In Depth

Hungary gears up for election: what is at stake?

Another victory for Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s far-right Fidesz party likely to spell trouble for the EU

Voters in Hungary will go to the polls for a parliamentary election this weekend, with Viktor Orban poised to clinch a third consecutive term as Prime Minister.

His nationalist Fidesz party is hoping to achieve the two-thirds majority required to make constitutional changes, which would have wide-ranging consequences for Hungarian society and European unity.

What do the polls say?

Most opinion polls put Orban’s party firmly in the lead ahead of Sunday’s vote, though there is a slim chance that opposition supporters could vote tactically to push Fidesz into a minority and create an unprecedented hung parliament, Reuters reports.

The opposition was given a boost earlier this year after the Fidesz party suffered a surprise by-election loss at the hands of an independent candidate in the city of Hodmezovasarhely in February. A corruption scandal involving Orban’s son-in-law also appears to have put off some voters.

But a defeat in this week’s vote still seems unlikely, as the ruling party has amended election rules to improve its chances against a fragmented leftist opposition and the right-wing Jobbik party, Reuters adds.

Why is Orban likely to win?

Several years of moderate economic growth, as well a series of recent financial giveaways, including a public pension hike, utility bill cuts, and a minimum wage increase have helped shore up support for Orban’s party, Politico reports.

But the Prime Minister’s popularity is also the result of his boldness in appealing to “the long dormant anti-Western resentment,” in Hungary, Gaspar M. Tamas, a philosopher and professor at the Budapest-based Central European University, told the website.

Voters also appear keen to support his tough anti-immigration stance, under which Orban’s government erected barbed wire fences along Hungary's borders during the height of the migrant crisis and vehemently oppose the EU’s refugee quota scheme.

“We do not want to be a diverse country,” Orban said in February. “Migration and mass population movement are bad, dangerous things which we want no part of.”

What impact will it have?

Activists warn that a resounding victory in this week’s election will grant Orban’s party further powers to curb human rights at home.  

Earlier this year, the Fidesz party launched new legislation to block immigration and undermine George Soros, the American-Hungarian billionaire whose philanthropy supports open borders in eastern Europe.

“European leaders, who have watched as Hungary crossed red line after red line, have to finally take concrete action to stop this assault on civil society,” Amnesty International said in response to the move.  

What about in Europe?

As a leading opponent of efforts to deepen the bloc’s integration, Orban has long been at odds with many of his EU counterparts. However, his nationalist, anti-Western stance has helped forge strong ties with Poland and the Czech Republic, posing a growing threat to European unity.

“In the EU’s political hierarchy, Orban has often been cast as an unruly outsider — a loud, populist voice peripheral to the mainstream, and peripheral to real power,” says The New York Times. “But he is now possibly the bloc’s greatest political challenge.”

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