Orbán's behavior 'threatens democracy' - Financial Times


In its recent editorial piece titled "Orban warfare" Financial Times gives its view of Hungarian politics and the direct Fidesz government is taking the country towards.

Barely had Hungary stepped out of the spotlight surrounding its EU presidency in the first half of this year before Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz government resumed its efforts to establish long-term political domination of the country. Further proof of its determination to squash opposition, above all the rival socialists, comes with its attempts to charge three former premiers with “criminal” economic mismanagement, after the state debt spiralled in the past decade. Officials in Greece, not to mention the US, might quake at the precedent – were the idea not so legally spurious, says FT.

Ever since communism collapsed, Hungary has had a polarised and bare-knuckle political culture. Socialist governments in 2002-10 also did their best to hobble Fidesz. Ferenc Gyurcsány, the former socialist prime minister, was famously caught on tape confessing that his party had “lied morning and evening” for two years to win re-election in 2006.

However, FT believes that Mr Orbán’s behavior is reaching the point where it threatens democracy. That is particularly worrying given that Fidesz’s programme is tinged with nationalism. The government passed a much-criticised media law, trimmed the constitutional court’s powers, stuffed many regulators and watchdogs with loyalists and closed or defanged others.

The government has proposed new electoral rules that would squeeze small parties and benefit big ones, particularly Fidesz. It has restricted official recognition of religions, which qualifies them for state funds, and handed the job of recognition not to courts but to the (Fidesz-dominated) parliament. Mr Orban’s supporters say nothing is more democratic than increasing parliament’s role. But such arrangements can help create clientelist networks.

Strip away the revolutionary zeal and many Fidesz policy goals are sound, FT admits. But they are too often enacted in clumsy, shoot-from-the-hip fashion. Mr Orban would do better to use his popular mandate to attempt genuine modernisation, not monopolisation, of the political environment. And though Hungary’s EU presidency is over, Brussels, and other member states, should keep Budapest under a different kind of spotlight – to ensure it upholds the values on whose basis it was admitted to the Union.

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