Der Untergang

After Orbán

Even if Orbán loses in 2022, he wins.

Autocrats love their people so much, they make sure we suffer after they are gone. One way to achieve it is to leave booby traps in their wake. Another is to cement loyalist individuals into positions with powers to block a new parliamentary majority.

Orbán has gone so far in both directions, there is now well-justified speculation that even if he loses in 2022, a new government could not govern for being tied up by Orbán’s booby traps.

The opposition would win, they could not govern, and Orbán would come back with a roar – this time for life.

Short of an assassination or physical violence there is nothing “the Hungarian people” (whoever that might be) can do against the regime at this point. Maybe an election still works – albeit hugely unfair and tilted towards Orbán to win – but the aftermath will still be hell. Even if the non-Orbánists win, they could not govern.

And since the opposition has out-polled Orbán for the first time in a decade, it is time to look at why they could not even pass a budget, even in possession of a parliamentary majority.

An incomplete list of things that will tie the opposition – even if they win a supermajority in 2022.

Election system

It goes without saying, but it has been changed beyond recognition. The playing field is now so tilted towards Orbán, the opposition has to contort into untenable shapes to even stand a chance – leading in the polls or not.

Indeed, in 2018 we were only hoping for a simple majority for Orbán. No one could seriously hope that the all-opposition coalition could get a 2/3 supermajority. Only to break Orbán’s rubber stamp machine for 2/3 topics. And that would have backfired (a little) for Orbán.

This is why an all-opposition win in 2022 would not yield much for the cause of anti-autocracy. 50%+1 is not enough to govern anymore, maybe not even a 2/3 if it is not Orbán’s. And the reason for that lies in the list of institutions that remain rigidly Orbán-controlled even with an anti-Orbán supermajority in parliament.

2/3 laws

The number of topics that could only be legislated by a 2/3 parliamentary majority has been high for historic reasons. During the 1989 regime change negotiations the parties did not trust each other so they relegated a range of issues into the 2/3 realm – a move that made the new democracy more difficult to govern by a single majority.

There was a 2/3 parliamentary majority before Orbán, but they voluntarily refrained from changing the constitution without an all-party consensus. Orbán wasn’t such a gentleman, he didn’t find himself not enough for the job.

But instead of decreasing the number of 2/3 topics, he increased them. The only reason for that is to make sure that no one will be able to govern after him and hopefully quickly loses. Screw the interest of the country. The autocrat’s power interest is all that gets served.

But even if the opposition wins a 2/3 supermajority, they will run into the rest of the booby traps.

The constitution

Another move Orbán pulled quickly after his 2010 return to power is to change the constitution into the largely non-constitutional thing called basic law. Removing checks and balances, the reference to a market economy, enshrining homophobia and only leaving independent institutions that would later be staffed by uncritical loyalists anyway.

The new basic law was so solid, it had to be changed 5 or 6 times in quick succession (9 times altogether) to make it mean what he wanted it to mean. But it was no problem at all. The turbo-loyalist MPs directly dependent on Orbán would never vote against him.

A non-Orbánist parliament would have to start with a change of constitution. But even if they have 2/3, even if they agree that the basic law must go – how do they agree what to replace it with? This is an unlikely rainbow-coalition after all.

Constitutional court

Stuffed with Orbán loyalists (100% since around 2016), their voting record is a million times less independent than that of the US Supreme Court. There, judges may vote against their own party sympathies. In Hungary, it will be avenged, and it makes no difference, so they don’t.

Media council 

The organization is so full of Orbánists, they didn’t even dare to discuss the recent audio leaks proving (what everyone knew) that the public broadcaster and the official news agency are controlled by the ministry and reporters are threatened to lose their jobs if they breathe a word about the existence of the opposition. Instead they republish ministry releases without change and don’t take any initiative. The media council refused to take it on its agenda and disciplined the (non-Orbánist) member who brought it up.

Chief prosecutor

The chief prosecutor should probably have been put on the top of the list, blocking any and every investigation into the affairs of Orbánists. Given their extreme emphasis on self-enrichment and their lack of inhibition or willingness to even conceal it, the prosecutors’ inaction is prerequisite to the regime’s survival. Perhaps not a coincidence that his appointment is the longest. He was last re-appointed in 2019 for 9 years (!!)

The president

Mostly a symbolic figure, signing anything into law. Wait to see if he would do that for a non-Orbánist parliament. But don’t hold your breath. At worst, he can delay laws, which he probably will is he gets reelected. Re-appointed for 5 years in 2017.

Central bank president

The statistical miracle machine high on its money printing power trip is also led by an unquestioning Orbán loyalist. The central bank might be institutionally independent, legally speaking, but the current president has expressed very clearly that he does not intend to be. And that is to Orbán, personally. Not just any government. Re-appointed for 6 years in 2019

President of the Curia

Lawyers may be a pain, but judges’ legalizing proved to be a match to Orbán’s. The judicial system has been the longest to withstand outright Orbánist takeover attempts. But in 2020 a new president was appointed to the head of the curia, which seems to have ended the standoff in Orbán’s favor.

Control over the individuals filling these positions is not practiced by the parliamentary majority (unless their term runs out) – but personally by Orbán. It is therefore not transferable to a non-Orbánist parliament. Good luck governing in their potential obstruction.

Apart from the political system, Orbán made sure to take over entire economic sectors, the media, utilities, and even universities, to name a few. 

Cronification of entire sectors into the hands of personal loyalists will ensure that a non-Orbánist majority would have to govern against the headwind of the economy and predictably hostile “businessmen”. Well, cronies. There is no business talent there unless being appointed to win public tenders is counted as talent, which it should not be.

After the fall of socialism (the pre-1989 pro-Russian autocracy) it was a problem that the men who gained power and influence under the previous regime had remained among us and were also the most influential players in the new world. The same will happen after Orbán. The sick mentality will linger.

Just like after 1989, the Orbánist comrades will remain and carry with them the old attitude that made them rich. Orbán rode the old authoritarian instincts to gain and keep power. Then he established even stronger ones, this time in the name of anti-communism. It was to confound lesser minds and to make them believe it is totally different. But he isn’t. This is the same old Russian autocracy-export, just in the name of anti-communism.

After Orbán, his loyalists will still live here. Their instinct will still be that making money means cronyism. There will be oligarchs who had learned once and for all that enrichment is getting public contracts from a godfather who has political power. They have learned that success is being above the law and bullying the losers who played fair.

The foreign cronies (businessmen sent by Erdogan, Putin, etc.) who swarmed the country with Orbán’s assistance will also still be here. And all the other figures who heard that there is a country in the EU that allows them to buy citizenship, as well as an exemption from the law, and is friendly to corrupting gentlemen.

That is the most damaging legacy of Orbánism. What it made people think about the economy.

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