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Hungarians vote on Orban’s 12-year rule in tight ballot overshadowed by Ukraine war According to Reuters

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© Reuters. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban casts his vote as he stands next to his wife Aniko Levai, at a polling station during the Hungarian parliamentary elections, in Budapest, Hungary, April 3, 2022. REUTERS / Bernadett Szabo

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By Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The odds are slightly in favor of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders, extending his 12-year rule in an election on Sunday where relations His close ties to Moscow came under scrutiny as the Hungarians headed to the ballot box.

With the war in neighboring Ukraine dominating the campaign, the six-party opposition coalition is trailing Orban’s Fidesz party in the polls, making the outcome of the first-ever vote uncertain first since Orban came to power in 2010.

The war forced Orban to maneuver uncomfortably at home after more than a decade of his government’s close political and business ties to Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

Opposition leader Peter Marki-Zay, 49, a conservative, saw the election as a choice between East and West. Orban has turned Hungary towards Russia, he said, eroding democratic rights and driving the Central European country away from the European Union where it belongs.

Marki-Zay, who lined up to vote with his wife and children in his southern hometown of Hodmezovasarhely where he is mayor, said he hoped the vote “will change the course of Hungarian history”.

Marki-Zay told reporters: “Now we are fighting for democracy, we are fighting for decency. “Although in an uphill battle, under almost impossible circumstances, we can still win,” he said, referring to the government’s control over state media and the changes in electoral rules that critics say favor Fidesz.

Among these changes, Orban’s government gave Hungarians in neighboring countries the right to vote on party lists by mail, unlike the hundreds of thousands of Hungarians working abroad who could only vote vote in person at the embassy or consulate, limiting their ability to participate.

Earlier in the day, while voting in snowy Budapest with his wife by his side, Orban told reporters he expected a “great victory” and described the ballot as a choice between “peace or war”. “, accusing his opponents of once again trying to drag Hungary into the Ukraine conflict, an allegation they deny.

Asked repeatedly about his close relationship with Putin, Orban, who has previously described the relationship with Russia as fair and balanced, said:

“Vladimir Putin is not running in the Hungarian election, so fortunately I don’t have to deal with this question today.”

“I stand on the basis of Hungarian national interest, I support Hungary.”

Polls will end at 17:00 GMT with preliminary indications of results expected within hours.

Orban, 58, has presented himself as a defender of Hungarian interests by dismissing EU sanctions on Russian oil and gas.

He condemned the Russian invasion and did not veto any EU sanctions against Moscow although he said he disagreed with them. His government has also allowed NATO troops to be deployed in Hungary, where public support for alliance membership stands at 80% in a 2021 GLOBSEC survey.

He supported the EU’s decision to send weapons to Ukraine but banned arms shipments from Hungarian territory, saying such a move could pose a security risk. His tactical gambit helped cement his support among Fidesz’s core voters. But it has led to criticism from some allies including Poland.

In a Budapest constituency, 76-year-old Rudolf Groo criticized Orban’s attempt to forge a position between Russia and the European Union, of which Hungary is a member.

“Orban has been swinging from side to side for so long that he can’t take a clear stance on the fight now.”

SURVEY PRICE BILLION

With the coronavirus pandemic raging, many Hungarians are currently struggling due to soaring consumer prices, with inflation at a near 15-year high of 8.3% in February even as Orban imposes a fuel price cap. retail, staple foods and mortgage rates, and made pre-election spending spikes to support households.

The opposition coalition, which includes the left-wing Democratic Alliance, liberal Momentum and the far-right-moderate Jobbik parties, has hit out at popular discontent, criticizing what they say is systemic corruption that has led to widespread public discontent. enrich the financiers close to Fidesz.

After years of conflict with Brussels over media freedom, the rule of law and immigration, part of Orban’s current campaign is based on defending conservative Christian family values ​​against what he calls a “gender madness” in Western Europe.

On Sunday, Hungarians will also vote in a referendum on seminars on sexual orientation in schools – a suffrage group has condemned, saying it causes prejudice. ​for LGBTQ people.

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