Orban’s Reelection: Another Ode to Strongman Populism
Following the April 8th Hungarian national election, incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Orban secured a surprising majority victory for himself in reclaiming his seat as the head of the government under the banner of his party Fidesz. Ringing in his third consecutive term, Orban posits himself as another steadfast figure in the sweeping trend of nationalistic populism overtaking many democracies across the North Atlantic region.
Strikingly opposed to what many in the progressive capital of Budapest hoped for, Orban succeeded in winning a two-thirds majority of the Hungarian parliamentary seats. His success is largely owed to the continuing voter support in rural Hungary. This has been Orban’s enduring constituency throughout his political career. Budapest and three other major cities were the sole regions where opposition candidates prevailed in the popular vote. However, the rural regions’ outcries have continued to outweigh those of the capital and of other areas seeking political overhaul. This is mainly due to Orban’s sensationalized campaign tactics of inciting nationalist xenophobia and of funneling tailored information via state-controlled media.
The active hand that the incumbent Fidesz party has played in fashioning the nature of Hungarian democracy largely contributed to Orban’s recent win. Amongst amendments to the country’s constitution and electoral laws, the so-called “Media Bubble” that Orban has constructed paved his path to victory. During its previous tenure in government, the Fidesz party systematically managed to isolate the media channels accessible to residents of rural Hungary, cultivating these citizens with “news” that exclusively served the interests of Orban and Fidesz.
And the reality of this manipulation is quite real and effective towards furthering Orban’s political whims. Quoted in Foreign Policy, Andras Nyirati, the head of a human rights NGO in the opposition supporting city of Pecs, said that “in small towns or villages the people rarely have access to media other than pro-governmental.” Anyone who deviates from the Fidesz party’s information campaign ultimately incriminates themselves to be a scapegoat for the government’s opposition defamation and is lambasted as anti-Hungarian, often putting their careers and livelihood on the line in the process. Thus, a culture of fear and strategic coercion characterizes the nature of Hungarian politics, laying an unsettling tone for their electoral integrity and efficacy.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe delivers a similar verdict on the conduct of the recent Hungarian elections, heavily noting that there has existed a presiding atmosphere of rhetoric that was found to be “intimidating,” “xenophobic,” and “hostile” drawing on national resentment towards migrants and outside Western influence. Orban successfully generated an anti-immigration platform in his favor, accusing his opponents as fostering a “‘Muslim invasion’” which only he and the Fidesz party alone were able to conquer and keep at bay in order to protect the country’s predominant Christian population.
The divisive social context in which Orban secured his win does not look optimistic for progressives who oppose his plans for a Hungarian ‘illiberal democracy.’ However, hope for Orban’s rivals may rest in the fracturing facade of his financial corruption permeating many cities across the country. If enough awareness can be generated to facilitate transparent information to the many areas of Hungary unaware of the government’s overtaking financial instability, potentially support can be flipped to the opposition. Yet, at the present moment Orban and Fidesz retain a firm grip on the vast majority of the Hungarian population’s political and social consciousness as they move into their next four year term in office.