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A stunning victory gives Viktor Orban a chance to tighten his grip on Hungary

A crushing election victory via a united opposition has brought Viktor Orban a fourth consecutive term as Hungarian prime minister – and delivered another parliamentary supermajority capable of changing constitutional rules and entrenching his conservative nationalist ideology in civil society and business.

It also puts Budapest on a renewed collision course with Brussels over access to EU funding, with the European Commission preparing to confront Hungary with new trials over its corruption, violations of the rule of law and further weakening of democratic standards. The EU continues to block approval of €7 billion in pandemic recovery funds for Hungary.

According to preliminary results, Fidesz won 135 seats, more than a two-thirds majority in parliament, with 56 seats going to the unified opposition Predicting Tight Competition.

Orban delighted in what he saw as justification in his victory speech on Sunday night, insisting what he called “illiberal democracy” was the way forward for Europe.

“The whole world was able to see the victory of Christian democratic politics, conservative politics, civic politics and patriotic politics here in Budapest tonight,” he said. “Our message to Europe is: This is not the past, this is the future, our common European future.”

Orban has established tight administrative and ideological control over much of the media, higher education and cultural institutions. He did not present a program for his election campaign.

A priority now may be to increase centralized oversight of local government, which is seen as inefficient. The prime minister has not given up on the idea either Repurchase of the country’s main airport in Budapest, a project that was postponed last year. Food retailing, which is mostly in the hands of western multinationals, could also be transferred to domestic owners.

This follows similar moves in areas such as banking, energy and telecoms, and the media. In every sector, the government used punitive taxes and regulations or launched takeovers to hold its allies accountable.

Laszlo Toroczkai, leader of Mi Hazank, speaks on Sunday evening
Laszlo Toroczkai, leader of Mi Hazank, speaks on Sunday evening © Tamas Kovacs/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Another result of Sunday’s election was that the new far-right party Mi Hazank, “Our Homeland”, which stood outside the unified opposition bloc, entered parliament for the first time, which is likely to keep culture war issues high on Orban’s agenda Agenda.

Mi Hazank, an anti-immigration offshoot of the Jobbik party who joined the coalition, helped inspire Orban’s anti-LGBTQ campaign, which includes a law banning the promotion of same-sex couples in schools, equating it with pedophilia , leading to a rift with the EU . Mi Hazank’s program also includes school segregation for the Roma minority and a crackdown on “Roma crime”.

Orban is also likely to continue his “disruptive diplomacy” after the opposition failed to capitalize on his cordial relations with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. Orban is the only EU leader who has declined to criticize Putin’s invasion of Ukraine despite backing EU sanctions against Moscow.

In his victory speech, the Hungarian leader shot at President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, who has criticized him for not condemning the war. Putin was among the first to congratulate Orban on his victory.

Orban’s proximity to Moscow has created huge tensions with Hungary’s neighbors, particularly Poland, which has so far backed Budapest in many of its disputes with the EU.

But Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s de facto leader, said Monday that despite clear disagreements over the Ukraine war, the alliance is unbroken.

“We are critical of Hungary’s attitude and hope that it will become more involved,” Kaczynski said in an interview with the weekly magazine Sieci. “But that does not mean that we should give up cooperation in areas that are still conceivable. . . There is no way we are going to cut ties.”

A participant holds a placard depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin in front of the parliament building in Budapest June 14, 2021 during a demonstration against the Hungarian government's draft law banning the'promotion' of homosexuality and gender reassignment surgery
Orban’s proximity to Moscow has fueled tensions © Gergele Besenyei/AFP/Getty Images

Warsaw and Budapest have relied on each other to block EU disciplinary procedures for member states that flout democratic or fundamental standards.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe criticized the unfair electoral advantage given to Orban in the election campaign, saying there was a “pervasive overlap between ruling coalition and government”.

The Commission was again urged by MEPs on Monday to trigger the EU’s “conditionality mechanism” which would allow it to block all EU payments to Budapest.

“There was a pause before the elections, in line with our policy of not interfering in national democratic processes,” said an EU official. “But now we will look more closely and not hesitate to act or trigger conditionality mechanisms when the conditions are met.”

Another view would be that after the election, Orban may feel more able to make concessions to get the $7bn.

“Orban will demand that the EU pay what Hungary is due, and relatively soon,” said Agoston Mraz, director of the Nezopont Institute, a pro-government think tank.

“An agreement is quite likely,” he predicted. “It would be self-destructive to withhold the money from the EU at a time when it needs to show unity in its response to the Russians.”

https://www.ft.com/content/406ed00d-203f-4081-9e8b-a63280b0d7da A stunning victory gives Viktor Orban a chance to tighten his grip on Hungary

Adam Bradshaw

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