Key Challenges

Orbán wins easy
electoral victory
By vesting Fidesz with its fourth two-thirds majority in a row, the parliamentary elections in April 2022 have dashed the hopes of many Hungarians. Despite the massively tilted playing field and the government’s massive electioneering, most observers predicted a much narrower race. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has played some role here. Instead of being punished for cooperating with Putin, Orbán succeeded in presenting himself as a safe pair of hands in a time of crises and in painting the opposition as warmongers.
Economic difficulties mounting
While the elections have strengthened the Orbán regime, the latter faces a number of challenges. To start with, the government now has to carry the cost of its economic and fiscal largesse ahead of the elections. Even without the economic repercussion of the Russian invasion, consolidating the budget and controlling inflation would have been uphill struggles. With the further price hikes, the slowdown of economic growth and a possible recession, the challenges will be even greater. After three years of high fiscal deficits, the fiscal space that Hungary had gained following the gradual decline in public debt between 2012 and 2019 will no longer be available.
Tangled international
With Russia pushing Europe in a new – hot and cold – war, the Orbán government will have to rethink its orientation in foreign policy. The “Eastern Opening,” whose benefits were always dubious (Mészáros 2021), is not going to be an option anymore. Maintaining a special relationship with Russia – and China – will further promote Hungary’s isolation in the European Union and within the transatlantic alliance. It will deprive Hungary of its allies in East-Central Europe, most notably Poland, upon which it could count on its struggles against the European Commission and within the European Union so far.
EU funds finally coming with strings; increasing isolation within the EU
This leads to the final challenge. Hungary’s strong economic growth before the COVID-19 pandemic and the enrichment of the Fidesz oligarchs have strongly benefited from the inflow of EU funds. So far, the Hungarian government has succeeded in securing funds without playing by the rules (Erlanger/Novak 2022). However, this is likely to change. The substantial COVID-19 recovery funds earmarked for Hungary by the European Union come with strings. The Hungarian government will receive them only if it acts to tackle the pervasive corruption in the country. Backed by the landmark decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in February 2022, the European Commission seems determined to stick to the conditionality. Given the fact that the patience of most EU member state governments with Hungary has worn off and Hungary is increasingly isolated within the European Union, the European Commission might use other instruments to sanction Hungary for violations of the rule of law. Since the price is high, this would increase pressure on the Hungarian government to change course.
Erlanger, S., B. Novak (2022): How the E.U. Allowed Hungary to Become an Illiberal Model, in: New York Times, January 3.

Mészáros, T. (2021): As Hungary lauds its ‘Eastern Opening’ policy, statistics fail to show benefits, in: Euractive, May 12 ( onomy-jobs/news/as-hungary-lauds-it s-eastern-opening-policy-statistics -fail-to-show-benefits/).

Party Polarization

Polarization between Fidesz and the rest
Party polarization was already prevalent in 2010 when Fidesz gained its first supermajority. Since then, the polarization between Fidesz and most other parties has further intensified. On the one hand, Fidesz has transformed from a center-right party into a populist, right-wing party, and successive Orbán governments have unilaterally launched many radical institutional and policy changes without involving other political parties or social organizations. On the other hand, the main opposition parties have gradually intensified their cooperation. While representing a broad ideological spectrum, they agreed to nominate joint candidates in the 2019 municipal and 2022 parliamentary elections, have chosen a joint top-candidate for the 2022 primary elections, and have campaigned on a joint program.
Limited scope for cross-party agreement
While the strong party polarization has not led to political gridlock, it has limited the scope for cross-party agreements, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has thereby infringed upon the quality of policymaking. The Orbán government has ruthlessly exploited Fidesz’s constitutional supermajority in parliament and the decree powers it has been vested with since 2015. The party polarization also has a regional dimension. In the 2019 municipal elections, the opposition won votes in “urban Hungary” – the majority of cities, including Budapest – whereas votes in “rural” Hungary were dominated by Fidesz.
Opposition parties
joining forces
Few opposition parties have refrained from joining the “united opposition.” The Two Tailed Dog Party (Kétfarkú Kutya Párt) – originally a satirical party, which has since developed some real political agendas – has a chance of bridging the divide between the two camps. The extreme-right party Mi házánk (Our Home) faces the challenge that both Fidesz and parts of the opposition, notably Jobbik, provide a nationalistic, right-wing discourse. (Score: 3)
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