Co-authored by John Ahlquist, Nahomi Ichino, Jason Wittenberg and Daniel Ziblatt
How does a democracy collapse? We often envision military coups or corrupt politicians stuffing ballot boxes, sending their opponents to prison and declaring martial law.
The story in Hungary shows a far more subtle erosion of democracy — one where politicians took advantage of transitory control of the legislature to rewrite the rules of the political game.
Hungary, where elections are being held Sunday, is an example of how elected politicians can strictly follow the letter of the law and yet manage to tilt the playing field to their benefit. Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his governing Fidesz party implemented a variety of revisions between 2010 and 2014. Many of them, especially the re-engineering of the electoral system, appear highly technical or complex. But these changes nevertheless helped entrench Fidesz in power.
Hungary, a member of the European Union since 2004, had been a competitive democracy since the early 1990s. But things began to change when Orban’s party won the 2010 elections, garnering a supermajority that allowed Fidesz to amend the Hungarian constitution at will.