The country was ranked among “semi-consolidated democracies”, slipping from being a “consolidated democracy” last year. It scored an overall 3.18 points for various democratic indicators on a scale of one to seven, with one being the best score. Last year it scored 2.96 points.
The report said that after its victory in the 2014 general election, the ruling Fidesz party continued to enact laws quickly, as it had done in the past, by circumventing procedural regulations. It noted an increased range of laws that require a supermajority to pass. Any opposition party coming to power in the future would have its hands tied by the ruling party’s officials with long mandates heading independent institutions.
The report noted with concern statements by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán regarding Hungary as an illiberal democracy. Referring to an attempt to create an “illiberal state”, the organisation questioned the government’s commitment to democratic values.
In the category of electoral process, the watchdog cited changes to the electoral law which it said disproportionately favoured the dominant party. It said critics described the 2014 general election as “free but unfair” and it noted concerns by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe about a lack of balanced media coverage.
The nation’s civil society score also declined. Civil society in Hungary depended on government funds and these were “handed out in a partisan manner”. In 2014 government rhetoric had become increasingly hostile toward NGOs, with officials portraying them as paid political activists. Political and economic pressures had significantly damaged press freedom.
Freedom House gave Hungary a lower score in the category of local democratic governance, citing new regulations regarding the local elections, which the report said “were thought to weaken representation for opposition groups”.
Regarding judicial independence, the rights group said that by the end of 2014, 11 of the 15 justices of the Constitutional Court had been appointed by the ruling coalition.
The report said “close ties between political and economic elites remain a major source of corruption”. The government continued to serve the business interests of “friends and clients and to manipulate public procurement”.
In its outlook for 2015, the watchdog said the prime minister would “likely continue with his aggressive and divisive populist rhetoric”. The report does not expect strong opposition to develop during the year.
The Justice Ministry responded that the report “paints a false picture” of democracy in Hungary. Last year’s elections demonstrated that the election system functions properly and fully reflects voter preferences, the ministry said.
As for Freedom House’s verdict on judicial independence, the ministry cited the 2015 EU Justice Scoreboard released by the European Court of Justice, which gave an overview of the quality, independence and efficiency of the justice systems of member states, as a document that counters the Freedom House report.
Regarding press freedom, the ministry said not a single case was referred to the European Court of Human Rights last year, and both Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, and the Venice Commission “acknowledged the progress made in media regulation in Hungary”.
The ministry criticised Freedom House’s method of calculating its democracy scores and the fact that it had given Hungary the highest score for 2006, a year in which the ministry says “the police illegally used excessive violence against opposition protesters”.