Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has hailed a “great victory” for his Fidesz party after preliminary results showed the right-wing group winning Sunday’s general election by a landslide.
The win – Fidesz’s fourth consecutive election victory – was by a much greater margin than polls had suggested, after a campaign overshadowed by the war in neighbouring Ukraine.
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The Russian invasion of Ukraine had forced Orban into awkward manoeuvring to explain decade-old cosy business relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the 58-year-old mounted a successful campaign to persuade his Fidesz party’s core electorate that the six-party opposition alliance that is promising to mend ties with the European Union could lead the country into war, an accusation the opposition denied.
Addressing a jubilant crowd chanting his name in Budapest, Orban said Sunday’s victory came against all odds.
“We have scored a victory so big, that it can be seen even from the Moon,” he said. “We have defended Hungary’s sovereignty and freedom.”
Preliminary results with about 98 percent of national party list votes counted showed Orban’s Fidesz party leading with 53.1 percent of votes versus 35 percent for Peter Marki-Zay’s opposition alliance.
Fidesz was also winning 88 of 106 single-member constituencies.
Based on preliminary results, the National Election Office said Fidesz would have 135 seats, a two-thirds majority, and the opposition alliance would have 56 seats.
A far-right party called Our Homeland would also make it into parliament, winning seven seats.
Fidesz’s comfortable victory could embolden Orban in his policy agenda which critics say amounts to a subversion of democratic norms, media freedom and the rights of minorities, particularly gay and lesbian people.
Conceding defeat, Marki-Zay, 49, said Fidesz’s win was due to what he called its vast propaganda machine, including media dominance.
“I don’t want to hide my disappointment, my sadness … We knew this would be an uneven playing field,” he said. “We admit that Fidesz got a huge majority of the votes. But we still dispute whether this election was democratic and free.”
One of Europe’s longest-serving leaders, Orban has emerged as a vocal supporter of anti-immigration policies and an opponent of tough energy sanctions against Moscow.
Critics say he has sought to cement one-party rule by overhauling the constitution, taking control of a majority of media outlets and rejigging election rules, as well as staffing key government posts with loyalists and rewarding businessmen close to Fidesz with lucrative state contracts.
Still, he wins favour with many older, poorer voters in rural areas who espouse his traditional Christian values and with families who benefit from a host of tax breaks and price caps on fuel and some foodstuffs.
While Orban had earlier campaigned on divisive social and cultural issues, he dramatically shifted the tone of his campaign after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and has portrayed the election since then as a choice between peace and stability or war and chaos.
While the opposition called for Hungary to support its embattled neighbour and act in lockstep with its EU and NATO partners, Orban, a longtime ally of Putin, has insisted that Hungary remain neutral and maintain its close economic ties with Moscow, including continuing to import Russian gas and oil on favourable terms.
At his final campaign rally on Friday, Orban claimed that supplying Ukraine with weapons – something that Hungary, alone among Ukraine’s EU neighbors, has refused to do – would make the country a military target, and that sanctioning Russian energy imports would cripple Hungary’s own economy.
“This isn’t our war, we have to stay out of it,” Orban said.
The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on Saturday depicted the Hungarian leader as out of touch with the rest of Europe, which has united to condemn Putin, support sanctions against Russia and send aid including weapons to Ukraine.
“He is virtually the only one in Europe to openly support Mr Putin,” Zelenskyy said.
While speaking to supporters on Sunday, Orban singled out Zelenskyy as part of the “overwhelming force” that he said his party had struggled against in the election — “the left at home, the international left all around, the Brussels bureaucrats… the international mainstream media, and in the end, even the Ukrainian president.”
His supporters responded with laughter.
Along with the election to parliament, a referendum on LGBTQ issues was also being held on Sunday. The questions pertained to sex education programs in schools and the availability to children of information about sex reassignment.
The Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a full observation mission to Hungary to monitor Sunday’s election, only the second time it has done so in a EU country.