Elections in Hungary and the future of Europe

Parliamentary elections will be held on April 3 in Hungary. Europeanists and the left hope Orbán will finally be unseated by the United opposition. That seemed like a likely possibility till recently, but the 6-party alliance and its independent candidate have been successfully messing things up. Disunited and unfocused they’ve failed to use Orban’s connections to Putin against him. Instead Orbán has successfully painted his neutralism as the safer bet.

It’s not impossible for Orbán to be defeated but chances have been greatly reduced. Even when it seemed like Orbán would be defeated, it was clear his party would still have more than 1/3 of the seats and be able to block changes to the constitution enacted by Orbán a decade ago. The opposition risked a constitutional crisis by promising to illegally enact a new constitution anyways by means of a referendum. A pure majoritarian coup.

Another victory by Orbán ironically averts this threat against the rule of law. At the same time, it seems unlikely he’ll get a 2/3 majority again, meaning he can no longer amend the constitution or appoint pure partisans to the constitutional court. Maybe this could actually lead to some stability in Hungary.

A victory for Hungary will be good for the United Right (Law and Justice led) government in Poland, even though relations between them and Hungary have cooled because of Russia. Poland is currently trying to restore good relations with the EU, but if Orbán wins again, this can happen on their terms. Since Poland can threaten to team up with Hungary again any time. Poland and Hungary can still veto sanctions against the other state if one them is threatened.

More importantly if the united opposition crashes and burns in Hungary, this might make the opposition parties in Poland think twice of trying their luck there.

This election is also viewed as a referendum on Orbán’s illiberal democracy. A controversial alternative to Western Liberal Democracy on the one hand and the consolidating dictatorship in Russia on the other. Orbán winning a fourth consecutive term will also be exceptional for an EU state. He’ll almost certainly be prime minister for consecutive 16 years if he wins again.

The concept of illiberal democracy might be strengthened across Eastern and Central Europe if Orbán triumphs over domestic and international opposition. It might inspire his supporters and imitators, perhaps even new imitators, in Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia, Czech or Romania. It might popularize a third position trend.

Finally, Hungary is holding a referendum at the same time about a recent law prohibiting various forms of sex education and content involving LGBT topics being shown to minors. This law has been compared to Russia’s so called ‘gay propaganda ban’ and is the first such law in a Western country since at least 2003. As such a referendum victory would be a defeat for an increasing progressive movement within the EU and solidify conservative tendencies across Eastern Europe.

Recently Europeanists have become more fanatical regarding not just LGBT topics but also abortion, which Macron wants to define as a human right (even though Ireland was allowed to keep its near total abortion ban and Malta still has one). A reactionary tendency in Poland seems to have scared progressives. A decisive double victory for Orbán will be a roadblock to this agenda and a boost for all isolationist nationalists across Europe.

But above all, I hope that it might make the democratic opposition in Poland think twice about further polarization and weaponization of the rule of law.

Johan van Schaik

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