The conservative Fidesz Party in Hungary has caused concerns throughout EU and NATO countries since it won a two-thirds super-majority in the Hungarian Parliament in 2010.   The party is militantly nationalistic, and the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been accused of restricting freedom of the press and of speech, and has maintained disconcertingly close ties with Russia.  The super-majority enabled Orban’s government to pass legislation with relative facility, and Fidesz’ loss of a seat in a by-election last Sunday will make this more difficult as they no longer have two-thirds of the seats in Parliament.  In addition, it should prevent the government from changing the country’s constitution. 

 

The conservative Fidesz Party in Hungary has caused concerns throughout EU and NATO countries since it won a two-thirds super-majority in the Hungarian Parliament in 2010.   The party is militantly nationalistic, and the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been accused of restricting freedom of the press and of speech, and has maintained disconcertingly close ties with Russia.  The super-majority enabled Orban’s government to pass legislation with relative facility, and Fidesz’ loss of a seat in a by-election last Sunday will make this more difficult as they no longer have two-thirds of the seats in Parliament.  In addition, it should prevent the government from changing the country’s constitution. 

Pundits in Hungary believe that the by-election was a mini-referendum of Orban’s government and a reflection of his lessening popularity. The district had voted for Fidesz candidates in three of the four previous elections. The Prime Minister’s popularity has been impacted by a number of issues both domestic and international.  Domestically, a plan to tax internet use led to wide street protests and the government was forced to back down.  Other domestic issues include a perceived crackdown on non-governmental organizations and decreasing freedom of the press.  Over the past three years Freedom House changed Hungary’s press ranking from “free” to “partly free” due to press restrictions passed by the Fidesz Party including the creation of a political Media Council which is charged with content regulation and has the ability to nominate the heads of all public media, as well as the creation of a National Data Protection Agency, whose head is nominated by Orban.

Internationally, both the US and Norway have made allegations of corruption against the Orban government.  The US, for example, blacklisted six Hungarian officials last year over corruption.  In addition, the EU and the US are concerned about Hungary’s strong ties to Russia.  Orban met twice with Putin in the last year.  His second meeting was held on February 17, 2015 and Putin used it as an occasion to blame Ukraine for the ongoing conflict.  After the meeting, Prime Minister Orban announced that the European Commission’s plan to set up an energy alliance to analyze EU member state’s energy trade deals with Russia would, “hinder national sovereignty” and that Hungary would oppose it.  In addition, he made a commitment to stop selling Russian gas to Ukraine at the discounted price, which Hungary receives, and to instead sell it at the market price.

These ties have also damaged Orban at home.  Though the anti-Russia protests were not as large as those against the internet tax, they did have an impact as did the loss of one of Orban’s most important supporters, media magnate Lajos Simicska.  Simikska broke ties with Fidesz, along with seven of his media editors and the head of one of his TV stations, due to Orban’s continued close relations with Russia. 

Fidesz nonetheless remains the most popular party in Hungary, even if its popularity has decreased by 14% since October, and it holds 131 out of 199 seats in Parliament.  Since the next election is in 2018 Orban’s government still has time to push through legislation, even without the super-majority.  The EU and the US should continue pressuring the country to change its stance towards Russia and stop restricting civil liberties domestically as well as engage with activists within Hungary. 

The recent election, protests, and polls show that Orban’s policies have begun weighing on the Hungarian people, and the recent protests which stopped the imposition of the internet tax may also give them the impetus to push back more frequently against the government.