Hungary’s right-wing strongman owes his success to his diagnosis of the country’s ailments: economic liberalization has failed many of its citizens.
Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban arrives for The European Council Meeting In Brussels held at the Justus Lipsius Building on March 7, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty
To many, Hungary looks like a capitalist success story. It handled the transition from a dictatorship with a centrally planned economy to a democracy with free-market capitalism smoothly and has enjoyed constant economic growth, thanks to help from the European Union, which it joined as a full member in 2004.
Budapest shows plenty of signs of this renaissance. The eclectic nineteenth-century architecture, once filthy and dilapidated, is shining again; construction sites are springing up everywhere; and tourists flood the city center. Wages are rising, and foreign capital is flowing. All this certainly looks like evidence that open-market democracy and economic liberalization work.
But something is off. The far-right Fidesz party, which took power in 2010, rules the country in an increasingly authoritarian fashion. Prime minister and party leader Viktor Orbán secured a two-thirds parliamentary majority in 2010, allowing Fidesz to modify the constitution and electoral law without cooperation from other parties. As a result, when Fidesz won only 44 percent of the vote in 2014, it nevertheless came close to another two-thirds majority and, with a deeply divided opposition, retained its hold on decision-making.