Viktor Orbán seemed ready for re-election for the fourth consecutive and fifth term as Hungary’s prime minister after winning a decisive majority in the Central European country on Sunday with more than half of the votes counted.
The result counts as a big surprise after research predicted that the ruling party and the opposition would be within a few percentage points of each other. The latest poll, released on Saturday, put Orban’s Fidesz and opposition parties at 47 per cent each for sure.
It seems that the hard nationalist movement Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) will enter the parliament with 6.5 percent of the votes, according to the previous count. The party subsequently split from the former far-right group Jobbik 2018 transformed into a centrist group.
Orban, a populist conservative, held power for 12 years, becoming the longest-serving leader in the EU. He expanded his control over most spheres of life on the way to forming a self-proclaimed “illiberal democracy” in which checks and balances were weakened, and the prime minister used his associates to form a new business elite.
He turned to the European Union erosion of democratic standards and developed cordial relations with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, while Hungary and Ukraine differed over the years over minority rights.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine seemed to turn Orban’s close ties to the Kremlin into political responsibility, but the prime minister stood by his proclaimed neutrality even as domestic and international criticism grew to take a moral stance with his Western allies against Russia and Ukraine.
“These were more than parliamentary elections for the Prime Minister, because the high popularity of Viktor Orban is reflected in the overall result,” said Agoston Mraz from the pro-Orban Nezopont Institute in Budapest.
For a decade, the fragmented opposition has been unable to cope with Orban, who won the election, until the parties united against the ruling Fidesz in the 2019 municipal elections, and then used the plan to raise united challenge against the incumbent president in this year’s general election.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has deployed a complete team to monitor Sunday’s parliamentary elections. The OSCE considered the previous Hungarian elections free, but not fair due to the dominant presence of Fidesz media and advertising and because of the severely disrupted voting system.
There were no reports of any serious incidents during the day. The OSCE is expected to release its findings Monday.
Orban has kept his job despite the difficult past few years, as Hungary suffers one of the highest death rates per capita in the world in the Covid-19 pandemic, rising inflation and the ongoing conflict with the EU over the rule of law.
Asked what he thinks about Russia’s aggression and Putin’s role, just after he cast his vote in a wealthy district of Budapest on Sunday morning, Orbán said: “Putin is not running in the Hungarian elections, so fortunately I don’t have to deal with it today. ”
Although Orban is facing growing criticism even from Poland, his closest partners in the European Union and NATO, he said he was not worried about international isolation.
“EU and NATO membership can never be isolated,” he said.
In the election, Orban ran against Peter Marki-Zay, a 49-year-old Catholic father of seven and mayor of Hodmezovasarhely, a small town in southern Hungary. Marki-Zay was an unexpected winner inaugural primary elections in the country last fall, defeating better-established rivals.
Marki-Zay called Orban a “Hungarian Putin” in an attempt capitalize about Orban’s long-standing Russian ties. The prime minister claimed that Ukraine was waging a war that had nothing to do with Hungary and that Russia’s energy supplies were still necessary for Budapest.
But the opposition candidate lost not only the national race, but also his individual constituency, where Orban’s former chief of staff, Janos Lazar, easily defeated him for a seat in the local parliament.