Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán celebrates his election win. Photo: ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took swipes at Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the European Union as he celebrated a landslide election win that he claimed proved his brand of right-wing populism was the future of Europe.
Orbán’s conservative Fidesz party secured its fourth consecutive election victory by a wider margin than polls had suggested, winning 53 percent of the vote to gain a supermajority of 135 seats in the 199-member parliament. The opposition coalition, led by Peter Marki-Zay and made up of six parties ranging from liberal to the far-right, managed just 35 percent of the vote, winning 56 seats. In an address to supporters outside his party’s election headquarters on the banks of the Danube in Budapest on Sunday night, the 58-year-old Orbán crowed that his win was “so great that you can see it from the moon, certainly from Brussels.”“The entire world can see that our brand of Christian democratic, conservative, patriotic politics has won,” he said. “We are sending Europe a message that this is not the past—this is the future.”He said it was remarkable that his party had won so resoundingly despite having “never had so many opponents,” and he name-checked Zelenskyy in a list of his party’s adversaries during the campaign: “The left at home, the international left, the Brussels bureaucrats, the Soros empire with all its money, the international mainstream media, and in the end, even the Ukrainian president.”READ: How Hungary helped make Soros the perfect villain to nationalists worldwide
The comments reflected a campaign that was overshadowed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, showing Orbán’s cosy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an uncomfortable light. Zelenskyy launched stinging criticism at Orbán for distancing himself from Europe’s united support for Ukraine, in particular, refusing to allow the transfer of arms across Ukrainian territory. On Saturday, he said Orbán was “virtually the only one in Europe to openly support Mr Putin.”But Orbán’s status as Putin’s closest EU ally ultimately didn’t prove the hindrance many pundits predicted, with the Hungarian leader framing his neutral stance as standing for “peace and security,” Andreas Bock, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told VICE World News.
By contrast, Orbán painted the opposition’s call to support Kyiv in line with the European Union and NATO as being likely to drag Hungary into the conflict. “Those who we … have a quarrel with are the Hungarian left, who want to obey the Ukrainian president. This war isn’t our war. We have nothing to gain in it, but everything to lose,” Orbán told Hungarian radio on Friday.Experts say they now expect Orbán, emboldened by his resounding win, to adopt a more combative approach with the European Union, which Hungary has been a member of since 2004. This would include potentially blocking moves to slap sanctions on Russian oil and gas. Over 12 years of remaking the Hungarian state in line with his vision of an “illiberal democracy,” Orbán has repeatedly butted heads with Brussels on issues such as judicial independence, the erosion of democratic standards, academic freedom, refugees and LGBTQ rights, with the EU having suspended payments to Hungary from its pandemic recovery funds over its democratic shortcomings.
READ: Orbán has finally driven George Soros’ philanthropic group out of Hungary“It is highly likely that Hungary will continue its authoritarian path,” said Bock. “For at least another four years the EU will have to live with a regime that is ready to threaten and block EU decision making with vetoes in cases where unanimity is required.”He said there was a “big threat” that Hungary would block EU integration and “challenge its narrative from within,” with Orbán furthering his project of trying to cobble together an alliance of nationalist and far-right forces in Europe, to act as a counterweight to the liberal consensus in Brussels.READ: How an interview with Politico made this man public enemy No. 1 in HungaryOrbán’s populist allies, France’s Marine Le Pen and Italy’s Matteo Salvini, hailed Fidesz’s win as a triumph for their own brand of politics. “If the people vote, the people win,” Le Pen tweeted, while Salvini, leader of the populist Lega party, praised Orbán for defeating “left-wing fanatics who want to eradicate the values of family, security, merit, development, solidarity, sovereignty and freedom.”Putin also congratulated Orbán, saying that “despite the difficult international situation, the further development of bilateral ties of partnership fully meets the interests of the peoples of Russia and Hungary.”
The opposition leader Marki-Zay, European MEPs, and the head of an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission which observed the elections, said they were held on an unlevel playing field due to Hungary’s pro-government media machine. While the mission said the election was “well administered and professionally managed”, Ambassador Jillian Stirk, the OSCE head of mission, said that the “pervasive overlap between the governing party's campaign messages and the government's communications tilted the playing field.”Bock told VICE World News that about 80 percent of the Hungarian media is in the hands of owners loyal to the government. “Opposition politicians rarely appear in state-affiliated media, which includes public broadcasting – a huge disadvantage for the opposition,” he said. “In state-affiliated media, the opposition didn’t even get 10 percent of the airtime during the election campaign.”READ: Hungary’s clampdown on independent media is almost completeEuropean MEPs Sophie in ‘t Veld, from the Netherlands, and Daniel Freund, a German Green MEP, went further, describing the elections as rigged, with Freund calling for EU funding to Hungary to be frozen. Hungarian government spokesman Zoltán Kovács rejected the allegations.
The night did not go entirely Fidesz’s way though, with a controversial referendum on LGBTQ rights in Hungary failing to secure enough responses to be valid. The referendum on laws banning “promotion of gender non-conformity, gender reassignment and homosexuality” had been the target of an activist campaign encouraging voters to deface the ballot papers in protest.