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Political situation in Hungary: What to expect after the Fidesz victory in parliamentary elections?
Europa kijkt gespannen toe hoe de politieke situatie in Hongarije zich ontwikkelt sinds de verkiezingen van 8 april 2018. De overtuigende overwinning van de centrumrechtse partij Fidesz, zal de relatie met Europa waarschijnlijk niet ten goede komen. Terwijl premier Orban de rechtsstaat in Hongarije verder inperkt, zal de EU opzoek moeten naar effectieve methoden om democratische waarden in Hongarije te waarborgen.
Following parliamentary elections in Hungary on the 8th of April 2018, the center-right Fidesz party secured a third consecutive four-year mandate and a two-third parliamentary majority. With a 70.2 percent voter turnout, Fidesz-KDNP received 48 percent of the votes in the one-round parliamentary elections. This has translated into 133 parliamentary seats out of the total 199 seats. The supermajority enables an unimpeded rule by the Fidesz-KDNP, including the possibility to modify the Fundamental Law.
The election results raise important questions about the political situation in Hungary and its relation with Europe. This contribution will address three of these: How can the recent election result be interpreted? What can Europe expect from the new Hungarian Government? And, how will the relationship between Hungary and the EU further develop?
How can the recent election result be interpreted?
Three important factors appear to have contributed to the election results. A first possible explanation is the success of the powerful anti-immigration, anti-European, and anti-elitist rhetoric. The Fidesz campaign focused primarily on the issue of migration. Polarizing and questionable election posters either displayed the most dramatic images from 2015, when the refugee crisis was at its peak, or portrayed opposition politicians as the puppets of the billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Coupled with the domination of state media and propelled by redefined election laws,  favoring Fidesz, this proved a very effective tool.
A second factor appears to be the difficulty of uniting the opposition parties. A notable development of the April 8 elections was the strategic cross-voting among opposition party supporters in individual districts. Several websites listed the most-likely opposition candidate to win against the Fidesz candidate. The results are visible in Budapest where in 12 districts opposition candidates won, as opposed to 6 wins by Fidesz-KDNP. However, this outcome further widens the divide between the capital and the rest of the country. At the same time, the “Hungary first” campaign of Fidesz raised constitutional concerns on account of blurring the line between official government communication and party communication.
A third factor appears to be the economic development registered in Hungary since Fidesz-KDNP won parliamentary elections in 2010. According to official Governmental data, unemployment is down to 3.8 percent from 11.9 percent in 2009; the growth in gross domestic product was 4.4 percent in 2017, in contrast with minus 7.9 percent in 2009. The Government emphasizes that real wages have increased by 44 percent since 2014 and that Hungary introduced the lowest corporate tax in the European Union at 9 percent. Part of the votes could be seen as a support for these economic developments.
What can Europe expect from the new Hungarian Government?
In light of the election results, a main expectation can be the continuation of building the project of an “illiberal democracy.” This project has so far generated an extreme pressure for the rule of law in Hungary; openly resisting European Union values, disregarding fundamental rights and eliminating critical voices from public debate. The means are many and flexible. They include overarching judicial reforms, dominating the press, interfering with academic freedom, and attacking the work of non-governmental organisations. This list is not complete.
With the third parliamentary mandate it can be expected that these measures will continue. Indeed, few days after the elections, one pro-government newspaper published a blacklist containing the name of 200 individuals – labeled as “the people (mercenaries) of Soros.” The list included NGO leaders, professors at the Central European University and journalists. At the time of writing, the Central European University is preparing to open a campus in Vienna. Furthermore, the Open Society Foundation – one of the NGO’s that played a key role in securing fundamental rights, minority rights and the rule of law in Hungary since the fall of communism – announced its relocation to Berlin.
How will the relationship between Hungary and the EU further develop?Further tensions can be expected concerning the three main clashing points between Hungary and the European Union: upholding fundamental values of the European Union, the allocation of asylum seekers, and corruption. Based on previous exchange, a main challenge is how to effectively address cosmetic legal changes introduced in Hungary, which seem to respond to concerns raised by EU institutions, while continuing to undermine the rule-of-law under the guise of carefully crafted legalism. It remains to be seen how upcoming mechanisms and a possible Article 7 TEU procedure on the basis of the Sargentini report can effectively address this problem; or whether other enforcement approaches appear necessary.
Overall, the current political situation in Hungary warrants context-specific understanding of the specific problems and rule-of-law challenges as well as continued support for the values, institutions and individuals under threat.