Orban claims Hungary's future is at stake in elections

Ruling Fidesz party tipped to win but ‘tactical voting’ could boost opposition

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban after the consecration of a statue in memory of Smolensk plane crash victims, in Budapest, on Friday. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban after the consecration of a statue in memory of Smolensk plane crash victims, in Budapest, on Friday. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters

 

Prime minister Viktor Orban has urged Hungarians to defend the nation from migrants and EU meddling by backing him in Sunday’s parliamentary election, as rivals called on voters to oust him or expect deepening autocracy and isolation.

The contrasting messages reflect deep divisions in Hungary over Mr Orban’s bid for a third consecutive four-year term, which is being closely watched internationally by advocates and opponents of his populist nationalism.

Opposition parties ranging from the right-wing Jobbik to Socialists and greens have belatedly sought co-operation to boost their chances of beating Mr Orban, adding an element of uncertainty to an election that looked likely to be a walkover.

Since building border fences in 2015 to block refugees and migrants trekking through the Balkans into the EU, Mr Orban has made the “defence” of Europe from outsiders the main policy plank of his ruling Fidesz party and government.

He claims that the EU, liberal philanthropist George Soros and NGOs are conspiring to bring millions of people from the Middle East and Africa to Europe, where they will spread crime and terrorism and destroy its predominantly Christian culture and identity.

While depicting 10 million-strong Hungary as a brave nation under siege, Mr Orban (54) has placed formerly independent institutions in the hands of loyalists and increased pressure on civil society, the media and a major Soros-funded university.

Dominant positions

At the same time, Mr Orban’s allies have acquired dominant positions in many sectors of business, fuelling allegations of corruption.

Recent surveys suggest that about 50 per cent of decided voters back Fidesz, with the Socialists and Jobbik far behind on 15-20 per cent.

About one-third of voters are yet to decide, however, and momentum has been growing for opposition voters to back the strongest anti-Orban candidate in each district – regardless of personal preference – to maximise the damage to Fidesz.

Polls indicate that Fidesz – which has overseen a period of economic stability and growth – is likely to win a majority but fall short of the two-thirds supermajority that it secured in 2010 and 2014.

If tactical voting gave opposition parties a joint majority of seats in parliament, then unpredictable coalition talks would begin between leaders who share little beyond a loathing for Mr Orban.

“It is good to live here, to raise children here, and to know that our families are safe. This is no longer the case in the cities of immigrant countries. On April 8th, the people of Budapest will decide on this,” Mr Orban said in a speech in the Hungarian capital this week.

‘Immigrant country’

Fidesz voters “will be voting for security”, he declared, while opposition supporters would put Hungary on “the path leading to everyday life in an immigrant country”, as Mr Orban calls EU states that accept migrants.

A Fidesz victory would be welcomed by other anti-immigration, Eurosceptic parties in the EU, and Mr Orban on Friday hosted Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s populist ruling party.

“The dignity and freedom of nations is closely linked to Viktor Orban’s name not just for Hungarians, but for Poles as well,” Mr Kaczynski said.