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Hungarian PM Viktor Orban declares election victory as vote count continues

Hungary's nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared victory in Sunday's national elections, claiming a mandate for a fourth term as a still incomplete vote count showed a strong lead for his right-wing party.

Ongoing count shows strong lead for Orban's right-wing party

Hungary's nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared victory in Sunday's national elections, claiming a mandate for a fourth term as a still incomplete vote count showed a strong lead for his right-wing party.

In a 10-minute speech to Fidesz party officials and supporters at an election night event in Budapest, Orban addressed a crowd cheering "Viktor!" and declared it was a "huge victory" for his party.

"We won a victory so big that you can see it from the moon, and you can certainly see it from Brussels," said Orban, who has often been condemned by the European Union for overseeing democratic backsliding and alleged corruption.

While votes were still being tallied, it appeared clear that the question was not whether Orban's Fidesz party would take the election, but by how much.

With around 91 per cent of votes tallied, Orban's Fidesz-led coalition had won 53 per cent, while a pro-European opposition coalition, United for Hungary, had just over 34 per cent, according to the National Election Office.

It appeared possible that Fidesz would win another constitutional majority, allowing it to continue making deep unilateral changes to the central European nation.

The contest had been expected to be the closest since Orban took power in 2010, thanks to Hungary's six main opposition parties putting aside their ideological differences to form a united front against Fidesz. Voters were electing lawmakers to the country's 199-seat parliament.

Yet even in his home district, opposition leader Peter Marki-Zay trailed the longtime Fidesz incumbent Janos Lazar by more than 12 points, with more than 98 per cent of the votes counted there. It was a discouraging sign for the prime ministerial candidate who had promised to end to what he alleges is rampant government corruption, raise living standards by increasing funding to Hungary's ailing health care and schools and mend frayed relations with the country's Western partners.

In a surprise performance, radical right-wing party Our Homeland Movement appeared to have garnered more than six per cent of the vote, exceeding the five per cent threshold needed to gain seats in parliament.

Opposition parties and international observers have noted structural impediments to defeating Orban, highlighting pervasive pro-government bias in the public media, the domination of commercial news outlets by Orban allies and a heavily gerrymandered electoral map.

Edit Zgut, a political scientist at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, predicted that a clear victory for Orban would allow him to move further in an autocratic direction, sidelining dissidents and capturing new areas of the economy.

Ties to Russia

While Orban had earlier campaigned on divisive social and cultural issues, he dramatically shifted the tone of his campaign after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, and has portrayed the election since then as a choice between peace and stability or war and chaos.

While the opposition called for Hungary to support its embattled neighbour and act in lockstep with its EU and NATO partners, Orban, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has insisted that Hungary remain neutral and maintain its close economic ties with Moscow, including continuing to import Russian gas and oil on favourable terms.

At his final campaign rally Friday, Orban claimed that supplying Ukraine with weapons — something that Hungary, alone among Ukraine's EU neighbours, has refused to do — would make the country a military target, and that sanctioning Russian energy imports would cripple Hungary's own economy.

"This isn't our war, we have to stay out of it," Orban said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday depicted the Hungarian leader as out of touch with the rest of Europe, which has united to condemn Putin, support sanctions against Russia and send aid including weapons to Ukraine.

"He is virtually the only one in Europe to openly support Mr. Putin," Zelensky said.

While speaking to supporters on Sunday, Orban singled out Zelensky as part of the "overwhelming force" that he said his party had struggled against in the election — "the left at home, the international left all around, the Brussels bureaucrats, the Soros empire with all its money, the international mainstream media, and in the end, even the Ukrainian president."

Orban — a fierce critic of immigration, LGBTQ rights and "EU bureaucrats" — has garnered the admiration of right-wing nationalists across Europe and North America. He has taken many of Hungary's democratic institutions under his control and depicted himself as a defender of European Christianity against Muslim migrants, progressives and the "LGBTQ lobby."

Along with the election to parliament, a referendum on LGBTQ issues was being held Sunday. The questions pertained to sex education programs in schools and the availability to children of information about sex reassignment.

The Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a full observation mission to Hungary to monitor Sunday's election, only the second time it has done so in a European Union country.

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