No, Senator Cardin, Hungary is not a “one-party state"

What Senator Cardin and the panelists said at the Brookings Institution’s event this week underscores that the Helsinki Commission and the Transatlantic Democracy Working Group remain deeply committed to pursuing a strongly anti-Hungary narrative based on misinformation and a poor command of the facts.

Delivering remarks at the opening event of the Brookings Institution’s announcement of “The Democracy Playbook: A strategic plan to fight democratic backsliding,” Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat, continued his narrative where he left off last week, a biased narrative that can only be described as strongly anti-Hungary. (Read my blog post here on how Cardin and the Helsinki Commission are twisting facts.)

Earlier this week, just days after his joint statement with Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, in which he strained to portray Prime Minister Orbán’s government as the culprit for the actions of a radical, far-right group, Senator Cardin has gone several steps further.

That’s unfortunate coming from a senator of the US, an important ally to Hungary, but it gives me an opportunity – yet another opportunity - to refute the activist Helsinki Commission claims and recall some facts.

In his remarks, Senator Cardin espouses the premise that – just like Turkey and, in some ways, Poland – Hungary is essentially a one-party state. That’s a whopper of a claim. It’s insulting to the citizens of Hungary and it’s fundamentally wrong.

Six parties hold seats in Hungary’s National Assembly, plus a representative for the German minority and an independent also won seats. Yes, the ruling Fidesz-KDNP alliance commands a strong majority, but that’s a majority given by the voters and the political contest remains lively. Take last month’s local elections for example: The governing parties lost in some major cities, and Budapest elected an opposition politician as mayor. The campaign was hardly dull, and we saw some fierce competition among the candidates. The October elections saw the highest turnout in municipal elections since 2006. Turnout in the European Parliamentary elections in May also went up, and voter participation in the parliamentary elections last year topped 69 percent, the highest since 2002.

Those are not the kind of dynamics that describe a one-party state.

Citing a visit to Hungary in July, Cardin said that after meeting half a dozen government officials, his impression was as if he’d been to China. China...

In response to his “concerns,” he says that he received the same answers from everybody. It’s important to note that from the Hungarian Government’s side, Cardin’s delegation, in fact, only met Minister Gergely Gulyás. And despite scheduling it several weeks prior, they canceled their meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Levente Magyar. They also met Zsolt Németh, MP and chairman of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

Furthermore, even if the delegation had met half a dozen government officials, why is it a problem that they had the same answers to the Commission’s tired questions about Hungarian democracy, independence of courts, civil society and the usual? The responses were based on facts and the consistency reflects a coherent administration. Those facts are apparently inconvenient truths to the ideologically-driven agenda of the Helsinki Commission, so they made the truly remarkable comparison to the one-party administration of China.

Our relationship with the United States – in trade and investment, in defense cooperation and more – remains excellent, and the cooperation at the most senior levels between the Orbán Government and the Trump Administration makes the bilateral ties excellent. That’s despite what appears at times as a peculiarly determined, ideologically driven, anti-Hungary campaign from the likes of Senator Cardin and the Helsinki Commission. These figures have demonstrated a troubling lack of awareness of what’s taking place in Hungary, a disturbingly poor command of the facts.

Fortunately, we won’t let that get in the way or our relationship with the US.

Photo credit: wbur.org