Hungary's Viktor Orban: Populist message, machine methods.

Author:Zsuzsanna, B. Magyar

On September 12, by accepting a report on Hungary with a two-thirds vote, the European Parliament initiated a process, outlined in Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, that could potentially lead to Hungary's losing its voting rights in the European Council. The report, by rapporteur Judith Sargentini, voiced concerns over 12 issues ranging from corruption to the limitation of academic freedoms, curtailing media freedoms and civil rights. (1) Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban denies the accusations and argues that some western European democracies are using the report to punish Hungary because of its anti-immigration sentiment.

Although the allegations listed in the Sargentini report are very serious, Hungarians do not seem to mind them. For instance, while the government categorically denies corruption charges, there are many highly visible signs that circles around Orban thrive under his governance. A football stadium with 3,800 seats was built in Orban's birth village, which has a total population of 1,700. A toy train runs between the two parts of the village, transporting tourists to the stadium. Orban's neighbour, Lorinc Meszaros, went from being a humble gas plumber to the second wealthiest man in Hungary in 12 years. While some say Meszaros is a straw man for the Prime Minister, Orban claims that his neighbour is simply a very good businessman. Recently, Orban's son-in-law, Istvan Tiborcz, also became involved in business. He started off installing street bulbs in municipalities led by mayors from Orban's party, and by now he is rapidly extending his business to hospitality. (2)

These are all issues around which the opposition parties would organize in a well-functioning democracy. But both Orban and his party, the Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz), remain incredibly successful without meaningful opposition in sight. Of the nine elections that have been held since 1990, Orban has won four times: in 1998, and in every election since 2010. In 2010, 2014 and 2018 Fidesz, in alliance with the Christian Democrats, won more than two thirds of the legislative seats and got a constitutional majority. Orban's popularity seems to be stable: in the election of April 8, 2018, his party received 47.4 per cent of the popular vote and for the third time managed to grab two thirds of the legislative seats. Orban remains the third most popular politician in Hungary after two of his party mates.

Nobody denies that Viktor Orban is a skilful politician. He got lucky as he was the opposition leader in 2008 when the economic crisis hit, but he was prepared to take over and took the opportunity that his sweeping victory in the 2010 election offered. After the victory Orban transformed many of Hungary's institutions to his advantage. He rewrote the constitution (which became the Fundamental Law of Hungary) in 2012, and changed the electoral rules starting with the 2014 election.

The number of parliamentarians fell from 386 to 199, which gave Fidesz a good opportunity to gerrymander new, favourable districts for the party. The two-round mixed-member majoritarian electoral system was changed to a one-round system, which...

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