Could Sunday’s general election in Hungary bring a shocking end to divisive Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s rule, reshaping politics in Central Europe? However unlikely, that scenario no longer looks entirely impossible.
Orban has previously appeared unstoppable as he set about building what he calls an “illiberal state.” His government, facing increasing criticism over corruption, is accused of overseeing the destruction of independent institutions while peddling xenophobia and dog-whistle anti-Semitism. Yet for many inside and outside Hungary, Orban’s unyielding positions—against immigration and alleged “interference” in national affairs by unelected bodies, whether the European Union or international organizations—have made him a standard-bearer for a new brand of popular conservatism in the West. U.S. President Donald Trump’s former adviser in the White House, far-right firebrand Steve Bannon, has referred to Orban as “a hero.”
According to polls, Orban’s right-wing, populist Fidesz party is still poised to win a third successive majority in parliament, ahead of both the far-right Jobbik party and the rest of the fragmented opposition. But there are two problems with any predictions: the unreliability of polling in Hungary, and the country’s electoral system, which was reformed under the first Fidesz government that was in power from 2010 to 2014. The system—in which 106 of parliament’s 199 seats are chosen by first-past-the-post, single-round voting in single-member constituencies—has been seen as favoring the party.