2018 Hungary elections set to extend Viktor Orban’s grip on power

Image: European People's Party

Hungarians are set to extend Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s grip on power in elections on Sunday. No matter what the outcome is, Orban has significantly transformed the country and reshaped bureaucracy in his own mold. Image: European People’s Party

Article originally published by The Globe Post.

Last year, just under 4,000 asylum seekers arrived in Hungary. 85 percent of them were rejected, leaving 517 refugees to settle in the Central European country. This added just 0.005 percent to the Hungarian population of almost 10 million people.

This means that the bulk of the Hungarian population has never seen, met and spoken to these refugees. Yet, migration remains the key issue in the upcoming elections in the country.

“Vote for a party other than ours, and the Hungarian nation will disappear from the map,” is the message the current government is campaigning on.

On Sunday, the Hungarians will go to the ballot box to vote for new members of the National Assembly, the country’s parliament. Election opinion polls predict a third consecutive victory for the ruling Fidesz party. It would mean another four-year term for the populist, right-wing party and its leader Viktor Orban, who for the past eight years bent all the rules in his, and his party’s, favor.

Orban and his Fidesz party have been dominating the Hungarian political landscape since an overwhelming victory in the elections eight years ago handed them the government.

Orban’s party entered into the elections in an alliance the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), crushing opposition parties and gaining the 68 percent of seats in the Hungarian parliament at the time. Orban secured the power after almost a decade as an opposition leader. By winning two-thirds of all seats in 2010, Orban and his party also gained the ability to change the constitution at will.

Almost directly after riding to power, the Fidesz-led governing coalition started constitutional reforms. “They changed the constitution in a way that even if there would be a governmental change, it would not necessarily put an end to Fidesz’s rule,” Hungarian political scientist Zslot Enyadi told The Globe Post.

He gives the example of the Chief Prosecutor, charged with prosecuting at the national level: “According to the new constitution, the person in this position can only be replaced with a two-thirds parliamentary majority.” People in these high-ranked positions are former Fidesz politicians or those who are loyal to the party. They are appointed with a long term. The Chief Prosecutor, for instance, is appointed for nine years.

“Unless the opposition wins with a two-thirds majority, which is extremely unlikely, these people stay in office and will, for instance, keep on blocking criminal charges pressed on Fidesz figures,” Enyadi explained.

Andras Laszlo Pap, a constitutional lawyer and author of the book ‘Democratic Decline in Hungary,’ told The Globe Post that in four years of office, Fidesz “dismantled constitutional checks and balances and weakened democratic control mechanisms.”

In that period, the Fidesz-KDNP alliance passed over 800 laws that restructured almost all public institutions. “Mr. Orban has destroyed all independent institutions in the country and has turned Hungary into a state against the rule of law,” Kim Lane Scheppele, Professor at the University of Princeton, told The Globe Post.

Orban and his party also reshaped the electoral system, to ensure its hold on power in the elections that would follow. “They designed an election system precisely for their own situation to make it impossible, or nearly impossible, to lose an election,” Lane Scheppele said. “Mr. Orban and his inner circle all met in law school. They are very clever lawyers.”

Rigging the rules to win

The elections held in 2014 were the first under the new framework. Fidesz cut back the number of members of parliament by almost 50 percent, from 386 to 199. The reduction was welcomed as the past-sized parliament was commonly thought to be too large and too expensive.

Out of these 199 seats, 106 are obtained in single-member constituencies, in which winner took all. “The Fidesz lawyers gerrymandered the whole country to give Fidesz substantial support in virtually all of the districts,” Lane Scheppele explained.

After the redrawing of the districts, Fidesz eliminated the previous second-round run-off in the constituencies. In this first-past-the-post system, a party now only has to get more votes than any other party in order to win. It benefited Fidesz as the single largest party.

The remaining 93 seats are elected on party lists. Although Fidesz received only 45 percent of total votes, the ruling party could secure a super majority, 67 percent of the seats in the parliament. The change in the electoral law, engineered by the government of Orban, shifted the electoral map as well, eliminating votes of the losing side and creating a disproportionate majoritarian system.

“That makes the final results totally disproportionate,” Lane Scheppele said.

Laszlo Pap said it is capturing that the “Orban-regime is a façade of being a democracy.” He explained that it is difficult to show how Hungary has lost its democratic feature from a legal point of view, because “Fidesz took bits and pieces from electoral laws from countries that are unquestionably democratic.” Those bits and pieces put together, however, “created a monster,” Pap stressed.

Enyadi added that Fidesz is “shocked if anyone complains about this. They say that the various elements of the electoral law exist elsewhere, and so if they are accepted in other countries, then why should they not be acceptable in Hungary?”

Expanding the electorate

Orban did not stop after rewriting the rules of the elections but changed the electorate too. Approximately one million Hungarians living abroad became allowed to mail-in votes. “That happens without any check on the integrity of the voting process,” Lane Scheppele said. “These are overwhelmingly nationalists supporting Fidesz.” Hungary’s population of 10 million increased by 10 percent, with 95 percent of “new citizens” voting for Fidesz.

“At the same time,” Lane Scheppele continued, “it has been nearly impossible for the half million voters whom Fidesz has driven out of the country to vote from abroad. They have to travel to embassies or consulates to vote after they have filled in unforgiving forms and shown mountains of documentation to prove that they are eligible to vote.”

On top of that, Orban controls the election commission that enforces the rules, the courts that hear challenges to those rules and the State Audit Office that monitors campaign spending.

In 2014, Fidesz won 67 percent of the parliamentary seats with 43 percent of the domestic vote. “Orban was able to win because he rigged the rules to win,” Lane Scheppele said.

The elections on April 8 are the second to be held with this structure. According to Lane Scheppele, there is an important difference with 2014: “Now the opposition understands the system better.”

According to French sociologist Maurice Duverger, majoritarian electoral systems like the one in Hungary slowly form a two-party system. Because small political parties are unable to garner 51 percent of the vote, they either form coalitions against a major rival or voters vote for the most powerful contender, creating a two-party political system.

In the case of Hungary, Duverger’s law did its trick. “In the single-member districts, opposition candidates from both left and right are standing aside so that one candidate can go up against the Orban-backed candidate to win the district,” Lane Scheppele said.

Hódmezövásárhely as harbinger?

A similar case of unified opposition happened in the city of Hódmezövásárhely in the southeastern Hungary, where an interim municipal election took place at the end of February this year after the mayor of the town died. Opposition parties worked together by telling their representative candidates to stand aside and rallied behind independent Peter Marki-Zay.

It paid off. Marki-Zay won with 57.5 percent against 41.6 percent for runner-up Fidesz-candidate Zoltan Hegedus. During the last municipal elections held in this city four years ago, Fidesz easily won with a 61 percent majority. The town had been a party stronghold for over two decades.

The loss came as a shock for Orban and his party, especially since Hódmezövásárhely is home to Janos Lazar, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office since 2014 and former mayor of the city. “Hódmezövásárhely was a real earthquake in the Hungarian political landscape,” Lane Scheppele said. “It proved that if the far-right and the left could work together strategically, they could upset Fidesz even in one of its most reliable cities.”

The professor pointed out that it is important to remember that Marki-Zay had been a member of Fidesz for years but had broken from the party. He was locally well-known. “We should not overstate the case and say that this means that the people overwhelmingly back liberalism again. This was less of an ideological shift than it was the people saying no to being ruled by one party without choice. That is something, but not everything.”

The newly elected mayor of Hódmezövásárhely has created a list for 58 of the 106 electoral districts that indicate which candidate people should vote for if they want to upset Fidesz. According to Lane Scheppele, the beauty of this strategy is “that the political parties do not have to coordinate or defer to each other in particular districts if they are too stubborn to do so. The people have a coordination point now: vote for candidate X if you want to get rid of Fidesz.”

Political scientist Enyadi says it is exciting that “one popular person’s endorsement may make a difference.” He points out, however, that the list is published on a website, and that “the likelihood that an uneducated, older person in a small village will hear about this website is very small.”

The strategy might well deprive Orban of his two-thirds majority that allows him to change the constitution at will, according to Lane Scheppele. “Some are even saying that Orban may lose his majority to govern.” Enyadi is less convinced: “It is an interesting initiative, and it may move a couple of percentages to those on the list, but I do not know if that will be enough to change the outcome of the election.”

Lane Scheppele called it a miracle that the far-right is cooperating with the left to bring down the Hungarian prime minister, but there is also a problem with the strategy: “Far-right and left could never govern together.”

Although, “breaking the back of a monopoly is an accomplishment even if one cannot govern afterwards,” Lane Scheppele said. “I think that stripping Orban of his two-thirds majority through which he can change the constitution at will is a major accomplishment, and the most likely result.”

She added that if Orban only has a narrow governing majority after this election, it will be hard for him to strut around claiming that he has the unquestioned support of his people.

“He may have to compromise, something he hates and is not used to. While I still think that it is unlikely Orban will be defeated, I think he will come away from this election wounded and not able to claim that he has a democratic mandate to do whatever he wants.”

The two main parties in opposition that Orban might have to compromise with, are Jobbik, a former far-right party that now presents itself as more towards the center and the Hungarian socialist party MSZP. If the pollsters are right, these two parties will gain around 18 and 13 percent of the votes respectively. Orban’s Fidesz heads for approximately 45 percent of the votes, according to the polls.

The most effective strategy of all to frustrate Fidesz may not be coming from opposition parties, according to Lane Scheppele. “Instead, it may come from Lajos Simicska, Orban’s old buddy. For years, Simicska was the financial genius behind Fidesz. He rather dramatically broke with Orban after the 2014 election and had managed to hang onto a little bit of the media empire he had accumulated.”

Simiscka’s newspaper, the Magyar Nemzet, has been publishing shocking daily exposes of financial shenanigans on the part of Fidesz insiders in the run-up to the election. Two weeks before the elections, the paper revealed how millions of euros from state contracts were laundered through foreign banks on behalf of the corrupt mayor of Debrecen, Hungary’s second largest city. Lane Scheppele imagines that this public demonstration of how corrupt and venal Fidesz politicians are will have a big impact on the elections.

According to Enyadi, Fidesz supporters are already well aware of the serious corruption problems within the government. However, “the Fidesz supporters say that politics and corruption go together by definition. The left was corrupt, the right is corrupt. This is not an issue they think can be turned with choosing either the left, the center or the right,” he said.

The Fidesz-voters consider other issues, like national sovereignty and migration, more important than corruption, Enyadi explained. “Fidesz politicians tell citizens there is no need for them to defend themselves against corruption charges because there are more important things for them to focus on.”

Viktator Orban

Viktor Orban is poised to secure his third term in office as Hungary’s prime minister on Sunday and he is well-known in the West as an “illiberal” man that stands at the nexus of growing division between the European Union’s western and eastern member nations.

The 54 years old Hungarian prime minister, Orban rose to national prominence for his political activism against the communist ruling elite in the 1980s, when the regime was crumbling.

Since his 2010 electoral victory, Orban inspired right-wing populists in his own country as well as in Eastern Europe, such as Poland, pointing to Turkey, China, and Russia as successful economies that are not necessarily democratic or liberal.

His Fidesz party was founded in 1988 as a liberal movement, pandering for votes of younger anti-communist generation and campaigning for parliamentary democracy. In the late 1990s, Orban shifted his party toward the right and winning the elections when he was 35 in 1988. In 2002, he lost his position in elections he described as having been “stolen” from him.

After his second stint in 2010, he would do whatever is necessary to preserve his continued rule. Shortly after he came to power, he changed the constitution and the electoral law that favored his party. The state-run media has already become a government mouthpiece, while other private news outlets were purchased by pro-government businessmen.

Critics call the Hungarian prime minister as “Viktator,” accusing him of transforming the judiciary and strangulating the media. Orban also launched a war against foreign-funded NGOs and fueled anti-Semitism by assailing against U.S. financier and democracy evangelist George Soros.

With corruption allegations resurfacing in last few weeks of the campaign, Orban has avoided public debates with his rivals and didn’t speak to independent media. He addressed his supporters in rallies, with heated and divisive rhetoric, centering his campaign on anti-immigration policies.

Orban pointed to Hungary’s solid economic growth as the government’s primary achievement, warning people that rising wages and low unemployment may disappear if the government changes hands.

Sharp anti-immigrant rhetoric defined campaign

Throughout the campaign, Orban himself tried to distract voters with other matters. He threw himself fully into the campaign, with rhetoric that had become stronger and stronger as the date of the election came closer.

In a speech Orban gave three weeks prior to the elections, the 54-year-old current Hungarian prime minister told a crowd of thousands of supporters that “not only do we want to win an election, but our future too.”

Erika Harris, Professor at the University of Liverpool, said that Orban used to be a “very astute and a fairly liberal politician.” Increasingly his rhetoric, however, is very nationalistic and extremely anti-immigrant, she told The Globe Post. Harris finds it hard to believe the politician is not aware of what he is doing, since “Orban is said to be a sophisticated and very intelligent man.”

One of the reasons he sharpened his rhetoric is to dampen the success of Jobbik, Harris said. “Jobbik’s popularity threatened his own Fidesz party. Orban’s revised stance works very well in Hungary which does not seem to be able to reconcile itself with its diminished status of a relatively small Central European country with a fairly weak economy.”

She gives a historical reason for this: “Hungary is an imperial nation which until 1918 dominated Central Europe as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the First World War, the Empire collapsed and Hungary was ‘punished’ by the Great Powers. In the Peace Treaty of Trianon (June 1920), Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory. The ‘Trianon trauma’ has become a part of the Hungarian national narrative and is very much exploited by Orban.”

In his speech on March 15, Orban warned that if Hungary does not speak out clearly now, “there are those who want to take our country from us. Not with the stroke of a pen, as happened one hundred years ago at Trianon. Now they want us to voluntarily hand it over to foreigners coming from other continents, who do not speak our language, do not respect our culture, our laws or our way of life: people who want to replace what is ours with what is theirs.”

According to Harris, Orban presents himself as “savior and protector of the Hungarian nation.” It allows him to dominate the political agenda by presenting others as unpatriotic, she said. “It is a well-tried strategy. The problem with this strategy is that it legitimizes nationalism as a part of democratic politics. It generates more nationalism and xenophobia.”

Opposition to immigration has been the main theme in Orban’s media appearances since the migrant crisis hit Europe in 2015. A poll conducted by Pew Research Center in the spring of 2016 that compared 10 E.U. countries, showed that roughly eight-in-ten Hungarians believe refugees are a burden because they take jobs and social benefits as a consequence of the government’s rhetoric after 2015. The average among the surveyed countries was just five-in-ten.

A month ago, United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein sparked a row with Budapest, calling Orban“xenophobic and racist,” referring to a speech Orban gave a month prior in which he stated that “we do not want our color… to be mixed in with others.”

Peter Szijjarto, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, reacted later that day, demanding for the High Commissioner’s resignation over his “very inappropriate” and “unacceptable” criticism to the address of Orban.

The anti-immigration stances of the Hungarian government resulted in the building of a fence along the country’s southern borders with Croatia and Serbia in July 2015. Orban also refused to participate in the E.U.’s immigrant quota scheme, in which the bloc compelled member states to accept quotas of immigrants.

Brussels as a scapegoat

According to Peter Kreko, director of the Budapest-based Political Capital Institute, Orban’s government plays a double role within the E.U. “While there is the anti-E.U. rhetoric, when it comes to the official relationship Orban mainly plays by the rules,” he told The Globe Post.

Budapest quarrels with Brussels over the rights of refugees, the rule of law and academic freedom, but “in the European Parliament and the European Council, the Fidesz politicians and Viktor Orban himself are usually following the line,” Kreko explained.

Political scientist Enyadi said that Orban pays very close attention to how far he can go within the bloc. “He will not go beyond what is tolerated by the European elite. He exploits that the E.U. is in crisis and that there is no focus on maintaining high-quality liberal democracies across the E.U.” According to Enyadi, Orban noticed this much earlier than anybody else.

Orban launched a harsh attack against the E.U. in 2014, political scientist Kreko said. “He started a billboard campaign that blames Brussels for practically everything. Brussels is to blame for Brexit and for the economy and refugee crisis. Brussels is the general scapegoat.”

Despite the government’s anti-E.U. stance, a survey commissioned by the European Parliament in October 2017, shows that 72 percent of Hungarians believe their country has benefited from its E.U. membership, 8 percent higher than the E.U. average.

Enyadi called this an interesting fact. “It shows the limits of what Fidesz propaganda can do,” he said. “They are unable to change the positive orientation of the Hungarians towards the E.U.”

However, according to Kreko, “a shift in this public opinion in a pro-Eastern direction can be seen.” He attributes this shift to government campaigns against Brussels and in favor of countries like Russia and China. “But, Hungarians want to belong to the west, and the E.U. is the most important framework that keeps us there.”

Media in Orban’s hand

According to Janos Szeky, editor at Elet es Irodalom, a weekly Hungarian magazine about politics and culture, the campaigns lined out by Fidesz are successful, because “most of the popular media, be it public or private, are under the very strict control of Orban’s government.” There are still non-government-controlled media outlets, such as Elet es Irodalom, but these are under pressure, he told The Globe Post.

The media landscape significantly changed in the past four years, the journalist stated. “One of the two biggest private TV networks was taken by Andy Vajna, a crony of Orban. The largest serious daily, Nepszabadsag, which happened to speak out against the government, was bought up by one of the stooges of the Orban-clan and simply shut down after. All the 18 regional papers have been bought by the Orban-clan’s cronies. The market is gradually eaten up.”

Hungary dangles at the bottom when it comes to press freedom in the E.U., according to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, with only Croatia, Greece and Bulgaria ranking worse.

Journalist Szeky compares the Hungarian media with those in Russia, “with propaganda and disinformation.” He said that this is worrying because it does not leave room for individual thinking.

Political scientist Enyadi said that the government media copy and paste news items from Russian media. “If you consume pro-government media, you think that the real danger to stability and the European culture comes from the West instead of the East.”

During his speech in mid-March, Orban said something that, according to Szeky, “shocked everyone.” In the official translation, it says “after the election, we will seek amends, moral, political and legal amends,” but across the Internet the translation “after the election, we will avenge ourselves, in a moral, political and legal sense” can be found multiple times. Although being vague, Szeky suspects Orban is referring to, among others, the opposition press and investigative journalism platforms that critique and query the government.

One such platform is Direkt36. According to founder Gergo Saling, there are no direct threats coming from the government against journalists of the platform, but “since 2012 there is an obvious estrangement between state institutions, government politicians, and the media,” he told The Globe Post. “The flow of information is very restricted, and most sources have dried up. The basic relationship has become unfriendly and cold.”

He said that businessmen close to or in good relation with Fidesz have occupied huge parts of the media landscape, buying up print newspapers, one of the most popular online portals and commercial television channels. “The state also controls public media. These sources uncritically iterate government messages and more play the role of a very effective propaganda tool or fake news factory than an institution which mission is to inform people,” Saling said.

According to the Hungarian Advertising Association, the state became the biggest advertiser in the media in 2016. Its share has increased since then. “State ads appear all over the media landscape,” Saling said. “The state and the governing party have started to implement a very expansive and somewhat aggressive media strategy by using all means to silence critical outlets and to provide its voters with messages in line with the government’s political strategy.”

State-sponsored ads also become a financial lifeline for pro-government media outlets, another way of keeping them alive and effective.

An investigation by journalists of Direkt36 in 2015, revealed that a company co-owned by Orban’s son-in-law won public procurements funded by the E.U. because the procurements included requirements that could only have been met by the company of Orban’s son-in-law.

According to political scientist Kreko, this case obviously proves that Orban is creating a structure based on nepotism and corruption. “It also fits in the picture of why he hates the E.U. more and more. Building up a structure like this is difficult in the Western institutional framework,” he said.

Hungary strongly rejected to join the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, an independent E.U. body to be established that will investigate and prosecute fraud against E.U. budgets. “Joining would mean that in some cases European prosecutors would investigate, instead of the Hungarian prosecutors,” Kreko explained. “Of course, Orban does not want to join, because the Hungarian prosecutors are in Orban’s pocket. They only launch investigations against opposition figures, never against government figures.”

An illiberal ambition

It demonstrates that Orban rejects further European integration, because “further integration would make it harder for Orban to play his illiberal game,” Kreko said, referring to Orban’s desire to create an illiberal state in Hungary.

The Fidesz leader spoke out about this desire for the first time in July 2014, in what has come to be known as his “illiberal democracy” speech. He gave it at the Balvanyos Summer Free University and Student Camp in Transylvania, a Romanian region with a large Hungarian minority.

“…the new state that we are constructing in Hungary is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state,” Orban said. He suggested that in the future “systems that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracies and perhaps not even democracies” are the ones that will make nations internationally competitive. He praised the political models of countries like China, Russia, and Turkey.

Enyadi said that according to Orban “classical liberalism was a positive cause, but recently went overboard. It started to undermine nation states, and question traditional families and belief in God. And therefore, according to Orban, we need to fight it. In his illiberalism, Orban emphasizes sovereignty and the economic aspects.”

In his “illiberal democracy” speech, Orban said the liberal governments that were in charge after the fall of communism in 1989 were incapable of serving the interests of the nation. He suggested liberalism’s main fault is economic unfeasibility.

In 2010, the economy of Hungary was almost ruined after eight years of the socialist-liberal coalition’s rule, Michal Kowalczyk, Ph.D. student at the Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University, told The Globe Post. According to Kowalczyk, this memory will live on and should ensure the Fidesz-KDNP coalition a parliamentary majority after the elections.

He describes the economic policy of Orban’s government as ‘unorthodox.’ “It is an economic policy without attachment to any specific economic doctrine.”

Kowalczyk explained that Hungary’s economy improved since Orban came into office eight years ago. “In 2010, when Hungary found itself in a deep economic crisis, the unemployment rate was over 11 percent. Currently, it is less than 4 percent. Even more important is that Hungary’s real GDP continues to increase and the budget deficit is decreasing.”

The Fidesz-KDNP government says the reforms have been successful and that the Hungarian economy enjoys prosperity, but the opposition argues that the statistics do not take into account the low living standards and the economic problems of the average Hungarian.

Cracking down on civil society

Political scientist Kreko explains Orban’s methods in establishing his highly desired illiberal state. “If you want a regime like that, you need to distance yourself from the West and forge closer alliances with the East,” he described. “The E.U. and Western alliances dictate a more transparent and more democratic functioning. This is what Orban is going against.”

According to Kreko, Orban needs to rely on international models in order to construct his illiberal state. “He looks at Eastern experiences and uses them directly. The law on NGOs for example completely follows the logic of the Russian foreign agent law. Some paragraphs of the Hungarian law are literally copy-pasted from the Russian version.”

The Hungarian government passed the ‘Law on the Transparency of Foreign-Funded Organizations’last June. It targets NGOs and other civil groups receiving more than €24,000 ($29,500) annually in foreign funds. These organizations have to register themselves with a court as ‘foreign-funded organizations’ and have to declare themselves as such in every publication and every media performance. If the NGOs do not comply, they are threatened to be abolished.

A group of 184 Hungarian NGOs published a statement on the same day the law passed the parliament, calling the law “unnecessary, stigmatizing and harmful.” The NGOs believe that the law “undermines mutual trust in society and questions the right to freedom of expression.”

Amnesty International also expressed its concerns. John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Director for Europe, said that “This latest assault on civil society is aimed at silencing critical voices within the country, has ominous echoes of Russian’s draconian ‘foreign agents’ law, and is a dark day for Hungary.”

Orban’s government argues the law aims at improving transparency and helps to fight money-laundering and financing terrorism. In the speech in which Orban expressed his desire for an illiberal state for the first time, however, he adopted a different tone: “…if I look at the non-governmental world in Hungary… then what I see is that we are dealing with paid political activists. And in addition, these paid political activists are political activists who are being paid by foreigners.”

The Prime Minister finds it difficult to imagine that these foreigners “view such payments as social investments.” According to Orban, it is much more realistic to believe these foreign investors “use this system of instruments to apply influence on Hungarian political life,” he said.

Critics labeled the anti-NGO law as a direct attack on George Soros, a Jewish Hungarian-born U.S. financier, and philanthropist. He is Orban’s archenemy. Soros’ Open Society Foundation supports NGOs in Hungary that promote liberal democracy and open borders in Europe. Orban’s government claims they work with ‘paid political activists’ that threaten Hungary’s sovereignty.

Soros is also the man behind the Budapest-based Central European University (CEU). He founded the school in 1991 to help facilitate the transition from dictatorship to democracy in Central Europe. In April 2017, Orban’s government passed a higher education law designed to shut down the CEU.

Constitutional lawyer Pap said that “the Orban regime from the start clearly departed from constitutionalism and the institutional perception of democracy, but never included any encroachment on fundamental rights and civil liberties.”

He said that this changed with the law on the NGOs and the CEU. “That is a very obvious entry to the realm of liberal democratic decline.”

In December, the European Commission referred Hungary to European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the country’s laws on foreign-funded NGOs and education and Hungary’s refusal of refugee settlement quotas.

Hungary did not seem to be impressed, because six weeks after the Commission referred the country to court, Orban’s government proposed a package of legislation that imposes a tax on organizations that “support illegal migration” and receive funding from abroad. “We would like Hungary to remain a Hungarian country,” can be read on the website especially made for the new legislation called “Stop Soros.”

Orban and his government have been portraying George Soros as public enemy number one for over a year. They claim he plots on flooding Europe with millions of African and Asian immigrants.

Professor Harris said Orban openly claims to build an ‘illiberal’ state, “but wraps it up in dubious claims about protecting the Hungarian nation and the European/Christian civilization. Meanwhile, he is waging war on NGOs, the E.U., immigrants, and exploits fear and anti-Semitism.”

Real victory

Lane Scheppele was until a few weeks ago sure that “Orban would steal this election as he stole the one in 2014.” She said that it is true that Fidesz has been the most popular single party, but that it has also been true for years that Fidesz regularly polls at about one-third support.

“That means that two-thirds of the Hungarian public would not want to see Orban re-elected,” she said. “It has been very hard for that two-thirds to turn its rejection of Orban into an election victory.” Orban was in the past able to succeed because he rigged the rules to win, she continued.

“All of that rule-rigging will be hard to overcome even with solid majorities against Orban, which is why I expect him now to get a majority again. It will be a real victory for the opposition if they can just take away his two-thirds constitutional majority.”


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