Hungary’s hard-line leader earns another term

Hungarian voters wearing traditional hussar cavalry uniforms cast ballots at a polling station in Vac, north of Budapest. Viktor Orban’s party and its ally won a major victory.
Hungarian voters wearing traditional hussar cavalry uniforms cast ballots at a polling station in Vac, north of Budapest. Viktor Orban’s party and its ally won a major victory.(TAMAS KOVACS/EPA/Shutterstock)

BUDAPEST — Viktor Orban, Hungary’s staunchly antimigrant prime minister, was reelected Sunday after his right-wing Fidesz party was projected to win a supermajority of seats in Hungary’s Parliament.

The resounding victory will likely permit Orban’s government to continue with democratic backsliding.

With 88 percent of the vote counted, Orban’s ruling party and its small ally, the Christian Democrat party, had secured 133 of the 199 seats in Parliament, the minimum needed for a two-thirds majority, according to projections.

The right-wing nationalist Jobbik party placed second, with 26 seats, while a Socialist-led, left-wing coalition ran third, with 20.

Only two other parties, former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany’s Democratic Coalition and the green Politics Can Be Different party were expected to surpass the 5 percent threshold needed to form a parliamentary faction.


In his acceptance speech to cheering supporters, Orban called the result a mandate.

‘‘We created the opportunity to defend Hungary,’’ he said. “A great battle is behind us. We have achieved a decisive victory.’’

The vote — easily the most consequential since Hungary’s post-communist transition — was widely seen as a reflection on the state of democracy and the rule of law in a European Union member state that in recent years has been sliding toward autocracy.

The result, coming in an election with high turnout, squashed any hopes of an opposition presence in a country that has essentially been a one-party state for nearly a decade.

In the past eight years in power, Orban — in two consecutive terms as prime minister — has enacted drastic changes to Hungary’s constitution, attempted to dismantle its system of checks and balances, and sought to silence his critics, notably in the Hungarian media.

As he cast his ballot, Orban couched the election in existential terms: ‘‘What’s at stake is Hungary’s future,’’ he said.


In a video posted Sunday on his Facebook page, Gergely Karacsony, the Socialist party candidate for prime minister, announced that the turnout alone constituted an important achievement. ‘‘We are hopeful that the higher the turnout, the more people will vote for change,’’ he said.

But the results didn’t bear that out, with the turnout exceeding 68 percent just before the polls closed.

Fidesz holds 114 of 199 seats in the current Parliament.

For some voters — even those who saw no viable alternative — the point was to limit the party’s power by any available means. To that end, this election, compared with Orban’s victories in 2010 and 2014, was widely seen as a battle over the country’s democratic future.

‘‘What they are doing with the rule of law, with democratic institutions, they’re taking everything away from the people,’’ said Frazsina Nagy, 28, a lawyer in Budapest, after she cast her ballot.

‘‘The situation is terrifying,’’ said Lilla Szalay, 37, a psychologist, who stood with her young daughter after voting in a Budapest school. ‘‘Everybody wants to go abroad. If things stay this way, we will have to go abroad, too — and I don’t want to.’’

‘‘It’s the corruption. In other countries, when there’s stories like this that come out, there is at least a kind of shame, a kind of immediate dismissal,’’ said a man who agreed to be identified only as Adam. ‘‘Here they don’t even bother with that. They know they are untouchable.’’

Some of Orban’s supporters agree that their leader has his downsides but ultimately vowed to stand by him.


Gabor Csorba, 48, a church finance officer, said he did not approve of certain aspects of Orban’s personality and rhetoric but that he voted for the incumbent anyway.

‘‘It’s better this kind of society will continue or else there will be instability ahead,’’ he said, after casting his ballot at the same polling place as Orban, noting that he has been a Fidesz voter since the 1990s, after Hungary’s post-communist transition.

‘‘I don’t see any program from the opposition,’’ Csorba said.

Zsuzsa Dessewffy, 68, a producer with Echo television, a channel owned by one of Orban’s oligarch friends, likewise said there was no alternative. She also voted for the incumbent, she said.

‘‘He is the only one who has some spirit. The other side had eight years to find someone with that kind of spirit.’’

This is a point that even some of Orban’s critics concede.

‘‘The opposition is fragmented,’’ said Zoltan Katzenbach, a retired finance professional, outside of a polling place in Buda. ‘‘There is no real stable challenger.’’

‘‘The opposition parties started to work on cooperation too late,’’ Nagy said.