Budapest – Hungary’s controversial, nationalist and fiercely anti-immigration Prime Minister Viktor Orban is set to win a third consecutive term – his fourth overall – in Sunday’s election.
Opinion polls have so far given the lead to the alliance of Orban’s Fidesz party and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), leaving open the prospect of whether Orban will command a two-thirds majority and the power to change the constitution, as he did after 2010 elections.
According to Hungary’s opposition parties and Orban’s critics, the prime minister had by 2013 used that power to tailor-suit the electoral system to Fidesz. The party won elections a year later.
Strong influence on public opinion
That, combined with a strong influence on public opinion through both state-controlled media and government-friendly private outlets, Orban created what seems to be a fail-proof platform to extend his eight consecutive years in power, in addition to his term in 1998-2002.
Sunday’s first round vote will be tallied according to a first-past-the-post scheme in each constituency. That means the opposition – fragmented both to the left and the right of Fidesz – have no chance to throw their weight behind a single candidate in a second round.
Orban can boast of solid economic indicators: Hungary saw it’s eighth year of expansion in 2018 with growth of 4 per cent. Inflation is also in check and unemployment is low, around 3.8 per cent.
Orban’s position on immigrants
But it is Orban’s position on immigrants, particularly Muslim immigrants, that functions as the main pillar of his popularity.
When the number of Europe-bound refugees and migrants arriving through the Balkans and Hungary exploded in the summer of 2015, Orban was the first to order the construction of a razor wire-laced border fence to stem the influx in September that year. He also loudly challenged German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy at the time.
Orban has stirred the anti-immigration wings of eastern and central European countries and mobilized non-EU members Macedonia and Serbia to stop migrants instead of shuttling them West.
Hungary also refused to accept the mandatory EU quota for asylum seekers despite the threat of legal sanctions, warning that the arriving Muslims were bound to change the face of Europe and undermine the Christian way of life.
In March 2016, the Balkan route was formally closed, and the number of people passing that way reduced to a trickle. Yet Orban retained the rhetoric against immigrants at the core of his political activity.
“Migration threatens our security, our way of life and the Christian culture.”
“The EU must not focus its attention on redistribution [of refugees] but on protection of its borders,” he said in February after a meeting with Bulgaria’s prime minister. “Migration threatens our security, our way of life and the Christian culture.”
“Dark clouds (of immigration) are gathering over Europe,” Orban said, adding that EU nations would become majority Muslim without preventative actions. “Nations will disappear, the West will fall, while Europe does not even realize that it is being occupied.”
Orban’s actions and rhetoric have sent several European leaders into rants against him. In spite of this and fines threatened by Brussels for failing to comply with it’s migrant redistribution scheme, his stance is generally supported by Hungarians.
More then 8 million Hungarians are eligible to cast their ballots on Sunday, with voting stations open from 6 am to 7 pm (0400-1700 GMT).