Why Orban Won

Explaining Fidesz’s Dominance in Hungary

Viktor Orban addresses his supporters in Budapest, April 2018. Leonhard Foeger / Reuters

On Sunday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was reelected to a third consecutive term after his right-wing Fidesz party won 48 percent of the vote, enough for a two-thirds supermajority in parliament. It was a decisive win for Orban, who in recent years has clashed publicly with the European Union, becoming for many a symbol of the illiberal nationalism now rising throughout the West.

Orban’s victory is a product of several factors, but three stand out: the systematic weakening of Hungary’s democratic system, the success of Orban’s antimigration platform, and the fragmentation of the opposition.  


The first ingredient in Fidesz’s electoral dominance is its rewriting of the rules of Hungarian democracy. The party began its current string of victories in 2010, when Hungarians’ disillusionment with the Socialist government—and more generally with the effects of the postcommunist transition and the 2008–9 financial crisis—allowed Fidesz to capture a constitutional supermajority, which it used to adopt a new constitution, change the country’s electoral laws, and assert government control over independent media, as well as making other, less conspicuous changes.

In Hungary, the electorate’s economic anxieties and general discontent with the political system, both before and after the 2010 election, have allowed Fidesz to implement these radical changes without provoking effective public opposition. Hungary should thus serve as an important lesson for other European countries: growing inequality and social tension may undermine the foundations of democracy and spark a revolt against the elite, enabling the rise of antiestablishment (and, in the Hungarian case, antidemocratic) forces that promise to do away with the status quo. Discontent with the political system has allowed Fidesz to implement radical changes without provoking effective public opposition.

Since his party’s victory in 2014, moreover, Orban has become even more radical. That year, he openly professed his desire to build an “illiberal state” and became more authoritarian in terms of both policy and rhetoric. In 2017, he escalated his war on nongovernmental organizations with a bill targeting foreign-funded NGOs

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