The world's entire attention is focused on Ukraine as the war continues, with the latest photographs showing Russia committing war crimes by massacring people. Yet, another threat to European democracy has deepened. The victory of Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian Prime Minister, in the national parliamentary election once again demonstrated the emergence of right-wing populism in Europe.
The parliamentary election took place on 3 April 2022, with the incumbent Prime Minister and his party, the Fidesz-KDNP, securing a majority vote in its recent election. The ruling party secured 54% of the votes, while the opposition only obtained 34%. In the attempt to defeat the Fidesz party, opposition parties had united into the United for Hungary alliance, with Péter Márki-Zay as the leader. Yet, years of effort is down in drain, and Orbán continues to rule with a strong mandate.
First elected in 2010, the incumbent Prime Minister ruled Hungary for 22 years. Under his office, freedom of the press was replaced with state-sponsored media, while individual journalists and independent news companies were under heavy scrutiny. By reinforcing the governing party’s control, its publicity and broadcasting platform drastically outmatched the opposition. Moreover, the ruling party has dismantled its judicial system. It introduced a new administrative court to rule cases regarding human rights. Though the system may be common in Europe, the Hungarian Head of Judiciary retains the power to decide whom to judge cases. It reflects a strong political involvement in the judiciary system, a backsliding in the separation of power and judicial independence. According to the Freedom House Index, Hungary has dropped from “Free” to “Partly free”. The once democratic but now hybrid regime has become a great challenge to European unity. Some have even argued Hungary has now unaligned with the European Union’s fundamental principle of democracy.
Having a strong anti-EU sentiment, the country has been openly against its social and immigration policies. Most importantly, it has consistently opposed the Union’s decision. Instead, it often supports its rivals. The Prime Minister has long opted for a pro-Eastern doctrine, closely working with Russia and China. Hungary has collaborated with the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. The government vetoed an EU statement to criticize China's human rights abuses. Also, it permitted Fudan university, a Shanghai-based Chinese university, to open its first overseas campus in Budapest. In protest, Mayor Gergely Karacsony renamed numerous streets around the Chinese embassy to Free Hong Kong Road, Uyghur Martyrs’ Road, Dalai Lama Road, and more, referencing issues banned in China.
As for Russia, Orbán shares a similar attitude to the authoritarian regime. Despite the tragic 1956 Hungarian revolution with bloody Soviet suppression, Hungary has maintained close relations in the post-cold war era. Putin’s traditional Christian beliefs and the image of a 'strong man' are admired by the Hungarian leader and many right-wing supporters. The government remains close with the Kremlin. In months leading up to the Russian invasion, Orbán was reluctant to share Western concerns, despite Putin mobilizing its troops in Belarus and the Ukrainian borders. The government highlighted that the country has been getting cheaper Russian gas and oil under its long-term contract with Russia. As a country relying more than half of its energy on Russia, the public also sympathized with Orbán’s decision. With Russia finally invaded after months of build-up, the Hungarian government did not denounce Putin’s action. Indeed, it has signed off on a sanctions package alongside the EU, but it refused to go further in supporting the Ukrainian war effort. By contrast, most post-soviet states have welcomed refugees; whilst supplying Ukraine’s army with weapons and equipment.
To summarise, the victory of Viktor Orbán in Hungary represents the long-term challenge that exists in the European Union. While the war in Ukraine continues to threaten European security, it is significant not to overlook the emergence of illiberal democracy and populist country. Even if the governing party won the majority votes in Hungary, the country's future and its position and standing on the continent; have been compromised by its abuse of democratic procedures.
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