Hungary

   
 

Key Challenges

Opposition becoming more dynamic
The strong showing of the opposition in the 2019 municipal elections has exploded the myth of Fidesz’s “invincibility.” After a decade of infighting, opposition parties have finally succeeded in collaborating and in winning in most parts of urban Hungary. As the Momentum and Democratic Coalition (DK) ha ve become stronger, and MSZP and Jobbik have lost ground, the opposition has become more dynamic. The position of Gergely Karácsony as the leader of the opposition has been strengthened. As the newly elected lord mayor of Budapest, Karácsony will be a credible challenger to Orbán in the coming parliamentary elections. Thus, the political situation has changed with greater opportunities for widespread change in general and in the 2022 parliamentary elections in particular.
Waiting for govern-
ment’s response
As the electoral victory has provided the opposition with new resources, their chances of being heard and reaching out have improved. One crucial issue over the next few years will be whether or not the opposition remains united, intensifies cooperation, develops credible policies and capitalizes on their recent success. Of course, the answer to this question strongly depends on how the Orbán government will respond to the new situation: Will it be ready to accept the new situation or will it react by further intensifying oppression and “Putinization”?
Paranoia leading to further centralization; growth model reaching limit
Contributing to the fragility of the Fidesz government is its strong dependence on the prime minister. The difficulties of the Fidesz leadership to react to the unexpected outcome of the municipal elections in the absence of Orbán have been telling. The fact that key political figures in the third Orbán government lost their positions after the 2018 elections suggests a growing sense of paranoia on the part of Orbán, which has led to further efforts to centralize control. Orbán does not receive any meaningful feedback and information from his “royal court,” which means his decisions are increasingly detached from reality. Since the elections, the new oligarchs have begun to demonstrate just how much wealth they have amassed in a more or less openly provocative manner. It remains unclear how Hungarian society, including those who support the regime, will respond to this development. For now, not many Hungarians appear to have been provoked, though this could easily change. Support for the government might also suffer from an economic slowdown. With EU transfers to Hungary set to be reduced and structural problems in the German car industry, Hungary’s growth model is reaching its limits, and it seems questionable whether the government’s recent attempts to strengthen and restructure the R&I sector will be enough to put economic growth on a new and more sustainable footing.
Democratic decline copied elsewhere in EU
Hungary’s increasingly autocratic tendency has become a danger for the European Union as a whole. The demolishing of democracy and the rule of corrupt politico-business networks in Hungary have been copied in other EU member states. Moreover, the Hungarian government has disturbed further European federalization in general and several necessary concrete EU reforms in particular by organizing resistance among EU member states against the new strategy of the European Commission. Against this background, it is high time that the European People’s Party (EPP) and the European Union adopt a tougher stance. As the EPP has suspended Fidesz’s membership and the Council of the European Union has started to discuss violations of the rule of law in Hungary, relations between Hungary and the European Union have become more tense. The savage attacks on the European Union by Judit Varga, the new minister of justice, in September 2019 are only a foretaste. In this situation, it is more and more important for the European Union to draw a clear distinction between Hungary and the Orbán government, and to assist emerging domestic initiatives advancing a new wave of democratization and Europeanization in Hungary.
Citations:
Ágh, A. (2019): Declining Democracy in East-Central Europe: The Divide in the EU and Emerging Hard Populism,. Cheltenham, UK/ Northampton: Elgar.
László, R., C. Molnár (2019): Lifting the veil of Fidesz’s invincibility. Budapest: Political Capital (https://www.politicalcapital.hu/pc-admin/source/documents/fes_pc_valasztasok_201 9_hun.pdf).
 

Party Polarization

Distinction between
Orbán, Hungary
needed
Party polarization was already prevalent in 2010 when Fidesz gained its first supermajority. Since then, party polarization has further increased, as the Orbán governments have unilaterally launched many radical changes in institutions and policies without involving other political parties or social organizations. In the period under review, Fidesz has transformed from a center-right party into a populist, right-wing party. As a result, Fidesz’s membership in the European People’s Party has been suspended. Fidesz attempted to manipulate the 2019 municipal elections and has radicalized its “culture war” in the name of “Christian democracy.” In the 2019 European Parliament elections, opposition from across the left-right spectrum organized an effective pro-EU electoral campaign against the anti-EU policies of Fidesz. In the 2019 municipal elections, the opposition even agreed to nominate joint candidates. If the opposition remains united against Fidesz, polarization between the government and opposition is likely to increase further. (Score: 3)
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