With his neutral stance on Ukraine, Viktor Orban has attracted many voters

BUDAPEST – Enjoying the election victory of a rare European leader who did not condemn him as a war criminal, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday congratulated Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary on winning office. fourth term and said he looks forward to an extension of the “partnership”.

At a time when Russia’s relations with the European Union and the United States are turning bright because of the war in Ukraine, Hungary, a member of the European bloc, has largely stood on the fence in response to the invasion. Russia, in part to avoid upsetting the Natural Gas Agreement reinforced by Orban during his talks with Putin in Moscow shortly before the Russian invasion.

A resounding victory in Sunday’s election for Mr Orban’s party, Fidesz, suggests that the Hungarian leader will stick to a policy strongly endorsed by voters.

But after a vote that independent election observers said was unfairly tilted in favor of the ruling party, there was also growing pressure on Mr Orban to change course or have risks not only alienating Hungary’s allies but also billions of dollars in much-needed funding from the European Union. for not obeying the law.

Guy Verhofstadt, a prominent liberal in the European Parliament, described the election as “a dark day for liberal democracy, for Hungary and the EU, at a critical time.”

Putin received mixed news from Sunday’s elections in Serbia, where Aleksandar Vucic, the country’s pro-Russian populist president, was re-elected, according to preliminary official results released on Wednesday. Two. But it looks like President Vucic could lose his increasingly authoritarian power after his ruling party failed to win a clear majority in Congress.

The Kremlin still congratulated Vucic, calling for a strengthening of what it describes as a “strategic partnership” for the benefit of “brother Russians and Serbs.”

Mr Orban’s Fidesz party has been divided over how to deal with Russian aggression, with its more traditional nationalist wing, having sunk deep into Hungary’s own painful past history at the hands of Russia. , uncomfortable being close to Mr. Putin.

But it is hoped that Orban, who went from being an anti-Kremlin liberal in 1989 to Putin’s closest partner in Europe, can once again change course after the war. election seems to have been dampened by the size of his party’s victory. It won more than two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly while an openly pro-Putin far-right party, the Our Fatherland Movement, won enough votes to enter Parliament for the first time.

“Putin was right. Ukraine is getting what it deserves,” said Janos Horvath, a supporter of the far-right party, after voting. Ukraine, he said, echoes a favorite talking point of the Kremlin, mistreatment of its ethnic minorities, including Russians and Hungarians, and “must be stopped.”

A crushing defeat by opponents of Mr Orban, who campaigned on a pledge to show more solidarity with Ukraine and Hungary’s allies, made it unlikely that Hungary would join NATO and the European Union to ascend to the top. Putin for a military strike or supplying weapons to help Ukraine defend itself. Hungary, unlike Poland, has staunchly refused to let weapons pass through its territory to Ukraine.

While increasingly isolated from his foreign allies, Mr Orban has won strong support at home for his neutral stance on the war, turning what initially threatened into a liability. elected as a voter. He did this through relentless misrepresentation of his opponent’s position, deploying a massive apparatus of loyal media to convince voters that his opponent wanted to send Hungarian troops to the country. Ukraine against Russia, which no one has offered to do.

At the last opposition rally in Budapest on election night, Fidesz activists disguised as journalists introduced the main opposition candidate, Peter Maki Zay, in a white T-shirt with print the target in red, shouting that this is what Hungary will be if he wins. A video of the encounter was later posted online by the Fidesz-friendly media, which repeatedly saw the election as a choice between “war and peace”.

Shortly after Mr. Putin sent his congratulations, election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe complained that, despite being well organized, the election was tilted in favor of his ruling party. Orban due to “blurring the line between state and party. ” Vote, The organization said in a statement released Monday, was “ruined by not having a level playing field.”

With his opponents shocked by their defeat, despite building a united front for the first time in an attempt to defeat Mr Orban, the victorious prime minister shows no signs of backing down after the wars. with the European Union. “This is not the past, this is the Europe of the future,” he told excited supporters early Monday.

Mr Orban, who refused to criticize Mr. Putin for his invasion was so loud that it was “perhaps visible from the moon” and “certainly from Brussels”. The president, Volodymyr Zelensky, places him alongside Brussels officials and the mainstream media as among his “many opponents”.

Zelensky has repeatedly criticized Hungary for resisting sanctions on Russia’s energy exports and refusing to allow arms to be transferred to Ukraine.

Hungary has long had strained relations with Ukraine, which Orban has accused of suppressing the Hungarian minority by restricting the use of Hungarian language instruction in state schools. His complaints mirror Putin’s complaints against ethnic Russians living in Ukraine and make Orban more sympathetic than other European leaders to Russia’s narrative of the war.

There are only about 150,000 Hungarians living in Ukraine but they form part of a much larger expatriate community, given the right to vote in Hungarian elections and sponsored by Budapest, which became a source of support. important for Fidesz, and a source of constant friction between Hungary and its neighbours.

In a sign that Fidesz, emboldened by the election victory, will boost support for Hungarians of origin in countries like Ukraine, Orban’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, thanked Mr. 315,000 voters outside Hungary, who he said voted. “We support our Hungarian compatriots beyond the borders,” he said. “They can count on us just as we can count on them in important decisions like this one,” referring to Sunday’s election.

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