Hungary’s hardliner leader declares victory in election as war rages in neighboring Ukraine
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Viktor Orbán claimed victory in Hungary’s general election on Sunday, as his Fidesz party appears on track to give the prime minister a fourth consecutive term amid a war raging in neighboring Ukraine.
“We have won a victory so big that you can see it from the moon, and you can certainly see it from Brussels,” Orbán said in a speech in front of the Danube on election night.
“The whole world saw tonight in Budapest that Christian-democratic politics, conservative civic politics and patriotic politics won. We are saying to Europe that this is not the past, this is the future,” he continued.
With 75% of the vote, the coalition led by Orbán’s Fidesz won 54% while the opposition coalition, United for Hungary, won 34%, according to the National Electoral Office.
The victory allows Orbán to continue to be a thorn in the European Union and NATO alliances in times of international crisis, as he tries to balance Hungary’s Western partnerships with his personal and economic relations. close with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And that would give Orbán another four-year term to continue undermining Hungarian democratic standards.
The election was expected to be the most contested race since Orbán took power in 2010, after six opposition parties – ranging from socialists to the former far-right – unexpectedly put aside their ideological differences to unite behind a common candidate for the post of Prime Minister, Peter Márki-Zay.
Márki-Zay, the 49-year-old Catholic father of seven, was seen as a compelling conservative alternative to Orbán. After being elected mayor in a surprise victory in 2018 of the small southern town of Hódmezővásárhely, a Fidesz stronghold, Márki-Zay looked set to lose his own neighborhood on Sunday.
Addressing reports on opposition election night at Budapest’s outdoor rink, Márki-Zay said the election was “not free and fair”.
“The results show that after five years of brainwashing, Orbán can still win any election in this country,” he said.
Orbán, who has been embraced by influential American conservatives such as Tucker Carlson for championing culture war issues, began his re-election campaign by stoking anti-immigrant sentiments and opposing “LGBT ideology.”
But when the Russian-Ukrainian conflict erupted, Orbán reframed the election as a choice between peace, which he said could only be won by his Fidesz party, or war, which he said Hungary would be drawn into. if the opposition won.
The opposition had tried to make Orbán pay a political price for his intimate relationship with Putin, but his tight control over the news media made it difficult to get their message across.
In the days leading up to the election, Márki-Zay lamented that Orbán had managed to use “his fake news machine” to convince Hungarians that the opposition would “send their children to Ukraine to die” if they won.
Orbán’s warnings seemed effective. András Nemenyi, a 63-year-old voter, said he rushed to vote for Orbán moments before polls closed on Sunday, largely because of the prime minister’s handling of the war.
“Only in peace can you raise your children properly,” Nemenyi said as he left a polling station in central Budapest with his 6-year-old son.
Márki-Zay accused Fidesz of committing electoral fraud on Thursday after local media reported that completed ballot papers filled with votes for the opposition were burned and thrown away in neighboring Romania, home to a large Hungarian ethnic community eligible to participate. in the elections.
Hungarian election officials reported the alleged case of election fraud to the police, and Romanian police also opened an investigation.
Hungary’s democratic backsliding under Orbán prompted a number of international organizations to send teams to independently monitor the elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has sent a full observation mission to Hungary, only the second time it has done so in an EU country.
Freedom House, a US-based rights group, released a report in 2020 stating that Hungary could no longer be considered a democracy due to Orbán’s continued efforts to undermine democratic institutions, including his takeover of independent media organizations and the passing of an emergency law implemented when Covid hit that allows the government to rule by decree indefinitely.
Orbán and his Fidesz party face a number of significant challenges. Thousands of Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the country since the start of the war, putting a strain on Hungary’s already overstretched social services.
Although the war was a priority for many Hungarians ahead of the election, the country is also grappling with soaring inflation and falling wages. And the EU has threatened to withhold funds that Hungary heavily depends on due to Orbán’s attacks on democratic norms.
Orbán won his fifth term overall on Sunday. He first ruled in 1998-2002 before returning to power in 2010.
Fidesz won a two-thirds majority in 2010 and 2014. They lost this “supermajority” in 2015 before regaining it in 2018.