Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

Hungary

Profile

Freedom Status: 
Free
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Freedom in the World Scores

(0=Least Free, 100=Most Free)
(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 
9,800,000
Capital: 
Budapest
GDP/capita: 
$12,364
Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Free

Ratings Change:

Hungary’s political rights rating declined from 2 to 3 due to government practices that curtailed the ability of the opposition to freely and meaningfully participate in the formal political system, as well as continuing impunity for high-level corruption.

Overview: 

Since taking power in 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Alliance of Young Democrats–Hungarian Civic Union (Fidesz) has pushed through constitutional and legal changes that have allowed it to consolidate control over the country’s independent institutions. Following a dip in its popularity in 2014 and 2015, support for the party has recently increased, likely in response to its hard-line policies on migration.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • In February, a group of men physically prevented an opposition lawmaker from filing a referendum initiative on an unpopular government-backed law. The perpetrators were not held accountable.
  • In October, a government-initiated referendum was held on a European Union (EU) asylum quota plan that would require Hungary to take in about 1,300 refugees housed in other EU countries. Despite heavy government spending on frequently xenophobic campaign materials, the referendum, which participating voters overwhelmingly approved, was ultimately invalid due to low voter turnout.
  • In April, the release of information about several foundations created and endowed by central bank revealed a number of questionable transactions, including ones that benefit the bank’s director and his allies.
  • In October, Hungary’s leading political daily, Népszabadság, was shuttered. Its closure came after it had uncovered a string of scandals involving the ruling party.
Executive Summary: 

Support for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Alliance of Young Democrats–Hungarian Civic Union (Fidesz) increased in 2016, likely reflecting support for the government’s tough stance on migration. During the year, the government refused to take in some 1,300 asylum seekers and examine their applications under the EU’s quota system, and challenged the underlying regulation before the European Court of Justice, in addition to holding a referendum on the issue.

Orbán announced the referendum on the EU asylum quota in February 2016, one day after a widely criticized incident at the National Election Office in which an opposition lawmaker was physically prevented by roughly a dozen men from submitting a separate referendum initiative against an unpopular, Fidesz-backed law requiring most stores to close on Sundays. The Supreme Court weeks later confirmed the opposition’s referendum initiative, declaring that the use of physical force to block its filing had been illegal. The government then repealed the Sunday closure law before a referendum on the issue could take place.

The government-initiated asylum referendum was held in October, amid serious concerns over the constitutionality of the question. Following an expensive government campaign marked by xenophobic rhetoric, participating voters overwhelmingly agreed that Hungary should reject the European quota. However, turnout was only 41.3 percent, short of the 50 percent threshold needed for the referendum to be considered valid.

In March, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Hungarian Central Bank could not withhold data about public funds it had disbursed to six foundations the bank had established, which amounted to about $1 billion. The following month, information released regarding the foundations’ operations revealed a number of questionable transactions, including ones that benefit the bank’s director and his allies.

Hungary’s media situation came under international scrutiny after the country’s leading political daily, Népszabadság, was abruptly closed after it ran a series of articles scrutinizing actions of ruling-party members. Shortly after the suspension, the newspaper’s publisher was sold to a company linked to a close ally of Prime Minister Orbán.

Aggregate Score: 
76
Freedom Rating: 
2.5
Political Rights: 
3
Civil Liberties: 
2

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