Viktor Orban loses key ally after election defeat of Kaczynski’s radical right-wing party

Viktor Orban loses key ally after election defeat of Kaczynski’s radical right-wing party
Hungarian premier Viktor Orban (left) with his Polish counterpart, outgoing premier Mateusz Morawiecki. / bne IntelliNews
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest October 17, 2023

The defeat of the Polish radical right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party at Sunday’s election is bad news for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is losing a strategic ally in European politics, Hungarian analysts said. Government officials have yet to comment on the results as of early October 17.

The return of former premier Donald Tusk, a long-time adversary of the Hungarian PM, is undoubtedly the worst-case scenario for Hungary’s illiberal strongman.

The former European People's Party (EPP) politician had a key role in the exclusion of Fidesz from the faction, and the 66-year-old referred to Orban's concept of "illiberal democracy" as "degenerate democracy".

Tusk was the prime speaker at an opposition campaign rally in April 2022. There, he urged Hungarian voters to replace "the most Putin-friendly government in Europe".

Hungarian analysts predict that the victory of the Polish opposition is a watershed moment for the region. After eight years of rule by the eurosceptic PiS, which has copied the illiberal playbook of Orban, Poland is likely to be led by a pro-EU, centrist-left government.

A Tusk government is unlikely to back up Orban with a veto when the EU tries to punish the Hungarian strongman for hollowing out his country's democracy system. The Hungarian government could therefore be more vulnerable to EU pressure.

The victory of Robert Fico’s Smer party in Slovakia is little solace to Hungary’s strongman, as Slovakia is already closely integrated with the EU as a member of the Eurozone, and Fico may also now turn towards Poland rather than Hungary. 

Under the Tusk government, Poland will turn to other international forums, primarily the Three Seas Initiative and the Bucharest Nine, while V4 cooperation will split along new lines, with pro-Western Polish-Czech cooperation on the one hand and Budapest and Slovakia on the other, according to foreign policy expert Botond Feledy.

The foreign policy expert said that Orban could continue to use vetoes to block EU initiatives and he argues it could rely on the new Slovak government in his bid to do so.

Hungary’s foreign policy is increasingly turning towards Southeastern Europe, including pro-Russian Balkan actors, and this Polish shift could further strengthen this trend, Feledy added.

The Polish election was closely followed in pro-Orban media. News channel Hirtv had live coverage, and online political site Mandiner also followed the vote count in a live YouTube stream.

Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC), the elite education institution funded by the government, held an election night party at its Budapest HQ. The mood was rather somber after the first exit polls emerged. Hungarian conservatives were hoping that the exit polls would be incorrect, much like in the recent Slovakian elections a few weeks earlier.



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