BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – Prime Minister Victor Urban declared victory in Sunday’s national election, demanding a fourth term in office because partial vote counts predicted strong leadership for his right-wing party.
In a 10-minute speech addressed to Fidez party officials and supporters at an election night event in Budapest, Urban chanted “Victor!” He addressed the crowd with joy. And declared it a “huge victory” for his team.
“We have won such a great victory that you can see it from the moon, and you must see it from Brussels,” said Urban, who has often been criticized by the European Union for its alleged democratic setbacks and corruption.
“The whole world has seen tonight in Budapest the victory of Christian democracy, conservative civic politics and patriotic politics. We are telling Europe that this is not the past, this is the future, “said Urban.
While the votes are still being counted, it is clear that the question is not whether Urban’s Fidez party will win, but by how much.
According to the National Electoral Office, with a total of 75% of the vote, Urban’s Fidez-led coalition won 54.5%, while a European opposition coalition, the United for Hungary, had about 34%.
It was possible that Fidez would gain another constitutional majority, so that it could make a profound change in the Central European state.
As Fidez party officials gathered for an election night on the banks of the Danube River in Budapest, State Secretary Joltan Kovacs pointed to the participation of so many parties in the election as proof of the strength of Hungary’s democracy.
“We’ve heard a lot lately about whether there is democracy in Hungary,” Kovacs said. “In the last 12 years, Hungarian democracy has not weakened, but strengthened.”
The competition was expected to be the closest since Urban took power in 2010, thanks to Hungary’s six main opposition parties forming a united front against Fidez to keep their ideological differences at bay. Voters were electing lawmakers in the country’s 199-seat parliament.
Even in his own district, opposition leader Peter Markey-J trailed Janos Lazarus in charge of the longtime Fidez by more than 11 points, with 74% of the vote counted. It was a discouraging sign for the prime ministerial candidate who promised to end allegations of government corruption against him and to raise living standards in Hungary by increasing funding for sick health care and schools.
In an astonishing performance, the far-right Hour Homeland Movement won more than 6% of the vote, exceeding the 5% threshold required to win seats in Parliament.
Opposition parties and international observers have noted the structural impediments to Urban’s defeat, citing widespread pro-government bias in the public media, dominance of Urban Allies’ commercial news outlets and a heavily fined electoral map.
Edith Jagut, a political scientist at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, predicted that what seemed to be a clear victory for Urban would allow him to move further in an authoritarian direction, bypassing dissidents and occupying new areas of the economy.
“Hungary doesn’t seem to have reached a point of return,” he said. “The bottom line is that the playground has become so crooked that it is almost impossible to replace Fidez in the election.”
The opposition coalition, United for Hungary, has called on voters to support a new political culture based on pluralistic regimes and has allied itself with the country’s EU and NATO allies.
Although Urban has previously campaigned on divisive social and cultural issues, he has dramatically changed the tone of his campaign since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, and has since portrayed elections as a choice between peace and stability or between war and chaos.
Although opponents called on Hungary to support its troubled neighbor and work closely with its EU and NATO partners, Urban, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, insisted that Hungary would remain neutral and maintain close economic ties with Moscow. To import Russian gas and oil on favorable terms.
At his final campaign rally on Friday, Urban claimed that supplying arms to Ukraine – something that Ukraine’s EU neighbors refused to do to Hungary alone – would turn the country into a military target, and that approving Russian power imports would cripple Hungary’s own economy.
“It’s not our war, we have to stay away from it,” Urban said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday described the Hungarian leader as out of touch with the rest of Europe, who have come together to condemn Putin, support sanctions against Russia and send aid to Ukraine with arms.
“He is virtually the only one in Europe who has openly supported Mr Putin,” Zelensky said.
After voting in his hometown of Hodemezovasarheli, where he called the mayoral election, Marquee-J Sunday’s election an “uphill battle” over Fidez’s superior economic resources and access to the media.
“We are fighting for decency, we are fighting for the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in Hungary,” said Markey-J. “We want to show that the model that Urban … introduced here in Hungary is not acceptable to any decent, honest person.”
Markey-J later wrote on social media that all Hungarians who voted and more than 20,000 volunteers thanked the ballot counters who had set up polling stations across the country by opposition parties.
“I express my gratitude to the ordinary people who have spent the day checking the cleanliness of the election and are now counting,” Markey-J wrote.
Urban – a fierce critic of immigration, LGBTQ rights and “EU bureaucrats” – has won the admiration of right-wing nationalists across Europe and North America. He has taken control of many democratic institutions in Hungary and portrayed himself as a defender of European Christendom against Muslim immigrants, progressives and the “LGBTQ lobby”.
In addition to parliamentary elections, a referendum on the LGBTQ issue was held on Sunday. The questions relate to the availability of information for children about sex education programs in schools and sexual reassignment.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a full observation mission to Hungary to observe Sunday’s election, the second time this has happened in an EU country.