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Why Orbán Won Again

Hungary’s general election showed that voters are willing to back a leader who violates European norms if it serves their economic interests. The challenge for Viktor Orbán’s opponents is to devise economic and social policies that attract not only the growing middle class but also those left behind by Orbán’s agenda.

BUDAPEST/PHILADELPHIA – Hungary’s autocratic prime minister, Viktor Orbán, was expected to win re-election to a fourth consecutive four-year term this weekend, owing to a rigged electoral system and a largely state-controlled media that made it impossible for the united opposition to reach many voters. But the scale of Orbán’s victory shocked most observers. United for Hungary candidate Péter Márki-Zay lost the popular vote by 53% to 35%, giving Orbán’s Fidesz Party yet another constitutional supermajority in parliament. It was a crushing defeat for the European Union as well.

Perhaps the outcome will force Hungary’s opposition to consider the largely economic reasons why so many Hungarians vote for Orbán. Following Fidesz’s sweeping victory in the 2010 election and years of economic hardship, most Hungarians experienced an increase in living standards. While an economic recovery after 2014 that created thousands of new jobs helped Orbán, his policies played a huge role, creating a cross-class coalition for Fidesz.

Hungary’s liberal opposition has largely scoffed at these policies and failed to offer a strong alternative. But beneficiaries feared losing out if Orbán were voted out of power.

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