Orban set for re-election in Hungary after riding out criticism from EU
Far-right Jobbik party seeks second place as centre-left struggles
An election poster of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban on a residential building in Budapest. Hungarians vote in a parliamentary election today that is set to return Mr Orban into power for another four years. Photograph: Bernadette Szabo/Reuters
Hungarians are poised to sweep prime minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party to another easy election victory tomorrow, as the far-right Jobbik party seeks to become the country’s main opposition force.
Polls say centre-right Fidesz has 36 per cent of support, well clear of an alliance of centre-left parties on 18 per cent, with Jobbik close behind on 15 per cent. This reflects what analysts call disillusionment with traditional parties that could be reflected across the continent in next month’s European Parliament elections.
Mr Orban (50) hopes Fidesz will retain a two-thirds majority in parliament that has allowed the government to make sweeping reforms since taking power in 2010, several of which drew severe criticism from the EU and put him at loggerheads with Brussels.
He came under heavy fire for introducing a socially conservative new constitution, reducing checks and balances on the government’s power and placing allies in charge of key bodies overseeing the law courts and media.
Critics also say that Mr Orban’s allies in business are expanding their influence while the government has boosted revenue by levying big taxes on banks, telecommunications and energy firms – many of which are foreign-owned.
The government has been accused of changing election rules and districts to boost Fidesz’s chances, a claim dismissed by officials who depict Mr Orban’s rule as a drive to modernise Hungary and sweep away the last vestiges of the communist era.
Mr Orban also nationalised private pension funds as he sought to stabilise Hungary’s finances without help from the International Monetary Fund which – along with the EU – he depicted as meddling foreign organisations that his patriotic government sought to keep in check.
In a recent campaign speech, Mr Orban said his cabinet had “won most of its battles” against “banks, multinational companies, imperial bureaucrats of Brussels”. He has ridden out predictions of economic turmoil and maintained his popularity with moves to cut income tax, energy prices and foreign-currency mortgages that crippled many borrowers.
Playing to widespread Hungarian suspicion of the EU, the IMF and other foreign forces, Mr Orban also claimed last week to have transformed Hungary from “an old banger with punctured wheels into a racing car, even though half the world has attacked us”.
The government is proud of “unconventional” economic policies that have brought down unemployment to a five-year low, reduced inflation to its lowest level in over 40 years and tamed the public deficit.
Mr Orban’s consolidation of power was made easier by disarray in the Socialistranks, and a new leftist alliance has failed to seriously challenge Fidesz.
That alliance’s woes could allow the populist Jobbik party to take second place tomorrow, despite widespread foreign criticism of its far-right, Eurosceptic stance.