ungarians elect a new parliament on Sunday, and it’s a pleasant surprise that the result is in doubt. Strongman Victor Orban still is the favorite, but voters may strike a blow for greater democracy by denying him the wide margin he desires.
Mr. Orban hopes to win a two-thirds majority of seats in the parliament, which would allow him to amend the constitution at will. With days to go, that supermajority appears to be drifting out of Mr. Orban’s reach. Falling short of that goal by a dozen or so seats in the 199-seat parliament, as polls suggest may happen, would count as an electoral rebuke.
A mayoral loss for Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party in an urban stronghold in February was a warning that voters are growing disenchanted with his rule. Mr. Orban’s rhetoric about a George Soros -led conspiracy to inundate Hungary with migrants seems to be turning off many undecided voters. Corruption allegations against Fidesz politicians and supporters, which they deny, also weigh on support.
If Hungarian voters deal Mr. Orban a blow, they’ll have to do it without much help from the country’s opposition parties. The electoral system makes Fidesz beatable if voters choose the single most viable alternative candidate in each district. But many parties are reluctant to stand down their candidates for fear that they may win too few seats to make it back into parliament. The two most prominent opposition parties are also at opposite ends of the political spectrum—the Greens, and Jobbik, a formerly far-right party that claims to have remade itself as a center-right group. That leaves voters to figure out how to vote tactically in each district.
The stakes are high for Hungarians and their European and NATO partners. Mr. Orban has eroded freedom of the press by withholding government advertising from unfriendly media and encouraging his friends to buy newspapers and TV stations, and new laws target funding for civil-society groups that challenge his actions. Mr. Orban is a close friend of Vladimir Putin within the EU and NATO, where Hungary enjoys the same veto as other members. A supermajority would allow him to further entrench his power.
An embarrassment is that the EU hasn’t been more effective at blocking Mr. Orban’s authoritarian moves. Mr. Orban has been shrewd in befriending political groups in Brussels, and the EU doesn’t have much authority to punish countries determined to stray from democracy. That leaves Hungarian voters to defend their democracy as best they can, while they can.