Hungary's liberals brace for a torrid four years after Orbán's landslide
Crushing victory means PM now has power to remould Hungary and possibly even the entire EU
Viktor Orbán embarks on another four years in power newly emboldened, after winning a crushing victory in a parliamentary vote on Sunday that will give him the power to remould Hungary.
With most of the votes counted by Monday morning, a two-thirds majority looks likely for Orbán’s Fidesz party, which will allow the government to pass constitutional changes. The party won 49% of the vote in the national list and took the majority of constituency mandates, a far better performance than even Fidesz insiders were expecting.
For Hungary’s beleaguered liberals, who were unable to overcome internal divisions to unite against Fidesz and were trounced at the polls, a torrid four years are in store.
“This is the absolute worst-case scenario,” said Zsuzsanna Szelényi, a former independent MP. “This new majority coupled with the high turnout will mean Fidesz feels more legitimate, and Orbán will be able to use this new strength in its dealings with Brussels.”
Over the past eight years, Orbán has been accused of backsliding on democratic norms, appointing loyalists to head previously independent institutions, and taking indirect control of much of the media market. With Fidesz extremely strong in parliament, this is likely to continue. After a speech in March in which Orbán promised to seek “moral, political and legal amends” against his enemies after the election, nobody can say they were not warned.
“Orbán does not like to have islands of autonomy around him, and so in this new term we can see further moves against those that are remaining, including NGOs and the judiciary, which is still fairly independent,” said Szelényi.
Orbán will see the result as a resounding endorsement of the single-issue campaignhe ran on immigration, using far-right rhetoric to claim the opposition would allow mass migration, and that this would bring more terrorism, rape and other crime to Hungary. The message was disseminated relentlessly by the state media and government-funded billboards. Now that he has won, it is unlikely that the rhetoric will be toned down.
First on the agenda could be the controversial “stop Soros” set of laws. Meant to combat the supposed nefarious plots of the Hungarian-American financier George Soros to undermine Hungary, they could be put before parliament in the coming weeks. The bill would subject all foreign funding for immigration-related advocacy or support to a 25% tax, and would also give the interior ministry the right to close down organisations it believed were a national security risk.
“Many of those organisations who camouflage themselves as human rights groups that are trying to help people to get rid of their misery are actually helping to foster illegal migration,” said Orbán’s spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, before the vote.
Civil society representatives have said the bill is fundamentally different from previous pieces of legislation aimed at the sector, which were stigmatising but could be sidestepped.
Even before the official results were announced on Sunday night, Kovács told the Hungarian website Index that “organisations interfering with politics need to be shut down”. On Monday morning, a Fidesz spokesman said on state television that parliament would pass the law in May. At risk are the few remaining NGOs who offer legal or humanitarian assistance for migrants and refugees.
Ákos Hadházy, co-chair of the liberal LMP party, said he was stepping down after the vote, and refused to congratulate Fidesz or Orbán, saying the election was neither fair nor honest. “There will be grave political and economic consequences to follow, and Hungary is close to no longer being part of the EU,” he said.
Many observers believe that rather than the EU changing Hungary, there is more chance of a newly emboldened Orbán winning ground in his battle to reshape the EU. Although Orbán’s political language is of the far right, his Fidesz party is part of the European People’s party bloc in Brussels, a centre-right grouping that includes Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party.
Orbán’s new mandate will make it more unlikely that Brussels will be able to hold him to account over democratic backsliding. András Tóth-Czifra of the European Stability Initiative thinktank said European leaders will now feel there is no alternative to Orbán, which will make it harder to apply pressure and will give him more leeway to brush off criticism.
“This in turn will encourage parties like the Front National, Dutch Freedom party, Austrian Freedom party and the AfD [Alternative for Germany] to call for policies like Orban’s, and cow more and more EPP politicians into adopting these policies themselves,” said Tóth-Czifra.