Europe

Is Hungary heading for another Viktatorship?

People hold coloured papers to create a giant Hungarian tricolor as sympathisers and party members of the opposition party attend in front of the building of the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Opposition supporters rally at the Hungarian State Opera building in Budapest

As Hungary gears up for parliamentary elections on 6 April, latest opinion polls indicate that Prime Minister Viktor Orban - dubbed "the Viktator" by opponents who accuse him of authoritarian and populist tendencies - is set to win another comfortable majority.

Why does Mr Orban inspire such strong feelings?

His detractors say that the state of democracy in Hungary has been eroded under Mr Orban's premiership.

The centre-left opposition maintains that constitutional changes enacted since the 2010 election - in which his Fidesz party swept to power with a landslide victory - have removed essential democratic checks and balances. The opposition says that the changes have curtailed civil liberties, harmed free speech and cemented Fidesz's hold on power.

Fidesz counters that the government's policies are popular with ordinary Hungarians. The party insists that constitutional reform was needed in order to complete the work of eradicating the legacy of Communism from the country.

Doesn't he have any serious opponents?

The Hungarian left has never fully recovered from its heavy defeat in the 2010 election.

Five leftist and centrist parties formed an electoral alliance earlier this year, but this group is currently trailing well behind Fidesz in the opinion polls. One recent poll even suggested that the Unity alliance was in danger of being overtaken by the far-right Jobbik party.

Jobbik - which describes itself as a "radical nationalist" party - is potentially a greater threat to Mr Orban than the left-wing opposition, as there appears to be some overlap between its support base and that of Fidesz.

Jobbik's adoption of a softer image in the last year or so - some of the party's candidates have even used images of themselves cuddling kittens in their campaign literature - has evidently paid dividends, as a recent opinion poll found party leader Gabor Vona to be the most popular opposition politician.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party have been in power since 2010

So is he definitely a shoo-in?

Not quite: around 20%-25% of the electorate currently declares itself to be undecided or not planning to vote. However, most analysts believe that what is in doubt is not a Fidesz victory, but the size of Mr Orban's majority.

What's the secret of his success?

Mr Orban's populist approach seems to go down well with many Hungarians.

He has not been afraid to appeal to nationalist sentiments, often declaring that Hungary's unique character means that the nature of Hungarian democracy is necessarily different from that in other countries.

He often suggests that Hungary has in the past been forced to toe a line set by much more powerful countries - but is now determined it will not be told what to do by a supra-national force such as the EU, which he sees as trying to impose alien liberal and leftist values on the country.

This plays into a common folk view of the country engaged in a perpetual struggle against foreign domination.

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Image caption Istvan Meszaros - one of Jobbik's less 'cuddly' candidates

What are the main election issues?

The election is mainly being fought over the state of the economy.

Fidesz insists that its radical economic policies have worked, pointing to the fact that Hungary's budget deficit has been reduced to below 3% of economic output.

The government's unorthodox policies include the imposition of heavy windfall taxes on banks and mostly foreign-owned energy, telecoms and retail companies, in defiance of what Mr Orban likes to refer to as the "Brussels bureaucrats".

These taxes have allowed Fidesz to introduce a series of voter-pleasing measures, including big utility price cuts for households, higher salaries for teachers and generous childcare benefits.

However, the centre-left opposition maintains that these policies do not adequately address the problem of social inequality in the country.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption This billlboard mocking centre-left politicians reads 'They don't deserve another chance'

Does Mr Orban have an Achilles heel?

One thing that could damage his chances is the 10bn euro (£8.3bn) nuclear energy deal that his government signed with Russia earlier this year. Mr Orban claimed at the time that the Russian-financed plan to build two new reactors at the Paks nuclear power plant would reduce Hungary's reliance on foreign energy providers and allow him to continue his popular policy of utility price cuts.

However, critics argued that it would make Hungary completely dependent on Russia, which is already its main oil and gas supplier.

The subsequent tension between East and West over the current Ukrainian crisis has allowed the centre-left opposition to press its point that the government's foreign policy reorientation away from the EU and towards Russia may not be such a sensible course to pursue.

In addition to the concerns raised over the government's constitutional reform, Mr Orban has recently also attracted considerable domestic and international criticism over what are seen as his government's efforts to reinterpret Hungarian history and play down any episodes that cast a shadow on the country's reputation.

However, it remains to be seen whether these issues will be enough to persuade voters to defect to other parties in sufficient numbers to make a significant impact on the election result.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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