Waiting for pedestrian traffic to return to Tokyo
The backdrop to this vote is a bad economy. Inflation is rising, the currency is unstable and the EU is withhold billions of euros into COVID relief funds in response to Orban’s breaches of EU rules. Brussels says the Orban government has compromised the independence of courts and the media and refused to respect LGBTQ rights. Orban’s defense of conservative Christian social values and his government’s assault on European standards of governance defined his years in power.
Orban and his Fidesz party have significant electoral advantages. He has blown the government budget by raising pensions and public sector wages in recent months and offered tax cuts for families. Furthermore, “the Fidesz government’s overwhelming access to funds, control of most of the media and willingness to use loopholes in electoral laws explain its lead in recent polls,” said Mujtaba Rahman, Europe expert at Eurasia Group. Fidesz is also accused of redraw the electoral map of Hungary so as to ensure that the opposition must win by three or four percentage points to guarantee a parliamentary majority.
“Orban’s shrewd political handling of the war in neighboring Ukraine has also helped his party,” Rahman adds. Voters who fear Vladimir Putin appreciate that Orban has backed EU sanctions against Russia and taken in a significant number of Ukrainian refugees, some of Hungarian origin. But he also declared his country “neutral” in the struggle, refused to send arms to Ukraine, or to allow others to send arms there via Hungary. And given his country’s heavy reliance on cheap Russian energy, he rejected any European boycott talk.
Yet, despite all this, latest polls suggest that his party’s electoral lead remains narrow. That’s partly because his rivals have put aside their many differences to support Pierre Marki-Zay, the self-proclaimed conservative Catholic, anti-corruption mayor of the small town of Hódmezővásárhely. His social values appeal to socially conservative voters who are fed up with Orban-related dramas. Its unmistakably pro-EU stance speaks to those who dislike Orban’s open admiration for Putin. “Orban is betraying Europe, Orban is betraying NATO, Orban is betraying the United States,” Marki-Zay said.
A loss of the parliamentary majority of Fidesz would bring a change. Marki-Zay would end clashes with the EU over the courts, media independence and liberal social values, releasing the billions of euros in COVID relief funds the EU has withheld from Orban’s government, and he would fully support Ukraine and NATO. But in the most likely event that Fidesz could still form a narrow majority, little will change. “Orban would continue his balancing act, seeking to stay in line with the EU’s condemnation of Russia while doing his best to limit the damage to his friend in the Kremlin,” Rahman said.
Finally, the election itself could become a new source of controversy. A electoral observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – just the second time this happened for a vote inside the EU – could raise questions about the fairness of the election. This would create a serious political headache at a time when Europe must project its unity in the face of Russian aggression.