BUDAPEST - Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s fourth-term victory threatens to erode democracy further in Hungary, but he needs to tread a careful path with Brussels to secure much-needed EU funds, analysts said Monday.
His ruling Fidesz party extended its parliamentary majority by two seats in Sunday’s general election with turnout at near record levels, trouncing a united opposition in an election overshadowed by Russia’s war in neighbouring Ukraine.
An international mission of observers said the vote was “marred by the absence of a level playing field”, citing deficiencies that included the way in which the media landscape was slanted towards Fidesz and a lack of transparency in campaign financing.
But electoral victory, on top of 12 consecutive years in power, will make Orban “extremely confident”, said analyst Patrik Szicherle of Political Capital.
“This victory shows Fidesz that they need not change course, he can continue constructing his illiberal political system,” he told AFP.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, increasingly isolated over the war in Ukraine, congratulated Orban on Monday and said he hoped to develop further Moscow’s ties with Budapest.
The Hungarian nationalist has been a rare Putin ally in Europe and in NATO, even if diplomatically he has fallen broadly into line with EU support for Kyiv over the war.
Orban, 58, has ruled the EU nation in central Europe with a tight grip since 2010, taking control of the judiciary and other institutions and cracking down on civil liberties, raising alarm in Brussels.
“We have won a great victory -- a victory so great you can perhaps see it from the moon and certainly from Brussels,” Orban told jubilant supporters in a victory speech late Sunday that needled the European Union.
“Conservative politics has won, this is not the past, this is the Europe of the future.”
Orban has presided over repeated confrontations with the European Union, including over the neutering of the press and judiciary, and measures targeting the LGBTQ community.
With almost all the votes counted, Fidesz won 53 percent of the vote compared to 35 percent for the opposition coalition, according to the national election office.
As a result, Fidesz and its Christian democratic partner KDNP retains its two-thirds majority in parliament with 135 seats -- two more than in the outgoing legislature.
“I’m still savouring this victory,” Fidesz MEP Balazs Hidveghi told AFP. “We didn’t expect such a big win,” he conceded.
The far-right Mi Hazank party also surpassed expectations and will now enter parliament for the first time, after crossing the five-percent minimum threshold.
Marta Pardavi of rights group Hungary Helsinki Committee said the results were “a disaster for Hungarian democracy”.
“We see from other countries how autocrats do not go into reverse mode on their own,” she told AFP.
Analysts say Orban is likely to remain a thorn in the side of Brussels but seek a compromise to unlock billions of euros of pandemic post recovery funds.
Brussels has not released the funds to Hungary amid a row about rule-of-law issues and has set up an unprecedented mechanism to slash funds to EU members that flout democratic standards.
“Confrontation with Brussels, at least on the rhetorical level, is ingrained into the political strategy of Fidesz. It will not disappear,” Szicherle said.
Gabor Gyori of Policy Solutions said Hungary needed to secure the Brussels funds.
“In part because of the massive amount of election spending and in part because of the uncertain economic environment he’s going to need financial support from the European Union more even than he needed before,” Gyori said.
Orban’s opponent, conservative Peter Marki-Zay, 49, who lost even in his own district, said the election had been “an unequal fight” given government control of public media.
Orban has insisted the vote was fair.
One failure for Orban, however was that a referendum on what Fidesz calls a “child protection” law banning the portrayal of LGBTQ people to under-18s, failed to garner the requisite votes.
But it was a fig-leaf referendum only as the law was already introduced last year.
Less than half of all general election voters cast valid ballots in the referendum.
Pardavi said on that point alone she was “very happy”.