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Hungarians go to the polls in the shadow of war in Ukraine

Polls opened across Hungary early Sunday morning as voters in the central European country face a choice: seize the chance to join a diverse, Western-led coalition of parties opposition or give nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban a new term with a fourth consecutive term in office.

The contest is said to be the closest since Orban came to power in 2010, thanks to Hungary’s six main opposition parties setting aside ideological differences to form a united front against the right-wing Fidesz party. your.

Recent polls show a tight race but give Fidesz a slight lead, leaving undecided voters to determine the winner of Sunday’s vote.

Opposition parties and international observers have pointed to structural obstacles to defeating Orban by electoral means, highlighting pro-government bias in the media mass media, the dominance of commercial news outlets by Orban allies, and an election-heavy map.

However, despite what it calls an uneven playing field, the six-party opposition coalition, United For Hungary, has asked voters to support their efforts to introduce a new political culture. in Hungary is based on pluralistic governance and forging alliances with the EU and NATO.

The coalition’s candidate for prime minister, Peter Marki-Zay, has promised to end what he accuses of rampant government corruption, and raise living standards by increasing funding for education systems. Hungarian education and ailing health care.

Orban – a fierce critic of immigration, LGBTQ rights and “EU officials” – has garnered the admiration of right-wing nationalists across Europe and North America. Fox News host Tucker Carlson broadcast from Budapest for a week last summer, where he praised Orban’s tough approach to immigration and the razor wire fence he erected. southern border of Hungary.

In a tree-lined district in the Buda hills in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, Orban and his wife went to a polling station on Sunday morning to cast their ballots.

After the vote, Orban said he considers his opponents “dangerous” and echoed a campaign theme that has become his driving force in recent weeks: that it’s just him and his party could protect Hungary’s interests when war broke out in neighboring Ukraine.

“We ask everyone to vote for parties capable of ensuring peace and security,” Orban said. “What I expect is a great victory, that’s what the country needs.”

A proponent of what he called “illiberal democracy”, Orban brought many of Hungary’s democratic institutions under his control and described himself as a defender of European religion against Muslim migrants, progressivism and “LGBTQ lobbyists”.

In his frequent battles with the EU, of which Hungary is a member, he described the 27-member bloc as an oppressive regime reminiscent of the Soviet occupiers who dominated Hungary for more than 40 years in the 20th century. 20, and has resisted pulling some of its policies into line with EU rules.

Those policies, including what critics see as violations of LGBTQ rights, abuse of EU funds and excessive control over Hungary’s media, have put him at odds with Brussels and resulted in billions of euros in EU funding withheld from his government.

While Orban had previously campaigned on divisive social and cultural issues, the campaign’s tone was dramatically altered by Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine in February.

While the opposition called on Hungary to support its close neighbor and act closely with its EU and NATO partners, Orban, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, insisted Hungary must remain neutral. and maintains close economic ties with Moscow, including continuing to import Russian gas and oil.

Also on Sunday, voters in neighboring Serbia will go to the polls in an election that is expected to award new five-year terms to ally Orban and ally Aleksandar Vucic.

Opinion surveys before the vote had predicted that Vucic and his right-wing Serbian Radical Party would again dominate Serbia’s 250-member parliament. Like Orban, Vucic pursues close ties with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and seeks to present himself as the guarantor of Serbia’s stability amid the turmoil raging in Europe.

At his last campaign rally on Friday, Orban told a crowd of supporters that supplying arms to Ukraine – something Hungary, alone among Ukraine’s EU neighbors, has rejected refuse to do so – would make the country a military target, and sanctions on Russian energy imports would cripple the economy.

“This is not our war, we have to stay out of it,” Orban said.

However, Marki-Zay, the opposition leader, accused Orban of siding with Putin in the conflict, saying the leader’s approach to the war had “made him alone” in the community. Europe.

“This struggle is bigger than us now,” Marki-Zay told supporters at a campaign event in Budapest on Saturday. “The war in Ukraine has given this struggle a special meaning.”

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