The price of power in Hungary

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán boasts a strong majority, but vast national debt may be his undoing

The price of power

Bernat Armangue/AP

On Dec. 23, opposition lawmakers in Hungary chained themselves to a barrier outside Budapest’s parliament building in a bid to stop a vote. Their protest was for naught. After two hours, police carted the politicians away. And inside, Viktor Orbán got on with the business of remaking his country.

Since coming to power in 2010, the prime minister and his right-wing Fidesz party have used their two-thirds majority in parliament to ram through a series of restrictive new measures. Judicial independence has been compromised and media freedoms curtailed, critics charge, while Fidesz party loyalists now occupy most of the country’s nominally independent posts. As the new year dawned, meanwhile, thousands took to the streets of Budapest to protest Hungary’s new constitution, which came into force on Jan. 1.

Many of the protesters were calling for Orbán’s ouster. But his real problems could be external. Hungary’s credit rating was downgraded to junk status last year, and national debt sits at 80 per cent of GDP. By passing a law in December that restricts Hungary’s central banker, however, Orbán may have alienated his country’s lenders of last resort: the EU and the IMF. If things don’t change soon, Orbán could find himself unable to pay Hungary’s bills.

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