With Hungary’s Viktor Orbán on course to win a third term in office on 8 April, opposition politicians and grassroots activists are mounting a late push to mobilise an untapped source of potential protest votes against the far-right leader: Hungarians living in Britain.
Two leading opposition candidates have visited the UK in recent weeks, and a group of Hungarians living in London has started a crowdfunding campaign to buy social media advertisements persuading Hungarians to register to vote.
“There are half a million Hungarian voters in other EU countries, and one in six Hungarians is now born abroad,” said Gergely Karácsony, a leftwing prime-ministerial candidate, who has campaigned among the Hungarian community in Manchester.
He said he believed most Hungarians living in the EU were unlikely to be supporters of Fidesz, Orbán’s party, but that it was hard to persuade people to engage with Hungarian politics and vote.
Gábor Vona, the leader of the far-right party Jobbik, was also in London earlier this month to drum up support. His meeting with supporters had to be moved owing to protests from anti-fascist groups. Jobbik has attempted to rebrand itself as centrist as Orbán has moved increasingly to the right.
“Mobilising Hungarians living abroad includes giving them information about where and how to vote, and also to convince them that their participation could be decisive in the elections,” said a spokeswoman for Jobbik.
There are no official figures on the number of Hungarians residing in Britain, but rough estimates suggest there could be up to 200,000. Hungarians living in EU countries are required to vote in person at the consulate on polling day.
This is in contrast to ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring countries, who have been given citizenship under an Orbán-era programme, and can vote by post. Most of these voters are pro-Fidesz.
At the last election, in 2014, only 5,314 people cast their votes at the Hungarian embassy in London. The deadline for registration is Saturday; about 10,000 people have registered to vote in London and the two consulates in Manchester and Edinburgh.
“We want to mobilise people to register,” said one of the organisers of the crowdfunding campaign, who did not want to be named, adding that the group had used more than £2,000 raised from donations so far to buy adverts on social media explaining to Hungarians how to register before the deadline.