Upon losing the elections, leaders of the opposition political parties including Áikos Hadházy of the LMP, Gyula Molnár of MSZP, and Gábor Vona of Jobbik have all resigned from their positions.
Emerging pictures of the long queues of people from the polling stations on the day of the elections have had raised hopes of the many that this time the opposition political parties would increase their share of seats in the parliament, hence deny Fidesz a super majority. However except in some districts of Budapest, in small Hungarian towns and in rural parts of the country Orban’s party polled best.
Not only Fidesz’s populist anti-immigration rhetoric, but also the failure of the opposition political parties in forming a united front against Fidesz, as well as Orban’s handling of the economy could explain why more than %49 of the Hungarians have once again opted for Orban.
However what is more striking are the developments that have been taking place post-elections both in Hungary and at the European Union level in relation to the newly elected Hungarian government.
The uncertain future of the opposition media outlets in Hungary, dilemma of the European Party Groups’ in whether to congratulate Orban on his success and the European Parliament’s draft report on the state of rule of law and democracy in Hungary are some of which I could point to.
Right after the elections Magyar Nemzet, Hungary’s major opposition newspaper and its sister radio station Lánchíd Rádió announced their closure. It is suggested that Orban’s withdrawal of all the government advertising has contributed to this end. And what is more is that a pro-government weekly Figyelo published a list of 200 people who work for NGOs that included as Amnesty International, refugee advocates, and investigative journalists and are described as George Soros’s mercenaries, aiming to topple the government and open the country to immigrants. Both the closure of the opposition media outlets and the use of pro-government newspapers against the opposition point to the state the media has come to in Hungary. Like in any other illiberal democracy, for instance Turkey, media in Hungary no longer functions in the way we know in the Western liberal democracies. It is controlled and utilised as propaganda machines by the ‘democratically elected’ governments to maintain the popularity of their policies among the crowds at the cost of free media.
Since Fidesz is part of the European People’ Party group in the European Parliament, it was only normal for the leader of the EPP, Manfred Weber, and the president of the EPP, Joseph Daul, to congratulate Orban on his electoral success. However others like Bavarian MEP Markus Ferber and Gunnar Hökmark (MEP) from Sweden expressed their concern about the anti-Semitic rhetoric adopted by the leadership of Fidesz during the elections, and quiet rightly demanded Weber and Daul to stand up for the core values of the EU. Some even expressed dismissing the Fidesz MEPs from the EPP. Whereas Udo Bullmann, the newly elected leader of the European Parliament’s Socialist bloc also criticised the EPP for not directly confronting Orban and Philippe Lamberts, co-president of the Greens demanded that the EPP does not prioritise party friendship above fundamental rights and democracy. What is best under these circumstances is that instead of isolating Fidesz, Members of the European Parliament, regardless of their party group, should act like a critical friend to Fidesz and Hungary by constantly reminding them of the core values of the EU. And they should keep the Hungarian government accountable to the European Parliament, using the available legal mechanisms.
In fact in May 2017 the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs was instructed to examine the situation in Hungary after serious concern was raised about the situation in Hungary. Last week Thursday the committee recommended triggering disciplinary proceedings that could result in Hungary losing its voting rights in the European Council. The draft report found that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government “time and time again … has undermined the independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press and the fundamental rights of its citizens.” This draft report was not well received by the leadership of Fidesz, denying all the criticisms that have been put forward. The timing of this report is however perfect for there has been a new election, and Fidesz has gained a new term in office, which gives the Hungarian government a new chance to make a fresh start and work on some of the points that have been raised in the report.
Overall there seems to be pressure building on the freedom of media in Hungary. Critical voices seem to be facing a risk of closure or shutdown. However the newly elected government might change its position in the way it treats media and the opposition. It is only healthy that the electoral success of Fidesz is a cause of contention among the party groups of the European Parliament. If the interests of the party groups could be left aside, different mechanism of the European Parliament could be utilised to influence the way things are done in Hungary. Having Fidesz MEPs in the centre-right EPP is an advantage and must be utilised for the greater good of the EU.
As for the next couple of months, the European Parliament’s draft report will go to a vote in committee in June and to the full Parliament in September. If the Parliament approves the proposal, the matter would move to the European Council. Thus I will be keeping an eye on this.
∗Dr Gulay Icoz is an Turkey-EU relations expert. Currently she is working on two research areas: European Migration Policy and Euroscepticism. In particular she is interested to study how successful the EU-Turkey migration deal has been in handling the refugee crisis and party based Eurosceptcism in Hungary Denmark, Poland and in Britain. Icoz has worked as a teaching assistant at the King’s College London and Royal Holloway, University of London. She is the co-editor of a special issue called ‘Opportunities missed: Turkey-EU accession since 2005’, published in December 2016 in the Journal of Contemporary European Studies. Icoz also published online on the Conversation, EurActiv, London4Europe, and IBTimes.