Hungary's democratic backslide "spectacular", Freedom House reports

By bne IntelliNews April 5, 2017

Hungary has experienced a "spectacular breakdown of democracy" in the last decade,
according to a report by watchdog Freedom House released on April 4. It now ranks as the  least democratic country in Central Europe, according to the NGO.

Freedom House named Hungary and Poland as the countries that stood as Eastern European models of democratic change after the collapse of communism. However both countries have seen attacks on their constitutional courts and checks and balances, and the transformations of public media into "propaganda arms” at the hands of their populist leaders, according to Freedom House. Hungary’s  downward spiral began with the election of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Fidesz in 2010, the report said. Now Hungary is a “semi-consolidated democracy”, according to Freedom House.

With 1 as “Most Democratic” and 7 “Least Democratic”, Hungary’s democracy score fell from 3.29 to 3.54 last year. National democratic governance declined from 4.00 to 4.25 due to the continued centralisation of power and the total domination of the political system and economy by the governing parties, and the deployment of illiberal rhetoric, Freedom House said.

Meanwhile Hungary’s electoral process rating declined from 2.75 to 3.00, due to the manipulation of the refugee quota referendum and the Sunday shop closure scandal, when security guards blocked an opposition politician from filing a referendum initiative on the controversial shopping ban, Freedom House added.

Hungary’s Civil society rating declined from 2.50 to 2.75 due to an increasingly hostile political atmosphere, and allegations of surveillance and “outsourced physical violence” against watchdog NGOs and other civil society representatives. The country’s corruption rating declined from 4.00 to 4.50 thanks to large-scale and unpunished corruption involving not just government-friendly oligarchs but also high-ranking politicians and officials.

Independent media rating declined from 3.75 to 4.25 due to the strong political intervention in the Hungarian media market, several acquisitions financed with the help of state-controlled banks, and the controversial circumstances leading to the shutdown of the newspaper Nepszabadsag, Hungary’s leading critical daily.

Orban government spokesman responded to the report with a tweet that said “It was no surprise that Freedom House, an organisation financed by George Soros, should launch an attack on Hungary.”

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