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Election in Hungary: Dire Days in Budapest

“It always makes one smile when one sees masses of people demonstrating because of a supposed lack of democracy.”

Those were the words Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had to offer in light of the massive April 2017 protests in Budapest.

“This is rather funny,” he continued.

His center-right party, Fidesz, with a vast majority of seats secured in the Hungarian Parliament, had recently decided to move forward with a new piece of legislation that would provoke the closure of the Central European University in Budapest, a renowned graduate institution funded in part by billionaire Hungarian-American investor George Soros. Given the frequent use of Mr. Soros as a symbol for foreign forces meddling in Hungary’s affairs by Mr. Orbán and Fidesz, countless Hungarians viewed the legislative initiative as blatant predatory regulation used to curry favor with the Hungarian far-right — Mr. Orbán had taken to calling the school “Soros University” to highlight its link to globalist interference.

As usual, it is worth remembering that Mr. Orbán’s time as an undergraduate studying political science at Oxford University decades ago — one of the foundations of his rise to power as a leader of the Hungarian right — was made possible only by a generous scholarship from the Soros foundation.

This is rather funny.

It’s certainly not the first grapple with democracy in what the Hungarian left has dubbed the Viktatúra (Viktatorship) of the Prime Minister’s eight-year tenure, but almost a year later, as we edge closer towards Hungary’s April 8th parliamentary election day, it seems Mr. Orbán’s gambles may have paid off. Polling by the Hungarian nonpartisan Republikon Institute indicates that Fidesz only recently came off of an all-time high level of approval, with the most recent polls indicating the support of 53 percent of Hungary’s voters.

Far-right party Jobbik, with an image apparently refined from its radical, often anti-Semitic roots, is hanging on as a comfortable runner-up preferred by 18 percent of voters. What was essentially Hungary’s neo-Nazi party within the last decade has pivoted to the center to gain a seat at the political table, while Fidesz has found its appeals to Hungary’s xenophobic underbelly quite successful throughout the recent European migrant crisis.

Despite the dire situation for Hungary’s left, the upcoming election is failing to capture headlines in western papers. Yet the ramifications of the election are clear; Mr. Orbán has welcomed hefty infrastructural investments from both Beijing and Moscow throughout the past year as the Hungarian “Illiberal Democracy” begins to align itself further with the rising eastern powers. The developing relationships between Hungary and the two countries is dangerous in its symbiotic nature — Hungary is funneled money for its investments, cutting the leverage Brussels holds in the uniqueness of its structural funds, while Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi each get a vote in the EU. This spells trouble for Europe.

Given the constitutional reforms entered into force in 2012, a resounding victory is secured for Hungary’s ruling party. The only question is whether Fidesz can replicate its parliamentary supermajority from a few years back — in the 2014 election, the party was able to win two thirds of Parliamentary seats with less than half of the popular vote. The lead of the opposition, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), is in poor shape, having sold its headquarters in 2016 to pay off financial debts.

Only a rising star of the splintering left, the pro-EU Momentum Movement Party, is truly worth keeping an eye out for. Founded as recently as March 2017, the party was successful in organizing Hungary’s young protestors to thwart a Hungarian bid to host the 2024 Olympics last year via petition, and is now preferred by around three percent of Hungarian voters according to Republikon’s polls.

In a time of increasing youth disenchantment and fatigue regarding Hungarian politics, that three percent support counts for something. As of now, there is little hope for a Hungary beyond Fidesz — Europe must simply hope the steady westward flow abroad of young Hungarians doesn’t disable a resurgence of the opposition in the future.

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