationalist values, and with his control of the judiciary, he had no institutions to answer to (economist.com). This form of democratic backsliding is defined by Nancy Bermeo as Executive Aggrandizement. Executive Aggrandizement is when the elected executive in power weakens checks and balances on their branch and disassembles the institutions that have the power to place limits on their actions. The executive will do this legally, while still undermining the principles of democracy (Bermeo). With Fidesz’s two-thirds parliamentary majority, Orbán had few barriers in his path to erode the current democratic institutions of Hungary. The power to amend the constitution to his will with no legal repercussions gave Orbán, and Fidesz, essentially sole control over Hungary’s government. Orbán demolished what was once a system of checks and balances among the three branches in Hungary. In order to retain his and his party’s power, Orbán essentially sabotaged any opposition party’s ability to win future elections. Orbán did this by gerrymandering single-member districts and extending voting rights to ethnic Hungarians who did not actually reside in Hungary. This action added 2 million more voting members to Hungary’s elections, and conveniently enough, these new voters overwhelmingly supported the Fidesz party (economist.com). This essentially took the prospect of fair and free elections away from Hungarian citizens who were now having their elections influenced by people not directly under Orbán’s rule.
Supporters of Orbán and Fidesz may claim that Orbán’s actions were done through the proper legal channels and therefore he was simply carrying out his powers as the executive. But, this theme of eroding democracy through the proper legal means in democratic systems is the definition of democratic backsliding. Bermeo defines democratic backsliding on a scale of radical to gradual changes of democratic institutions by the executive in power, sometimes falling under the radar of detection by domestic and foreign witnesses. Orbán is able to claim to be a democratic leader because of how he made his changes to the current institutions of Hungary. He didn’t have to carry out an executive coup and become a glorified dictator or participate in election-day vote fraud. He simply made good use of his two-thirds parliamentary majority and took every chance he could to cement his political power indefinitely. Orbán’s actions are represented by this idea of “stealth authoritarianism”, defined by Varol as a way to “protect and entrench power when direct repression is not a viable option” (Varol). Every action Orbán took was legally in bounds but with the goal of consolidating and cementing his power within the Hungarian government, ultimately becoming an authoritarian ruler.
Orbán’s actions as Prime Minister of Hungary are a clear form of democratic erosion. Orbán utilized various tactics to undermine Hungary’s existing democratic institutions and still continues to wield his authoritarian power. His actions can be defined as executive aggrandizement while maintaining the principles of stealth authoritarianism. Although his actions were conducted through proper legal channels, his objective was to consolidate power and position his party for continued success in future elections. With the power to change the constitution without objection and by sabotaging any opposition party’s chance of victory, Orbán essentially made himself the authoritarian leader of Hungary.