In 2022, Viktor Orbán is spending his fifth term as prime minister of Hungary: the Hungarian parliament elected him first as head of government in 1998, then in 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022.

Looking back at his election in 2010, it can be confidently said that Orbán opened a new era in Hungarian politics. He proved to be a charismatic leader who radically transformed domestic politics and in addition he had an impact on the international level too. Based on the extent and the speed of changes, we can argue that Orbán reshaped the operation of Hungarian politics in a robust way, although the direction and content of the changes are strongly disputed.

A number of authors expressed their concern about the illiberal and populist turn of the Orbán government: some wrote about the emergence of ‘hybrid regime’ and expressed their doubts about the survival of democracy, others have described Orbán regime as an ‘authoritarian’ one. Orbán himself spoke of the “illiberal state” in his much-cited speech in 2014 at Tusnádfürdő, and, because of this, illiberal democracy became a popular term in political science literature, describing the nature of the regime.

It is not my intention in this working paper to decide on the “big question”, that is, whether and to what extent contemporary Hungary can still be described as a democracy. Instead, I would like to present three relevant approaches to the readers. In the first part, I analyze the operation of the Orbán regime in the framework of the plebiscitary leader democracy theory which emphasizes the role of charismatic leadership. In the second chapter, I apply the dominant party approach, which interprets the system with reference to historical antecedents. Finally, I seek to explain in details the illiberal nature of the contemporary Hungarian political system which became a ’trademark’ of the Orbán regime.


* Working paper by

Beáta Kovács, PhD candidate, Eötvös Loránd University