Crushing victory gives Viktor Orban scope to tighten grip on Hungary

A crushing election victory over a united opposition has given Viktor Orban a fourth consecutive term as Hungary’s prime minister – and delivered another parliamentary supermajority that can change constitutional rules and entrench his conservative nationalist ideology across civil society and business.

It also puts Budapest once again on a collision course with Brussels over EU funding access, with the European Commission preparing to use new procedures to confront Hungary over its corruption, rule of law breaches and a further weakening of democratic standards. The EU is still blocking approval of € 7bn in pandemic recovery funds for Hungary.

According to preliminary results, Fidesz won 135 seats, more than a two-thirds majority in parliament, with 56 seats going to the united opposition, defying predictions of a close contest.

Orban in his victory speech on Sunday evening relished what he saw as a vindication, insisting that what he has termed “illiberal democracy” was the way forward for Europe.

“The whole world could see tonight, here in Budapest, the victory of Christian democratic politics, conservative, civic politics, patriotic politics,” he said. “Our message to Europe is: this is not the past, this is the future, our shared European future.”

Orban has established tight administrative and ideological control over much of the media, higher education and cultural institutions. He did not present a program for his election campaign.

One priority now may be increasing central oversight of local government, which is seen as inefficient. The premier has also not abandoned the idea of ​​buying back the country’s main airport in Budapest, a project that was postponed last year. The food retail sector, which is mainly in the hands of western multinationals, could also be transferred to domestic owners.

This follows similar moves in areas such as banking, energy and telecommunications as well as the media. In each sector, the government used punitive taxes and regulation or launched takeovers to put its allies in charge.

Laszlo Toroczkai, Mi Hazank leader, speaking on Sunday night © Tamas Kovacs / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

Another outcome of Sunday’s election was to allow a new far-right party Mi Hazank, “Our Homeland”, which was outside the united opposition bloc, to enter parliament for the first time, which is likely to ensure that culture war issues remain high on Orban’s agenda.

Mi Hazank, an anti-immigration offshoot of the Jobbik party that joined the coalition, helped inspire Orban’s anti-LGBTQ campaign, which includes a law banning promotion of same-sex couples in schools while equating it with pedophilia, causing a rift with the EU . Mi Hazank’s program also includes school segregation for the Roma minority and a clampdown on “Roma crime”.

Orban is also likely to pursue his “disruptive diplomacy” after the failure of the opposition to capitalize on his warm relations with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. Orban is the only EU leader who has declined to criticize Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, although he has backed EU sanctions against Moscow.

The Hungarian leader in his victory speech took a potshot at Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, who has criticized him for failing to condemn the war. Putin was among the first to congratulate Orban on his victory.

Orban’s closeness to Moscow has created huge strains with Hungary’s neighbors, notably Poland, which has until now backed Budapest in many of its battles with the EU.

Yet Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s de facto leader, said on Monday that despite the clear differences over the Ukraine war, the bond was unbroken.

“We view Hungary’s attitude with criticism, and we hope it will become more involved,” Kaczynski told the weekly Sieci magazine in an interview. “However, this does not mean we should stop co-operating in areas which are still conceivable. . . In no way do we sever our relationships. ”

A participant holds a placard showing Russian president Vladimir Putin, in front of the parliament building in Budapest on June 14 2021, during a demonstration against the Hungarian government's draft bill seeking to ban the 'promotion' of homosexuality and sex changes
Orban’s closeness to Moscow has caused tensions © Gergele Besenyei / AFP / Getty Images

Warsaw and Budapest have relied on each other to block the EU disciplinary procedures for member states that flout democratic standards or fundamental standards.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe criticized the unfair election advantage given to Orban in the campaign, saying that there had been a “pervasive overlap between ruling coalition and government”.

The commission faced fresh calls on Monday from members of the European parliament to trigger the EU “conditionality mechanism”, which would allow it to block all EU payments to Budapest.

“There was a pause before the elections, consistent with our principle of not interfering in national democratic processes,” said an EU official. “But now we will look more attentively and we will not hesitate to act or trigger conditionality mechanisms, if conditions are met.”

Another view would be that, with the election out of the way, Orban may feel more able to make concessions to unblock the € 7bn of recovery funds, such as allowing more transparency on public procurement and guarantees to prosecute corruption cases.

“Orban will demand the EU transfer what Hungary is due, and relatively soon,” said Agoston Mraz, director of the Nezopont Institute, a pro-government think-tank.

“An agreement is fairly likely,” he predicted. “It would be self-defeating from the EU to withhold the money at a time when it needs to show unity in the reaction to the Russians.”

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