Sunday, April 06, 2014

Hungary: Exit polls show Orban in clear victory

Preliminary results indicate controversial PM may repeat two-thirds majority.
By Jason Overdorf
GlobalPost, April 6, 2014

BERLIN, Germany — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's center right Fidesz party won a decisive election victory on Sunday and likely earned enough votes to retain a dominant two-thirds majority in the parliament, exit polls showed.

A clear mandate, the result will allow Orban to claim public support for various policies that have been controversial abroad and criticized by the opposition, including amendments to the constitution and a so-called “freedom fight” against the European Union, said Bulcsú Hunyadi, an analyst with Budapest-based think tank Political Capital.

“With this result, Fidesz will say that the vast majority of Hungarians back the government and all the reforms the government has made in the past four years,” Hunyadi said.

Fidesz earned 48 percent of the vote, while the opposition Unity Alliance led by the Socialists earned 27 percent, and the far right Jobbik party earned 18 percent, according to exit polls conducted by Nézőpont Institute, an independent think tank based in Budapest.

Those numbers, if confirmed by the final tally late Sunday night, should allow Fidesz to win 133 seats, slightly more than two-thirds of the 199 seat parliament.

Depending on the final breakdown of the votes, the election could result in a new struggle for the leadership of the opposition alliance, prompting factionalism that could further strengthen Orban's dominance, Hunyadi said.

Going into the polls, Orban's Fidesz was widely expected to win, due in part to controversial changes to the election system the government pushed through in the previous term.

In addition to changing the way votes are counted and reducing the size of the parliament from from 386 to 199 members, Fidesz allegedly redrew the borders of voting districts to dilute support for the opposition.

As a result of those changes, experts had predicted that Orban could attain another two-thirds majority with as little as 40 percent of the popular vote.

Outside experts have predicted that another two-thirds majority for the prime minister power could be bad for Hungary.

In January, the European Parliament slammed Orban for using his near-absolute authority to circumvent or eliminate democratic checks and balances. Among other actions, he curbed judicial authority and wrote a law into the constitution enabling security forces to jail homeless people after the measure was struck down by the courts.

Orban also drew flack for his recent unilateral decision to award a $14 billion tender for the expansion of the country’s only nuclear plant to Russia's Rosatom nuclear agency — in a deal under which Moscow will lend Budapest most of the money. Along with Orban's reluctance to back sanctions against Russia for its actions in Crimea, the deal prompted accusations that he's pushing Hungary away from European democracy toward Russian-style oligarchy.

In the leadup to the polls, various economists told the Wall Street Journal that Orban's autocratic style and statist economic policy had eroded business confidence and discouraged foreign investment.

Meanwhile, critics at home and abroad have claimed that Orban ran Hungary like a party machine, allegedly turning cronies like Lorinc Meszaros, an old friend who is now the mayor of Orban's hometown, into millionaires.