Orban Scores Crushing Hungarian Win in Boost to EU Populists

Zoltan Simon, Martin Eder — Bloomberg April 8, 2018


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban scored a crushing election victory to clinch a fourth term in a boost to Europe’s populist forces that are challenging the European Union’s multi-cultural, democratic values.

Orban’s Fidesz party was on track to repeat the two-thirds majority it won in the country’s previous two elections, allowing it to change any law without opposition support. His anti-immigration stance allowed him to eclipse a fractured opposition that decried the authoritarian approach of Orban, who’s become a role model for anti-establishment parties from Italy to Poland.

“We want to call out what’s ailing this continent,” Orban told Echo TV after claiming victory in Sunday’s election. “We don’t want to go against Europe and the EU, we want Europe and the EU to be strong and successful. But before that, we need to be honest about what’s hurting us.”

The victory opens the way for Orban, 54, to become Hungary’s longest-serving prime minister and, if he finishes his term, to rule the country of 10 million for half of its post-communist existence. A supermajority may embolden policies that have included cracking down on civil society and squeezing media and the courts, which have put Orban at odds with the EU. His unapologetically anti-Muslim stance may also act as a model for others in Europe.

“Orban won this election on his anti-immigrant campaign, and populist parties across Europe will likely take notice of this winning formula,” said political analyst Tamas Boros of the Policy Solutions think tank in Budapest. “The strong mandate will likely also give Orban ammunition for his fights within the EU.”

Fidesz won 133 of parliament’s 199 seats, according to results with almost 99 percent of votes counted, the same number as four years ago.

Orban’s warning that Muslim immigrants would “overrun” Europe follows gains made by like-minded parties across the continent over the past year, including Austria’s Freedom Party and the League and the Five Star Movement in Italy. Hungary, like its other central European peers, has no significant Muslim population. The European Parliament is set to vote later this year on whether it should strip Budapest of its EU voting rights over backsliding on democracy.

“We want Hungary to remain a Hungarian country,” Orban said. “We have a culture, which we call a Christian culture. This is how we live our lives. This is our world, our culture, our lifestyle. These are our life principles. We want to defend these and we don’t want others to change them.”

Fidesz Dominance

After building a fence on Hungary’s southern border to keep out refugees, Orban focused his campaign on billionaire George Soros, saying the pro-democracy campaigner led a global network working to spread immigrants to the western world. Orban’s cabinet has vowed to approve a “Stop Soros” legislation package after the election. Soros rejects the accusations and his Open Society Foundation said the measures would “criminalize” civil society.

Orban, who is one of the EU’s strongest supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin, also pledged to hold opposition parties “morally, politically and legally” responsible, following reports from media outlets and non-government organizations alleging state graft. While the ruling party has denied the accusations, in the past four years, Hungary tumbled to 66th place in Transparency International’s annual survey of perceived corruption, the second-worst in the EU, from 48th.

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