Hungarians vote for Orban’s 12-year rule on tight ballots marred by war in Ukraine

  • Orban is seeking re-election for a fourth consecutive term
  • In the Fidesz polls, the opposition alliance is slightly ahead
  • The war in Ukraine upset the campaign, in the spotlight of undecided voters
  • Hungarians are voting against the background of rising inflation, slowing economy
  • Voter turnout was 40.01% at 11:00 GMT, polling stations closed at 17:00 GMT

BUDAPEST, April 3 (Reuters) – Chances are slightly in favor of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of Europe’s leaders who continues to work in Europe, to extend his 12-year rule in Sunday’s election, where his close ties with Moscow are being tested. . as Hungarians head to the ballot box.

Due to the fact that the campaign is dominated by the war in neighboring Ukraine, the six-party opposition alliance is within minutes of a poll by Orban’s Fidesz party, making the vote uncertain for the first time since Orban’s rise to power in 2010.

The war has made Orban uncomfortable maneuvering at home after more than a decade of his government’s close political and business relations with Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

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The opposition leader, 49-year-old Conservative Peter Marki-Zai, described the election as a choice between East and West. According to him, Orbán turned Hungary towards Russia, eroding democratic rights and directing the Central European country from the European Union to where it belongs.

Marki-Zai, who stood in line to cast his vote with his wife and children in his hometown of Hodmezovasarhely, where he is mayor, said he hoped the vote would “change the course of Hungarian history”.

“Now we are fighting for democracy, we are fighting for decency,” Marki-Zay told reporters. “Although in a difficult battle, under almost impossible circumstances, we can still win,” he said, referring to the government’s control over the state media and changes in electoral rules that critics say promote Fidesz.

Among these changes, the Orbán government has given ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries the right to vote on party lists by mail, as opposed to hundreds of thousands of Hungarians working abroad who can only vote in person at embassies or consulates, limiting their ability to participate.

Earlier in the day, while voting in snowy Budapest with his wife, Orban told reporters he expected a “big victory” and described the vote as a choice between “peace or war”, again accusing his opponents of trying to delay Hungary’s conflict. in Ukraine, they deny the accusation.

Answering repeated questions about his close ties with Putin, Orban, who had previously described relations with Russia as fair and balanced, said:

“Vladimir Putin is not running in the elections in Hungary, so fortunately I do not have to deal with this issue today.”

“I stand on the basis of Hungarian national interests, I am pro-Hungarian.”

Polling stations will close at 5pm GMT, with preliminary readings expected within hours.

Orban is leading before the election

The 58-year-old Orbán has shown himself to be a defender of Hungarian interests, rejecting EU sanctions against Russian oil and gas.

He condemned the Russian invasion and did not veto EU sanctions against Moscow, although he said he did not agree with them. His government also allowed the deployment of NATO troops in Hungary, where public support for alliance membership was 80% in the 2021 GLOBSEC poll.

He supported the EU’s decision to send weapons to Ukraine, but banned arms supplies from Hungary, saying the move could pose a security threat. His tactical gambit has helped solidify his support among Fidesz’s major voters. But this has led to criticism from some allies, including Poland.

In the Budapest constituency, 76-year-old Rudolf Gru criticized Orban’s attempt to position himself between Russia and the European Union, of which Hungary is a member.

“Orbán has been shifting from one side to the other for so long that he cannot now take a clear position in the war.”

FOLDING CETS

Due to the reduction of the coronavirus pandemic, many Hungarians are worried about rising consumer prices: inflation in February was almost 15-year high of 8.3%, even though Orban imposed restrictions on retail prices for fuel, basic food and mortgage rates and spent campaign expenses to support households.

The opposition alliance, which includes the left-wing Democratic Coalition, the liberal Momentum and the far-right, moderate moderate Jobbik parties, has sparked public discontent, criticizing what they called systemic corruption that has enriched Fidesz-affiliated oligarchs.

After years of clashes with Brussels over media freedom, the rule of law and immigration, part of Orbán’s current campaign is based on protecting conservative Christian family values ​​from what he calls “gender madness” in Western Europe.

On Sunday, Hungarians will also vote in a referendum on sexual orientation seminars in schools – human rights groups have condemned, saying it fuels bias against LGBTQ. read on

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Report by Christina Tan; Additional report by Christina Fenno; Edited by Hugh Lawson, Kirsten Donavan

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