Hungarians will go to the polls on Sunday to vote in an election seen as key not only to the future of the European Union and the NATO state, but also to the struggle to defend the democratic order against authoritarian populism.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has publicly stated that his Fidesz party has implemented an “illiberal” regime in Hungary and has spent years cultivating a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is looking fourth consecutive term.
Against him is United for Hungary, a awkward alliance was founded by six opposition parties including the far right, socialism, green parties and former liberals with the sole purpose of finally ousting Orban after 12 years in power.
Although the opposition coalition looks set to make this election the toughest election Orban has faced since 2010, polls show it will struggle to beat the staunch prime minister. populism. Surveys taken before the vote gave Fidesz a two- to five-point lead.
That could prove decisive. Having ruled for most of the past decade with a supermajority that allows him to change basic laws, Orban has overhauled the electoral system in Fidesz’s favor.
Estimates suggest that United for Hungary need a six-point win to secure a majority of the 199 seats in Parliament.
Analysts also note that control of most of Hungary’s mainstream media allows Fidesz to set the agenda.
There are concerns that Orban will not play fair. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has deployed a full surveillance mission to Hungary – an unprecedented event for an EU member state – due to concerns about possible voter fraud. nomination and use of state resources.
“Orban’s goal is to consolidate power,” said Gabor Gyori, an analyst with the Budapest-based Policy Consultancy. “He was very open about it. This control was attached to a larger project of having a lasting dominion over Hungarian society”.
To that end, Fidesz has enthusiastically adopted forms of culture war against migrants and minorities and fought almost continuously with the EU over the rule of law. When they vote in this election, everyone will also be asked to participate referendum on controversial anti-LGBT law introduced last year.
Orban has also sought to paint Peter Marki-Zay, the independent conservative who is the United Nations prime ministerial candidate for Hungary, as a puppet of a global liberal class seeking to destroy Hungary’s sovereignty. and European Christian culture.
United for Hungary claims that Orban organized an extensive corruption network to steal EU funds and rigged the judicial and electoral systems to get him out of it.
The opposition has promised to increase investment in health and education, and has criticized Orban’s management of the coronavirus pandemic and policies that have led to strikes by teachers.
All of these problems have receded, however, since Russia invaded Hungary’s neighbor Ukraine in late February.
Orban is Putin’s closest EU ally. Although Orban has supported EU sanctions on Moscow, he refuses to allow weapons destined for Ukraine to be shipped through the country.
He also ruled out efforts to reduce Hungary’s heavy reliance on Russian energy, which has been key to Fidesz’s flagship policy of reducing home utility bills.
Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told Al Jazeera: “There are difficult physical realities when it comes to energy supply. “The world can see that Hungary’s model of capping energy prices to protect people against inflation is working.”
The West had long been unconvinced by Orban’s ambiguous foreign policy, and United for Hungary attempted to turn the election into a referendum on whether Hungary should be part of the East or the West. .
Marki-Zay said on the eve of the vote: “The stakes in the election are clear: Europe or Putin.
Fidesz responded by promoting Orban as a guarantor of peace and stability and seeing the opposition as advocates for calling for stronger support for Ukraine.
Concluding Fidesz’s campaign in the small central town of Szekesfehervar on Friday, Orban warned voters against handing power to the inexperienced opposition amid the crisis.
It’s a strategy that seems to be working, with polls showing support for Fidesz growing over the past month.
Meanwhile, United for Hungary has struggled to maintain its unity, a defeat that analysts say will make life very difficult for the union if it wins the right to form a government.
Polls will open at 6am local time (04:00 GMT) and run until 7pm (17:00 GMT). Preliminary results will likely be released later in the evening, unless results are too close to call.