Nationalist Viktor Orban declares victory in Hungary election

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks to media after casting his ballots during the general parliamentary elections on April 3, 2022 in Budapest, Hungary.

Janos Kummer | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared victory in Sunday’s nationwide election, with partial results showing his Fidesz party leading the vote by a wide margin.

With Orban seeking a fourth consecutive term in office, preliminary results showed his party was set to control 135 seats of the 199-seat Parliament. This was comfortably ahead of the opposition alliance United for Hungary, which was set to gain 57 seats after 80% of the votes had been counted.

The election had been predicted to be closer than in previous years, but Fidesz still held a 5-6 percentage point lead in the polls leading up to Sunday’s vote.

Orban, widely regarded as the most pro-Kremlin leader of the 27 nations of the European Union, has spent 12 years in power in Budapest. He is the country’s longest-serving leader since the fall of communism in 1989 and has long been a thorn in the side of the EU.

Addressing his supporters after the vote on Sunday night, Orban said: “We won a victory so big that you can see it from the moon, and you can certainly see it from Brussels,” according to a translation by The Associated Press. Opposition leader Peter Marki-Zay admitted defeat shortly after Orban’s speech.

Kremlin links

58-year-old Orban has often boasted of his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and it’s that link that became a major challenge for the electoral campaign of his ruling Fidesz party.

There have been commercial and energy deals between the two nations. Over the last decade, Hungary has increased its share of imports of Russian natural gas, from 9.070 million cubic meters in 2010 to a high of 17.715 million cubic meters in 2019, according to Eurostat. Hungary now gets close to 85% of its gas from Russia, and 64% of its oil.

Hungary also became the first EU nation to buy a Russian-made Covid-19 vaccine — even though it wasn’t approved by European regulators.

But Orban has remained loyal to the European Union in the wake of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and has sought to downplay his ties to Putin. His messaging over previous weeks has been a “Hungary must stay out of this conflict” approach.

His government announced that Hungary will welcome Ukrainian refugees and is also supportive of Ukraine’s membership application to the EU. This is on top of having approved, together with the other EU member states, tough sanctions against Russian oligarchs and the Russian economy.

Hungary is also a member of NATO and is open to hosting troops from the military alliance on its territory. However, it has rejected any energy sanctions on Moscow and has banned the direct transit of lethal weapons to Ukraine via Hungary.

Influence over courts

After joining the EU in 2004, Budapest has frequently been at loggerheads with Brussels. The former communist state has often been criticized for looking to assert its influence over courts, the media and other independent institutions.

His party Fidesz still has stringent control over state media and previous election campaigns have been based on an anti-immigration and protectionist message. Indeed, the country built a fence on its southern border during the 2015 European migration crisis.

Andrius Tursa, a Central and Eastern Europe advisor at consultancy Teneo, believes that whoever wins on Sunday will have to deal with a raft of challenges such as slowing economic growth, soaring inflation, and hundreds of thousands of refugees entering the country from Ukraine.

“Fidesz is already pointing to the mounting economic and humanitarian challenges presented by the war in Ukraine to pressure the European Commission to unblock the country’s access to EUR 7.2bn grants from the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility,” he said in a research note last week, referencing the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund.

“At the same time, the EC might be more reluctant to trigger the so-called rule of law mechanism against Hungary (and Poland) — at least until the war in Ukraine de-escalates/ends — thereby leaving more time for compromise.” This rule of law mechanism is the EU’s new tool that enables it to cut or withhold funding to EU states if they are found to be failing to uphold the rule of law.

—CNBC’s Silvia Amaro and Sam Meredith contributed to this article.

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