Migration, corruption, jobs; Key issues in Hungary’s vote
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will try to secure his third consecutive term, and fourth overall since 1998, in Sunday’s parliamentary election, facing a fragmented left-wing opposition and a nationalist party.
Here’s a look at the candidates and the issues in the vote:
WHAT THE POLLS SAY
Polls expect Orban’s Fidesz party and the Christian Democrats, a small ally, to win a majority of the 199 seats at stake on Sunday, but there are many uncertainties about their margin of victory due to Hungary’s complex electoral system.
Fidesz won two-thirds majorities in 2010 and 2014, passing a new constitution and letting the autocratic Orban greatly concentrate his power.
HUNGARY’S VOTING SYSTEM
Some 8.3 million Hungarians are eligible to vote. They include over 378,000 people with no Hungarian address, mostly Hungarians from neighboring countries whose path to dual citizenship was greatly streamlined under Orban.
Residents cast two votes — one for a candidate in their district and one for a party list. Of the 199 seats in parliament, 106 come from district races, while 93 are distributed according to votes for each party. Non-residents voting by mail from abroad choose only party lists.
Since 2010, Fidesz has significantly altered the election system, cutting the number of lawmakers from 386 to 199 and eliminating runoffs, hurting smaller parties that could form alliances between voting rounds.
A LOOK AT THE INCUMBENT
Orban, 54, has based his re-election campaign on a relentless anti-migration policy. He claims that Hungary’s opposition parties are conspiring with the United Nations, the European Union and wealthy philanthropist George Soros to flood the country with migrants — a claim they deny.
A former anti-communist student leader, Orban gradually abandoned his liberal views, steering Fidesz first in a conservative direction and now turning it into a populist, increasingly radical right-wing party.
Orban’s government has also nationalized or minimized private enterprise in sectors ranging from energy to school textbooks; absorbed some $15 billion in funds previously in private pension schemes and greatly weakened the country’s system of democratic checks and balances.
THE ECONOMY AND CORRUPTION
The government touts Hungary’s economic growth, 4 percent last year, the low unemployment rate of 3.8 percent, rising wages and a low state budget deficit. But Hungary’s low corporate and income tax rates contrast with a 27 percent sales tax.
The opposition says Orban is using the migration issue to keep attention away from widespread corruption — in the EU, Hungary was ahead only of Bulgaria on Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index — an increasing income gap and deteriorating education and health care.
Critics also note tight media controls, increased political influence over the courts and the creation of a new oligarch class close to the government that is being enriched through state contracts and EU funds.
HUNGARY’S FRACTURED OPPOSITION
Hungary’s largest left-wing group, the Socialist Party, has not been able to recover from its calamitous years in power in 2002-2008, when looming insolvency made Hungary the first EU member to need a financial bailout.
Former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany’s leaked revelations that the government lied about the true state of the economy to win re-election in 2006 led to weeks of violent riots and protests, contributing to Orban’s huge win in 2010.
In this race, the Socialists have thrown their support for a prime minister candidate to Gergely Karacsony, 42, who heads his own small liberal and green party, Dialogue.
Gyurcsany’s Democratic Coalition and the green Politics Can Be Different party, along with the nationalist Jobbik party, are expected to be the only opposition groups to exceed the 5 percent threshold of votes needed to form a parliamentary faction.
Jobbik, led by Gabor Vona, 39, has been trying to shed its identity as a far-right party known for anti-Semitic or anti-Roma statements. Vona believes Jobbik has now been outflanked on the extreme right by Orban’s Fidesz party.
Other parties include the youthful Momentum Movement, the satiric Two-Tailed Dog Party and the liberal Together party.