Hungary

   
 

Key Challenges

Election victory boosts confidence further
The 2018 elections have given Prime Minister Orbán and his Fidesz government a further boost. For the prime minister, the election victory shows that Fidesz represents a true “Christian democracy” (a notion that has replaced its controversial predecessor “illiberal democracy”) that both deserves and can play a stronger role in the EU. Since the elections, the Fidesz government has further strengthened its position by extending its already strong control over the media and the judiciary. However, it’s not clear whether Orbán considers the current rules of the game sufficient for safeguarding Fidesz rule.
Popular support may be weaker than it appears
While the government’s short-term position looks strong, some challenges can be identified. To start with, popular support for the Orbán government might not be so solid as it looks. In a Eurobarometer survey in April 2018, the month in which Fidesz gained its third supermajority, 67% of Hungarians stated that new political parties and movements might find new solutions better than those of the political establishment, and the same percentage of respondents supported the idea that Hungary needs a real change. This suggests that the opposition parties failed to beat Orbán not only because of the obstacles erected by the government, but also because they lack charismatic leaders and inspiration.
EU no longer willing to stand by as spectator
While many Western observers remain puzzled over the causes of the “Eastern crisis,” the European Parliament’s request in September 2018 that the EU determine whether Hungary has violated Article 7 of the EU Treaty, along with increasing calls to exclude Fidesz from the European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament show that that the EU and major European countries are no longer willing to stand by as pure spectators. However, the EU and EPP clearly have little leverage in this regard. Orbán’s furious reactions to the Sargentini report and Fidesz’s activities in the EPP before the 2019 European Parliament elections nevertheless suggest that external pressure might exert a certain disciplinary effect on the Hungarian government.
Rising paranoia, decreasing feedback
What makes the Fidesz government most fragile, however, is its strong dependence on the prime minister. The fact that three key political figures of the third Orbán government – János Lázár, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, Zoltán Balog, the minister of human resources, and Miklós Seszták, the minister of national development – lost their positions after the 2018 elections, suggests a growing sense of paranoia on the part of Orbán that results in efforts to further centralize its control. Orbán does not receive any meaningful feedback and information from his “royal court,” which means his decisions are increasingly detached from reality.
Oligarchs now openly flaunting wealth
Since the elections, the new oligarchs have begun to demonstrate just how much wealth they have amassed in a more or less openly and provocative manner. It remains unclear how Hungarian society, including those who support the regime, will respond to this development. For now, not many Hungarians seem to feel provoked, though this can easily change. Support for the government might also suffer from an economic slowdown. With the EU transfers set to decline, Hungary’s growth model is reaching its limits, and it seems questionable that the government’s recent attempts at strengthening and restructuring the R&I sector will be enough to put economic growth on a new and more sustainable footing.
Citations:
European Parliament (2018): Democracy on the Move: European Elections – One Year to Go. Eurobarometer Survey 89.2 of the European Parliament A Public Opinion Monitoring Study. Strasbourg (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/pdf/eurobarometre/2018/oneyearbefore2019/eb89_one_year_before_2019_eurobarometer_en_opt.pdf).

European Parliament (2018): Report on a proposal calling on the Council to determine, pursuant to Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union, the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded (“Sargentini-Report”). A8-0250/2018, Strasbourg (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/A-8-2018-0250_EN.pdf).
 

Party Polarization

Quasi one-party state
has emerged
Party polarization was already prevalent in 2010 when Fidesz gained its first supermajority. Since then, the Orbán governments have unilaterally launched many radical changes in institutions and policies without involving the other parties or social organizations. As checks and balances have been destroyed and formerly independent institutions conquered, a quasi one-party state with some democratic formalities has emerged. As a result of these unilateral changes, party polarization is complete. The only conceivable cross-party agreement is Fidesz trying to infiltrate an opposition party – Jobbik or LMP – if the Fidesz supermajority proves unsustainable.
Polarization undermining democracy
Given Fidesz’s supermajority in parliament and the lack of any remaining checks and balances, party polarization in Hungary is no obstacle to policymaking, but to democracy. (Score: 3)
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