Hungarian Orban prepares for a difficult mandate after a landslide victory in the elections | Election News
The conservative nationalist party Fidesz won the Hungarian general elections on April 3, securing a fourth consecutive mandate for its leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
However, the government appears poised for a delicate tenure, with growing challenges to its core economic and foreign policies.
Although the opposition formed an alliance aimed at overthrowing the Hungarian strongman after 12 years, according to the preliminary tally, Fidesz won around 53% of the vote – its biggest margin of victory since 2010.
That gives Orban another supermajority, with 135 of the 199 seats in parliament.
“We have won a victory so big that you can see it from the moon, and you can certainly see it from Brussels,” Orban said in an upbeat victory speech.
The six-party United for Hungary alliance flopped, winning just 56 seats. Before the vote, questions about the unity of the bloc and the performance of its candidate for Prime Minister Peter Marki-Zay had increased.
Our homeland has also crossed the 5% threshold to enter parliament, and the far-right party is likely to support many populist and illiberal political measures by Fidesz.
Fidesz’s success at the polls over the years has been bolstered by Orban’s fiery rhetoric regarding migrants and minorities. However, a referendum held alongside the vote calling for the approval of controversial legislation targeting LGBTQ rights fell short of the turnout threshold.
Budapest has also waged a fierce campaign against the “globalist elite” and the European Union, which the prime minister says is trying to usurp Hungarian sovereignty and European Christian culture.
The opposition and many Brussels residents accuse Fidesz of having set up a network of corruption intended to steal the billions of funds that Hungary receives from the EU.
The party’s supermajority, which allows it to change the constitution, has been used to overhaul the judiciary and electoral systems and revamp the media landscape.
Many opposition voices inside and outside Hungary complain that the vote was not free and fair. In an unprecedented step for an EU member state, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has set up a comprehensive voting monitoring mission.
“We knew in advance that it would be an extremely uneven fight,” said Marki-Zay as he conceded defeat. “We do not dispute that Fidesz won this election. That this election was democratic and free is, of course, something we continue to dispute. »
However, as Orban’s victory speech illustrates, he was buoyed by the better-than-expected result against the unified opposition.
This has raised concerns that a further capture of Hungarian state institutions and a conflict with the EU are on the cards.
“The big election win vindicates his fiery rhetoric and anti-Brussels stance,” Andrius Tursa, political risk consultant at consultancy Teneo Intelligence, told Al Jazeera.
The European Commission declined to comment on the election.
However, amid the war in Ukraine – which dominated the latter part of the election campaign – Orban will have a lot to think about regarding his populist economic policies and cynically ambiguous foreign policy as he begins his new term.
Generous social assistance, pensions and tax breaks, and capped energy prices have been key to Fidesz’s popularity over the years.
Weaker economic activity and higher energy prices resulting from the Russian invasion are expected to force some belt-tightening as the budget is already under pressure.
Orban could therefore seek to offer a compromise to the EU, which withholds 7.2 billion euros ($7.9 billion) in funding. However, it may be too late.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the EU, Orban has fallen out with Poland’s nationalist government, which vehemently opposes the Kremlin.
While the couple for years ignored that elephant in the room, Orban’s refusal to break with Moscow despite his invasion of neighboring Ukraine appears to have caused a deep crack in relations with Warsaw.
Orban’s spokesman, Zoltan Kovacs, told Al Jazeera that Hungary would not give in to “unacceptable blackmail” from Poland.
In recent years, Budapest and Warsaw have blocked EU efforts to bring them up to democratic standards. However, without Poland’s support, Hungary is at risk.
Member of the European Parliament Daniel Freund says the European Commission could start its long-awaited rule of law mechanism as early as this week, which could anchor funding for Hungary. Poland, he adds, should not suffer the same fate.
Orban’s resistance to calls for Hungary to offer enthusiastic support to Ukraine has deepened his isolation from all of Hungary’s EU and NATO partners and raised new suspicions about his ambiguous foreign policy. .
Putin was quick to congratulate Orban, to express the hope of building a “partnership”.
However, experts on both sides of the fence agree that Hungary’s leader will have to adjust his government’s outlook to accommodate the new realities the war has brought.
EU and NATO partners have for years harbored a deep mistrust of Hungary’s ties with Russia and China.
“Hungary is a trusted partner of NATO, at least officially,” said Attila Mesterhazy, a former candidate for prime minister of the Socialist Party and now vice-president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
“But Fidesz now realizes that refusing to adjust its foreign policy would be political suicide, and that it will not be able to stay as close to Russia.”
But despite the challenges Fidesz faces in its new term, it won’t necessarily lead Hungary back to the mainstream or to the West, observers warn.
Instead, faced with the need to reduce its financial incentives to supporters, Fidesz at home may well redouble its efforts on symbolic issues, including an even tougher approach to issues of culture war or minorities.
“To feed the soul instead of the stomach,” Mesterhazy said.
Orban clearly appreciates that he has become an icon of the global far-right, and his victory will help bolster a political trend that has struggled with the coronavirus pandemic, the downfall of former US President Donald Trump and now the onslaught of Russia against Ukraine.
Meanwhile, with the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia all but sabotaging the Visegrad Four group, which Orban spent so many years trying to turn into an illiberal bloc, some expect the leader Hungarian is accelerating its efforts to build bridges in other parts of Central and Eastern Europe.
Considering potential populist allies among EU candidates, Orban has spent the past few years expanding his influence in the Western Balkans – a region also plagued by Russian efforts to gain influence – through investments in assets and allies. keys.
Faced with a lack of friends within the EU, this strategy is likely to gain momentum, says a political lobbyist who has worked closely with the government.
“Orban will be looking for new friends internationally,” he said. “He will feel he has more room to maneuver and will accelerate his push south.”