Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban declares election victory as vote count continues

Hungarian nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared victory in Sunday’s national election, claiming a fourth term as a still-incomplete vote count showed a strong lead for his right-wing party.

In a 10-minute speech to Fidesz party officials and supporters on an election night in Budapest, Orban addressed a crowd cheering “Viktor!” and said it was a “huge victory” for his party.

“We have won a victory so big that you can see it from the moon, and you can certainly see it from Brussels,” said Orban, who has often been condemned by the European Union for overseeing democratic backsliding and corruption. presumed.

As the votes were still being counted, it became clear that the question was not whether Orban’s Fidesz party would win the election, but by how much.

With around 91% of the vote, Orban’s Fidesz-led coalition had won 53%, while a pro-European opposition coalition, United for Hungary, had just over 34%, according to the Electoral Office. national.

Ballots are counted in Budapest on Sunday after the polls close for the general election. (Anna Szilagyi/Associated Press)

It seemed possible that Fidesz would win another constitutional majority, allowing it to continue bringing sweeping unilateral changes to the central European nation.

Competition was expected to be the tightest since Orban came to power in 2010, with Hungary’s six main opposition parties putting aside their ideological differences to form a united front against Fidesz . Voters elect lawmakers for the country’s 199-seat parliament.

Yet even in his home district, opposition leader Peter Marki-Zay is ahead of longtime Fidesz incumbent Janos Lazar by more than 12 points, with more than 98% of the votes counted. It was a disheartening sign for the candidate for prime minister who had promised to end what he claims is endemic government corruption, raise living standards by increasing funding for health care and troubled schools in Hungary and to repair frayed relations with the country’s Western partners.

In a surprise performance, the radical right-wing Our Homeland Movement appears to have garnered more than 6% of the vote, surpassing the 5% threshold needed to win seats in parliament.

People line up outside a polling station in Budapest during Sunday’s parliamentary elections. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

Opposition parties and international observers noted structural obstacles to Orban’s defeat, pointing to pervasive pro-government bias in state-run media, the dominance of commercial media by Orban’s allies, and a heavily gerrymandered electoral map. .

Edit Zgut, a political scientist at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, predicted that a clear victory for Orban would allow him to move further in an autocratic direction, pushing out dissidents and capturing new areas of the economy. .

Links with Russia

While Orban had previously campaigned on controversial social and cultural issues, he dramatically changed the tone of his campaign after Russia invaded Ukraine in February and has described the election since then as a choice between peace and stability or war and chaos.

While the opposition called on Hungary to support its beleaguered neighbor and act closely with its EU and NATO partners, Orban, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, insisted that Hungary remains neutral and maintains close economic ties with Moscow, including continuing to import Russian gas and oil on favorable terms.

At his final campaign rally on Friday, Orban claimed that supplying arms to Ukraine – something Hungary, alone among Ukraine’s neighbors in the EU, has refused to do – would make the country a military target. , and that sanctioning Russian energy imports would cripple Hungary’s own economy.

“It’s not our war, we have to stay out,” Orban said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday described the Hungarian leader as out of touch with the rest of Europe, which has united in condemning Putin, backing sanctions against Russia and sending aid, including weapons, to Israel. Ukraine.

“He is practically the only one in Europe who openly supports Mr. Putin,” Zelensky said.

Speaking to his supporters on Sunday, Orban singled out Zelensky as part of the “overwhelming force” he said his party had fought in the election – “the left at home, the international left all around, the Brussels bureaucrats, the Soros empire with all its money, the big international media and, in the end, even the Ukrainian president.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed a term in office for a fourth consecutive term, in a speech in Budapest on Sunday as the election results were still counted. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

Orban – a fierce critic of immigration, LGBTQ rights and “EU bureaucrats” – has won the admiration of right-wing nationalists across Europe and North America. He took many Hungarian democratic institutions under his control and presented himself as a defender of European Christianity against Muslim migrants, progressives and the “LGBTQ lobby”.

Alongside the parliamentary election, a referendum on LGBTQ issues was being held on Sunday. The questions related to sex education programs in schools and the availability of information on sex reassignment to children.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe sent a full observation mission to Hungary to monitor Sunday’s elections, only the second time it has done so in a European Union country.

Laura T. Thrasher