May 20, 2022

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Hungarians vote on Orbán's 12-year rule in a narrow vote overshadowed by the Ukraine war

Hungarians vote on Orbán’s 12-year rule in a narrow vote overshadowed by the Ukraine war

  • Orban seeks re-election for a fourth consecutive term
  • Fidesz is slightly ahead of the opposition coalition in the polls
  • The war in Ukraine upset the election campaign, and the focus of undecided voters
  • Hungarians vote as inflation rises and the economy slows
  • Voter turnout was 40.01% at 1100 GMT and polls close at 1700 GMT

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – There are slight prospects in favor of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of Europe’s oldest leaders, to extend his 12-year rule in an election on Sunday, as his close ties with Moscow come under scrutiny. Hungarians also head to the ballot box.

With the war in neighboring Ukraine dominating the election campaign, the six-party opposition alliance is within walking distance of Orbán’s Fidesz party in opinion polls, making the poll result uncertain for the first time since Orbán came to power in 2010.

The war forced Orban to make uncomfortable maneuvers at home after more than a decade of close political and commercial ties between his government, Russia, and President Vladimir Putin.

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Opposition leader, Conservative Peter Markie Zay, 49, has portrayed the election as a choice between East and West. Orbán has turned Hungary toward Russia, he says, eroding democratic rights and steering the central European country away from the European Union where it belongs.

Marki Zay, who queued to vote with his wife and children in his southern hometown of Hodmzovasarhli where he is mayor, said he hoped the vote would “change the course of Hungarian history”.

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“Now we are fighting for democracy and we are fighting for decency,” Markie Zay told reporters. “Although we are in an uphill battle, under near-impossible conditions, we can still win,” he said, referring to the government’s control of state media and changes to election rules that critics say favor Fides.

Among these changes, Orbán’s government granted ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries the right to vote on party lists by mail, unlike the hundreds of thousands of Hungarians working abroad who could only vote in person at embassies or consulates, limiting their ability to participate.

Earlier in the day, Orbán cast his vote in snowy Budapest with his wife at his side, telling reporters he expected a “great victory” and portrayed the ballot as a choice between “peace or war”, once again accusing his opponents of trying to sway. Hungary is in the Ukraine dispute, a charge they deny.

When repeatedly asked about his close relations with Putin, Orban, who earlier described relations with Russia as fair and balanced, said:

“Vladimir Putin is not running in the Hungarian elections, so I don’t have to deal with that question today, fortunately.”

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

Polling stations close at 1700 GMT, with preliminary indications of the result expected within a few hours.

Orban leads ahead of elections

Orban, 58, has portrayed himself as a defender of Hungarian interests by rejecting European Union sanctions on Russian oil and gas.

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

He supported the European Union’s decision to send arms to Ukraine but banned arms shipments from Hungary, saying such a move could pose a security risk. His tactical maneuver helped cement his support among Fidesz’s main constituents. But it led to criticism from some allies, including Poland.

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

“Urban has been swinging from one side to the other for so long that he is now unable to take a clear position on the war.”

exorbitant prices

With the coronavirus pandemic waning, many Hungarians are now suffering from high consumer prices, with inflation soaring to a nearly 15-year high of 8.3% in February even as Orbán imposed caps on retail fuel prices, basic foodstuffs and mortgage rates, and implemented a spree. Spending before elections to support families.

The opposition coalition, which includes the Left Democratic Coalition, the Liberal Momentum Party and the far-right-turned-moderate Jobbik parties, has exploited popular discontent, criticizing what they describe as the systemic corruption that has enriched the oligarchs close to Fidesz.

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

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On Sunday, Hungarians will also vote in a referendum on sexual orientation workshops in schools – a vote that voting rights groups have condemned, saying it fuels prejudice against LGBT people. Read more

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Reporting by Krisztina Than; Additional reporting by Kristina Veneu; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Kirsten Donovan

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.