Hungary's Viktor Orbán secures another term with resounding win

Orbán and his Fidesz party projected to take 133 seats with 93% of votes counted, after a heavily anti-migration campaign

Hungary’s anti-migration prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has secured a third consecutive term in office after his Fidesz party won a resounding victory in parliamentary elections on Sunday.

After running a campaign almost exclusively focused on the apparent threat posed by migration, Orbán’s Fidesz will have a majority in parliament and may even regain a two-thirds “supermajority” which allows constitutional changes.

With around 93% of votes counted, Fidesz was projected to take 133 of the parliament’s 199 seats, the minimum required for the supermajority.

Orbán appeared shortly before midnight to claim victory in front of a cheering crowd outside the Fidesz election headquarters on the Danube in Budapest.

“We won,” Orbán said. “We gave ourselves a chance to protect Hungary.”

Second place in the vote went to Jobbik, the far-right party that has attempted to rebrand itself as an anti-corruption centrist force. The party is set to win just 26 seats, and its leader, Gábor Vona, said he would resign.

The result is a crushing defeat for the liberal opposition, who had been cautiously optimistic about dealing a blow to Fidesz. Surveys showed that more Hungarians wanted a change of government than another Orbán term, but the divided opposition meant Fidesz was able to win big. The Hungarian electoral system allows for a party to win a large majority of seats without winning a majority of the vote. Changes made by Orbán’s government over recent years have cemented that advantage.

Orbán has been accused of presiding over a rollback of democratic norms in other fields. Government-linked figures control much of the media and the opposition has been targeted with a smear campaign that paints them as agents of foreign influence.

“Since the change of system in 1989, the country has not seen such a dirty campaign full of lies,” said Antal Csárdi, a candidate from the liberal LMP party who looked set to win a seat in Budapest, where the opposition made gains.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe is due to present a report into the election on Monday, which could be critical of the legal and media environment around the vote.

Controversy aside, the win will be taken as a resounding endorsement of Orbán’s anti-migrant agenda and will be welcomed by far-right parties across Europe. “The inversion of values and the mass immigration that is propagated by the EU has been rejected once again,” said Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s Front National, on Twitter.

Orbán, who became prominent in the late 1980s as a young liberal calling for Soviet troops to withdraw from Hungary, has morphed into a rightwing nationalist over the years. He served one term as prime minister between 1998 and 2002 and was then in opposition for eight years until his Fidesz party won a two-thirds majority in parliament in 2010 and 2014.

Since the refugee crisis of 2015, Orbán’s rhetoric on migration has become increasingly sharp. His government has built a fence along the country’s southern border to keep out migrants. Orbán has claimed he is fighting a conspiracy to destroy Hungary led by the Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros.

Orbán speaks in terms that in most countries would be the preserve of extreme rightwing fringe parties, telling Hungarians that “tens of millions” of migrants from Africa and the Middle East were waiting to kick down Hungary’s door and warning that they would bring terror, crime and rape with them.

“If the levy breaks, if they open the borders, if migrants enter the country, there is no way back,” Orbán said in his final campaign speech on Friday.

Shortly before the election, posters appeared as part of a publicly funded “government information” campaign. It shows the same photograph used in Ukip’s controversial “breaking point” poster during the UK’s Brexit referendum, and is embossed with one simple word: STOP.

Orbán has also strongly criticised the European Union, insisting that Hungary will not accept the compulsory redistribution of migrants.

Despite a number of corruption scandals implicating top Fidesz officials, the anti-migrant rhetoric has worked well enough to shore up support for the party among its core voter base.

Earlier on Sunday, many voters said they were voting tactically in an attempt to unseat the Fidesz candidate at a Budapest polling station across the Danube from the Hungarian parliament.

“I would really like a change of government,” said 78-year-old Ildiko Nagy, after voting for a leftwing party. “Everything about this government is awful. They have abused patriotism and created wartime hysteria in a time of peace.”

In the poorer eighth district of Budapest, András, a 20-year-old Roma musician, said he supported the government because they had funded his orchestra. “Everything is good, I have no complaints,” he said.

During recent weeks, there had been attempts by activists to mobilise the hundreds of thousands of Hungarians living outside the country to register to vote, on the assumption that the majority of them were likely to be anti-Orbán. A video posted online from London showed a queue stretching for hundreds of metres and the waiting time to vote was reportedly more than two hours.

However, any hopes that the higher-than-expected turnout would be a boon for the opposition were dashed as the results came in. Although the opposition won much of Budapest, most of the rest of the country was taken by Fidesz.

Orbán used a speech in March to promise to seek “moral, political and legal amends” against his enemies after the election, leading the opposition, civil society and critical media to fear that an even rougher few years now lies ahead.


Shaun Walker in Budapest

The GuardianTramp

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