Hungarians head to polls in parliamentary elections

Charlene Craig
April 9, 2018

According to the National Election Office, over 4.22 million voters had cast ballots by 3 p.m. Budapest time, or 53.6 per cent of those eligible.

Hungarians are set to reelect Viktor Orban, a hard-liner on immigration, for a third straight term in a Sunday election that could help solidify anti-migrant positions in Central European governments.

Some 8.3 million Hungarians are eligible to vote, with preliminary results expected Sunday night.

Hungarian election officials say voter turnout in the country's parliamentary election 90 minutes before polls close has already exceeded the total turnout for the 2014 elections.

Orban's election campaign focused on his staunch anti-migration policies despite opinion polls suggesting that many Hungarians are actually more anxious about other social concerns such as poverty, corruption and improving funding for the country's ailing health care system.

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The National Election Office initially said it did not intend to disclose any results while voters were still waiting outside polling stations.

Firebrand Prime Minister Orban has clashed repeatedly with other European Union leaders during his last term, especially with regard to the bloc's response to the refugee influx across Europe in 2015 and 2016.

There is also a slight chance that the fragmented opposition could strip Fidesz of its parliament majority if voters frustrated with Orban's policies choose tactical voting in the 106 constituencies.

"High turnout means, most probably, less mandates for Fidesz than in the previous term", said Peter Kreko, director of think tank Political Capital.

Government influence on the media was palpable in Sunday's broadcast by state television M1 news channel, where reports highlighting the negative effects of migration dominated the programming.

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"Today will decide whether Hungary becomes an emigrant country or not - and I wouldn't like Hungary to be an emigrant country", Mr Vona said.

After casting his vote in a wealthy district of Budapest with his wife, Orban said Hungary's future was at stake in the vote. The opposition Socialist Party urged authorities to "at least distribute water" in districts where voters were waiting in line for hours.

"We feel there is not enough freedom here, I know a lot of people who won't hang around if things don't change so I'm not surprised there is high turnout", said one voter who wished to remain anonymous. The EU is in Berlin, in Budapest, in Warsaw, in Prague and in Bucharest.

Gabor Vona of the nationalist Jobbik party said the question was not about migration into Hungary, but about the large number of Hungarians who were leaving the country and heading to Western Europe in search of higher wages and better prospects.

Even if Fidesz does gain its expected parliamentary majority, analysts will be watching to see whether it falls short of the two-thirds "supermajority" that has enabled it to pass some of its most controversial bills.

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