BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Polls closed Sunday in Hungarian national elections in which pro-Putin nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban was seeking a fourth consecutive term.
The competition is 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 his right-wing Fidesz party. Voters elect lawmakers to the 199-seat parliament.
There were no exit polls but the first results are expected later in the evening. Opinion polls in the final days of the race gave Orban’s Fidesz a slight advantage over the coalition of Western-looking opposition parties.
Opposition parties and international observers pointed to 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. .
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.
Gabor Somogyi, a 58-year-old marketing professional, said after casting his vote that he believed Hungarian media favored Orban and Fidesz and made the election unfair.
“I’m really counting on the follow-up. It’s good, I’m happy with it. But I don’t really believe (the election) will be clean enough. Even the countryside was not clean enough,” Somogyi said.
Yet despite what it called an uneven playing field, the six-party opposition coalition United for Hungary asked voters to support its efforts to introduce a new political culture in Hungary based on pluralistic governance and renewed alliances with the EU and NATO.
While Orban had previously campaigned on controversial social and cultural issues, he dramatically changed the tone of his campaign after Russia invaded neighboring 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 told his supporters 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 Zelenskyy on Saturday described the Hungarian leader as disconnected from the rest of Europe, which has united in condemning Putin, supporting sanctions against Russia and sending aid, including weapons, to Ukraine.
“He is practically the only one in Europe who openly supports Mr. Putin,” Zelenskyy said.
Opposition coalition candidate for prime minister Peter Marki-Zay has vowed to end what he says is endemic government corruption and raise living standards by increasing funding for systems of health and education in difficulty in Hungary.
After voting in his hometown of Hodmezovasarhely, where he is mayor, Marki-Zay called Sunday’s election an “uphill battle” due to Fidesz’s superior economic resources and media advantage. But he said he knew “there are more people who want change in Hungary”.
“We are fighting for decency, we are fighting for the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in Hungary,” Marki-Zay said. “We are fighting for the whole world. We want to show that this model that Orban has … introduced here in Hungary is not acceptable to any decent and honest man.
Orban – a fierce critic of immigration, LGBTQ rights and “EU bureaucrats” – has won the admiration of right-wing nationalists across Europe and North America. Fox News host Tucker Carlson broadcast from Budapest for a week last summer, where he touted Orban’s hardline approach to immigration and his razor-wire border fence.
Orban 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”.
Peter Sandor, 78, said after voting on Sunday that what was at stake in the election was whether Orban could continue to champion Christian conservatism in Hungary and maintain his national pride.
“The importance of this election is to continue what we have been building for 12 years. Fantastic results,” he said. made between 2002 and 2010.”