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Stephen Harper criticized for congratulating Hungary’s Viktor Orban on re-election

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban smiles during an international news conference in the parliament building in Budapest on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, two days after his Fidesz party in coalition with the Christian Democratic Party won a landslide election victory.

Lajos Soos/The Associated Press

Former prime minister Stephen Harper is facing criticism after publicly congratulating Hungary’s controversial political leader Viktor Orban and his right-wing Fidesz party for winning re-election.

In a tweet on Monday, Mr. Harper congratulated Mr. Orban on his election as Hungary’s Prime Minister, adding that the International Democratic Union (IDU) looks forward to working with him. Mr. Harper serves as the chairman of the IDU, an association of more than 80 conservative political parties worldwide.

However, the Liberal government and foreign-policy experts criticized Mr. Harper’s congratulatory message for Mr. Orban, who ran on an anti-immigrant platform and who has been censured for leading the Central European country on an increasingly authoritarian path.

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“Many Canadians will find it utterly shocking that former prime minister Stephen Harper would on Twitter put his arm around Mr. Orban, congratulate him upon his re-election knowing full well, as we all do, that Mr. Orban has been brazenly promoting ethnic cleansing in Europe, has demonized refugees … and has a been a head of state who serially introduced anti-democratic laws undermining a free press, an independent judiciary and democratic values,” Liberal MP Marco Mendicino said in an interview. “This is completely contrary to the bedrock values that Canada stands for.”

As chairman of the IDU, Mr. Harper is responsible for communicating about the activities of the organization’s membership, his spokeswoman Anna Tomala said. The Fidesz party is a member of the IDU. She said the practice of sending regular congratulatory messages to other member parties predates Mr. Harper’s election as chairman.

Roland Paris, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former foreign-policy adviser, said many countries will congratulate Mr. Orban out of “diplomatic courtesy,” but questioned Mr. Harper’s “values and intent.”

Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban wins his third straight term in office, with his party taking two-thirds of seats in parliament. Reuters

Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, was also criticized this week for tweeting congratulations to Mr. Orban on his re-election.

Robert Austin, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, said Mr. Harper’s tweet shows that he is not that informed about the current Hungarian government, which Prof. Austin said possesses a number of authoritarian characteristics. “If you’re a Liberal in Hungary, that means you should probably go buy a suitcase,” he said.

Globe editorial: Viktor Orban’s victory in Hungary is bad news for democracy

Mr. Mendicino also called on Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to clarify his position on Mr. Harper’s tweet, especially as Tory MP Tony Clement is deputy chairman of the IDU.

“The greater concern is what this says about the values of Mr. Scheer and whether or not he is for a free democracy, whether he is for the institutions that support our democracy and whether or not he is for accepting Canada’s historic role for welcoming refugees,” Mr. Mendicino said.

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Mr. Scheer’s spokesman Jake Enwright said he would not comment on Mr. Mendicino’s “attacks on a former prime minister.” Mr. Clement also declined to comment on Mr. Harper’s tweet.

Mr. Orban projected himself as the savior of Hungary’s Christian culture during the recent election campaign, running on a promise to protect the country’s borders from migrants fleeing the Middle East and Africa. His Fidesz party secured a strong majority over the weekend, winning two-thirds of the 199 seats in parliament.

In a statement on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office called on Hungary to ensure the protection of human and democratic rights, including the rights of a free press and civil society. Spokesman Adam Austen said Canada has made its concerns clear, including about the Orban government’s attempt to shut down the Central European University in Budapest. The university was founded by Hungarian-born financier George Soros, a political target of Mr. Orban, and is led by former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff as president.

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