Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has declared victory in national elections, claiming a mandate for a fourth term in power.
In a 10-minute speech to Fidesz party officials and supporters at an election night event in Budapest, Mr Orban said it was a “huge victory” for his right-wing party.
“We won a victory so big that you can see it from the moon, and you can certainly see it from Brussels,” Mr Orban said.
While votes were still being tallied, it appeared clear that the question was not whether Mr Orban’s Fidesz party would win the election but by how much.
“The whole world has seen tonight in Budapest that Christian democratic politics, conservative civic politics and patriotic politics have won. We are telling Europe that this is not the past, this is the future,” Mr Orban said.
With a quarter of votes to be counted, Mr Orban’s Fidesz-led coalition had won 54.5%, while a pro-European opposition coalition, United for Hungary, had nearly 34%, according to the National Election Office.
It appeared possible that Fidesz would win another constitutional majority, allowing it to keep making deep changes to the central European nation.
As Fidesz party officials gathered at an election night event on the Danube river in Budapest, state secretary Zoltan Kovacs pointed to the participation of so many parties in the election as a testament to the strength of Hungary’s democracy.
“We have heard a lot of nonsense recently about whether there is democracy in Hungary,” Mr Kovacs said. “Hungarian democracy in the last 12 years has not weakened, but been strengthened.”
The contest was expected to be the closest since Mr 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.
In a surprise performance, radical right-wing party Our Homeland Movement appeared to have garnered more than 6% of the vote, exceeding the 5% threshold needed to gain seats in parliament.
Opposition parties and international observers have noted structural impediments to defeating Mr 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 what appeared to be a clear victory for Mr Orban would allow him to move further in an autocratic direction, sidelining dissidents and capturing new areas of the economy.
“Hungary seems to have reached a point of no return,” she said. “The key lesson is that the playing field is tilted so much that it became almost impossible to replace Fidesz in elections.”
The opposition coalition, United For Hungary, asked voters to support a new political culture based on pluralistic governance and mended alliances with the country’s EU and Nato allies.
While Mr 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, Mr Orban, a long-time 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.
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