OSCE questions fairness of Hungary’s spring election as Orban struggles with plausible challenger
Hungary’s general election, which is expected in April or May, will not offer the opposition coalition a level playing field, according to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
“The government’s excessive spending on ads that amplified the ruling coalition’s campaign message undermined contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis,” OSCE election observer Douglas Wake told the media.
Observers found “intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing”, he said. “Fundamental rights and freedoms were respected overall, but exercised in an adverse climate … Access to information as well as the freedoms of the media and association have been restricted, including by recent legal changes.”
Populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz has won a two-thirds majority in previous elections, meaning he has had powers to change constitutional laws.
But unlike in previous elections, Hungary’s opposition is united and presenting a plausible, single candidate. Peter Marki-Zay, a conservative churchgoing father of seven, is the prime ministerial candidate for six opposition parties, including social democrats and the former far-right.
The ruling Fidesz party is struggling to dismiss Marki-Zay as a member of the liberal elite which it claims is trying to undermine traditional Hungarian values.
Marki-Zay has contrasted his Christian beliefs with Orban’s background. “I was a Christian way before Orban. Orban was still in the communist youth movement when I attended church every Sunday in communist times.”
Orban’s 11 years of “illiberal democracy” have led to Hungary becoming the first European Union country to be defined as only “partly free” by the think-tank Freedom House.
Donald Trump has endorsed Orban’s candidacy, in a move that might be a mixed blessing for Fidesz.
A Trump statement said: “Viktor Orbán of Hungary truly loves his country and wants safety for his people.
“He has done a powerful and wonderful job in protecting Hungary, stopping illegal immigration, creating jobs, trade, and should be allowed to continue to do so in the upcoming election.
“He is a strong leader and respected by all. He has my complete support and endorsement for reelection as prime minister!”
Orban has projected himself as a saviour of Christian culture against Muslim migration into Europe, winning the support of more than 2.5 million voters, especially in rural areas.
But Robert Laszlo of Budapest’s Political Capital Institute said that angle is proving less effective against a political outsider like Marki-Zay. He told the Guardian: “Nobody expected the left and centre parties who dominated the opposition could be led by an outsider coming from the right. One of his superpowers is that he can’t be blamed as the puppet of the past leftist parties or the ex-prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány.
Fidesz was expecting to face a liberal challenger, the election analyst said. “Now we can see that the Fidesz propaganda machine is confused,” László said. “[Marki-Zay] is not a liberal intelligentsia, he seems to be much more like a Fidesz member.”
Peter Marki-Zay. Picture credit: Wikimedia