With 92% of the vote counted, the coalition led by Orban’s ruling party, Fidesz, was projected to win 133 seats out of the 199 seats in Parliament, a supermajority according to the country’s National Election Office.
Orban, who will win his fourth term, is already Hungary’s longest-serving leader since the fall of communism in 1989. He has transformed Fidesz from a liberal party formed in the 1980s to a right-wing populist outfit. But he has yielded strong results for his country; Orban has been able to take an economy that was on its knees and restore low unemployment and steady growth, it is only natural voters will turn favourably towards his track record.
The sea of orange in the below graphic indicates the incredible hold this Prime Minister has over the country:
— Gergely Polner (@eurocrat) 8 April 2018
With turnout high at 69 per cent, Orban will have strong grounds to argue that his nationalist policies have been given a clear mandate. It had been widely anticipated that if voters turned out in large numbers, it would be to the advantage of opposition parties. That prediction was plainly misplaced.
The strong mandate that he received however, will come as unwelcome news to the European Union, who had hoped their strong-handed approach to Brexit negotiations would discourage any misbehaving by Member States.
Orban is an outspoken critic of the European Commission and has consistently accused the Commission of overreach in Hungary’s affairs, particularly in its attempt to impose a quota system that would have obliged Hungary to settle refugees. He has been vehemently against uncontrolled and illegal immigration and doesn’t believe the EU should just be able to dump people in Hungary.
However, Orban does not have plans to remove his country from the Union. Hungary has benefitted from consistent economic growth since 2014, with 80 per cent of exports going to other EU countries, and considerable sums flowing into Hungary via EU-backed infrastructure projects. But Hungary’s ongoing place at the Brussels top table, especially under Orban’s emboldened leadership, presents just as much of a headache to the EU as would any attempt to leave.
In January for example, Orban held a joint news conference with his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, in which the pair made clear that they wished to have a much greater say in EU policy. Arguing that Central Europe had been dictated to by Western Europe for far too long, the pair said “we want to have a strong say, as these countries in Central Europe have a vision about the future of Europe”.
The EU needs to be more strategic as to how it handles the growth in confidence and power by countries like Hungary and Poland. The EU is weak at the moment; its losing an important ally in the UK and its formerly strong leaders are now fighting for political survival.
But the way it handles weakness is not working, it tries to become more aggressive rather than listening to the problems being put forward. Punishing countries, as it has done with the UK, will no longer be viable, nor will a dictatorial approach to the more vulnerable Member States. Rather than pressing ahead with its political agenda, it needs to consider the consequences more carefully.
For example, when the EU expanded in the 2000s to include former Soviet states, the idea was that these eastern and central European countries would willingly turn into liberal democracies in the mirror image of their fellow members to the west.
Increasingly it feels not only that some of those nations are looking longingly back to the East, but that they growing more confident in their desire to drag the EU round to their way of thinking.
The EU is too precarious; it must take Orban’s election as a sign that it must be more strategic rather than follow a blind political desire for expansion.