Orbán in Lukashenko’s footsteps – The Weekly 19
This summer’s most memorable political event was perhaps the uprising and street protests against the results of the Belarus elections as well as the regime devised by Lukashenko and upheld by a series of election frauds. Although the outcome of the Minsk protests is still in question, we can already see that the regime widely considered as the last stronghold of authoritarian Socialism and Europe’s last dictatorship has been shaken to the core, and it cannot survive without major concessions, if at all.
Before the supporters of the free world started their victory dance to celebrate democracy’s latest eastward expansion however, we had better take a closer look at the status of those democratic values within the European Union.
We should be cautious because there is a infectious disease, hallmarked by Viktor Orbán’s name, spreading within the very same community that was constructed as the polar opposite of totalitarian regimes and built on the ideas of freedom and the rule of law. The disease is a political system that is currently in its advanced experimental phase in Hungary. It is often called a “hybrid system”, suggesting that even though it still has democratic institutions and separated powers, they do not actually control the executive power and ensure the smooth operation of checks and balances. Instead, they function as unscrupulous servants of the executive power.
This process has been going on in the public eye ever since Viktor Orbán’s getting into power in 2010.
Using the summer slack season however, Viktor Orbán’s regime entered the next level almost on the same day when the Belarus dictator was shaken, crossing over to the world of open dictatorships where elections are no longer manipulated by gerrymandering, vote buying or electoral frauds but by blocking the opposition candidate from entering the race at all. If smear campaigns and propaganda don’t work, this ignoble goal can be achieved by involving the court system.
That’s exactly what happened in Hungary, where a by-election is held in one of the eastern constituencies in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County on 11th October as the region’s Fidesz-delegated MP passed away.
The election has a symbolic significance since if Fidesz loses this parliamentary seat, which appears to be likely according to the data of the previous elections, then it may lose its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.
Learning from the lessons of last year’s municipal elections, the opposition parties, namely the Democratic Coalition, Jobbik, Politics Can Be Different, the Hungarian Socialist Party, Momentum, Everybody’s Hungary Movement and Dialogue decided to run a joint candidate: László Bíró, who is a member of Jobbik.
However, just a few minutes before the deadline to announce the candidacies, Fidesz appealed against László Bíró running as the joint opposition candidate in the by-elections, and the National Election Committee, which is filled with Fidesz delegates, granted the governing party’s appeal.
The decision was upheld by the High Court of Justice a few days later. So, even though the official campaign already started, László Bíró is currently not allowed to run as an all-opposition challenger against Fidesz’ candidate, who happens to be the daughter of the deceased MP.
The Fidesz regime found quite an absurd pretext to block the joint opposition candidate from running: László Bíró is a member of centre-right conservative Jobbik party, which elected a new board and a new president last January.
Although Jobbik’s new president Péter Jakab has received the court resolution of his registration into his office, the competent Budapest-Capital Regional Court (obviously under political pressure, as there is no reason to drag such a simple, legally uncontested administrative procedure for so long) has refused to enter the party’s resolutions and Péter Jakab’s presidency into the registry. Fidesz submitted an appeal on the grounds that Péter Jakab is not a party president and his party cannot run candidates.
This absurd reasoning was accepted by the National Election Committee that is supposedly independent but in fact serves the interests of Fidesz. And it has just been upheld by the High Court of Justice.
With this step, Viktor Orbán, who praised his host Lukashenko to the skies while harshly criticizing Europe just a few weeks ago on his Minsk visit, has finally arrived at the level of eastern dictators who use administrative measures to block the opposition from participating in the elections, thus reducing the ballot to a single candidate. That’s exactly what’s going on in Hungary. The only question is how long the European Union, after so many years of struggle for the rule of law and freedom, keeps lying idly by while its achievements are undermined within its own borders.