Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Hungary received a downward trend arrow due to the government’s efforts to consolidate control over the country’s independent institutions, including the creation of a new media council dominated by the ruling party that has the ability to impose large fines on broadcast, print, and online media outlets.
In April 2010 parliamentary elections, the conservative Alliance of Young Democrats–Hungarian Civic Union (Fidesz) and its junior partner, the Christian Democratic People’s Party, won a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. The resulting government, headed by Fidesz leader Viktor Orbán, passed a series of laws that consolidated its control over the media and other institutions. The country continued to face serious economic hardship, and fiscal negotiationswith the International Monetary Fund and the European Union broke down in July.
Hungary achieved full independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire following World War I, though it lost large portions of its previous territory. Soviet occupation after World War II led to communist rule, and Soviet troops crushed an uprising by Hungarians seeking to liberalize the political and economic system in 1956. However, in the late 1980s, the ruling Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party came under intense pressure to accept reforms. Free parliamentary elections were held in 1990, and over the next decade, power alternated between conservative and socialist blocs, both of which pursued European integration. Hungary formally entered the European Union (EU) in 2004.
A ruling coalition consisting of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP) and the Alliance of Free Democrats (SzDSz) won reelection in April 2006. In September 2006, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s recorded admission that his government had repeatedly lied to the electorate about its budgetary and economic performance was leaked to the press, sparking major riots and severely damaging public confidence in the government as it struggled to rein in a large budget deficit.
The SzDSz withdrew from the coalition in 2008, but after Gyurcsány announced his resignation in March 2009, it joined the larger MSzP in endorsing Economy Minister Gordon Bajnai, an independent, as the new prime minister in April.
The governing parties’ loss of public support was confirmed in the April 2010 parliamentary elections, in which a conservative opposition bloc consisting of the Alliance of Young Democrats–Hungarian Civic Union (Fidesz) and the much smaller Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) captured 263 of 386 National Assembly seats, giving it a two-thirds majority and the ability to amend the constitution. The MSzP won just 59 seats, the far-right Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik) entered the parliament for the first time with 47 seats, and the liberal Politics Can Be Different (LMP) party, also new to the legislature, took 16. An independent took the remaining seat. Fidesz leader Viktor Orbán, who had served as prime minister from 1998 to 2002, reclaimed the post in May. In October local elections, the Fidesz-KDNP bloc carried 22 out of 23 major cities and all 19 county assemblies.
The new government used its dominance of the legislature to increase its control over other institutions during the year. Among other steps, it installed a Fidesz loyalist as president in August, passed a series of laws that threatened to establish political control over media content, and curtailed the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court over budgetary matters in November, after the court attempted to block a retroactive tax law.
The government’s discussions with its main creditors, the International Monetary Fund and the EU, collapsed in July after it refused to adhere to their prescribed budget cuts, leaving it without access to the remainder of its 2008 emergency loan. In December, the government pushed through legislation that effectively nationalized the assets in the country’s system of compulsory private pension funds, allowing it to temporarily ease public debt problems.
Hungary is an electoral democracy. Voters elect representatives every four years to the 386-seat, unicameral National Assembly under a mixed system of proportional and direct representation. The National Assembly elects both the president and the prime minister. The president’s duties are mainly ceremonial, but he can influence appointments and return legislation for further consideration before signing it into law. Elections in Hungary have been generally free and fair since the end of communist rule.