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Hungary's nationalist, pro-Putin PM Orban wins 4th term by unexpectedly large margin

Budapest — Official results from Hungary's general election on Sunday showed nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party winning a fourth term in office by a much greater margin than pre-election polls had suggested, after a campaign overshadowed by the war in neighboring Ukraine.

Addressing a jubilant crowd chanting his name, many of them wearing Fidesz's orange party color, Orban said, "We have won a great victory -- a victory so great you can perhaps see it from the moon and certainly from Brussels."

Orban's administration has presided over repeated confrontations with the European Union, including over the neutering of the press and judiciary, and measures targeting the LGBTQ community -- also the subject of a vote on Sunday.

The 58-year-old, already the longest-serving head of government in the EU, was challenged by six united opposition parties seeking to roll back the "illiberal" revolution Orban's Fidesz party has pursued during 12 consecutive years in office.

Hungary Votes in General Election
Viktor Orban, Hungary's prime minister, gestures at the Fidesz campaign headquarters in Budapest, Hungary, on April 3, 2022. He scored a crushing election victory to clinch a fourth consecutive term, overcoming criticism about democratic backsliding, his lukewarm support for war-ravaged Ukraine and close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Akos Stiller / Bloomberg via Getty Images

But with 94 percent of votes counted, Fidesz was getting 53 percent compared to 35 percent for the opposition coalition, according to results from the national election office -- a result that means the party will retain its two-thirds majority in parliament.

Peter Marki-Zay, 49, the conservative leading the opposition list, addressed supporters and conceded defeat late on Sunday evening.

"I will not hide my sadness and my disappointment," he told them, combatively accusing Fidesz of running a campaign of "hate and lies."

He added that the opposition had done "everything humanly possible" but that the campaign had been "an unequal fight" given the way in which he and other anti-Fidesz politicians had been all but banished from state media.

Marton Gyongyosi, a member of the EU Parliament from the right-wing Jobbik party, which is part of the opposition coalition, told AFP "abuses" had taken place on Sunday adding, "This will have to be considered when talking about how the results of the elections can be respected."

Orban has dismissed such complaints and insisted the vote was fair.

Hungary holds general election
A woman carries the European Union flag after opposition candidate for prime minister Peter Marki-Zay addressed supporters, after the announcement of the partial results of the parliamentary election, at the City Park Ice Rink in Budapest, Hungary, on April 3, 2022. MARTON MONUS / REUTERS

For the first time, more than 200 international observers monitored the election in Hungary, an EU member, along with thousands of domestic volunteers from both camps.

Turnout reached 68.69 percent, almost matching the record participation seen at the last national elections in 2018.

The far-right Mi Hazank party also surpassed expectations and will make its debut in parliament after crossing the five-percent minimum threshold.

Budapest resident Agnes Kunyik, 56, told AFP she had backed the opposition.

"They have ruined our country, destroyed it," she said of Fidesz, becoming visibly emotional.

But one of those who had turned out for Orban's victory celebration, 55-year-old Ildiko Horvath, said that under Fidesz "Hungary is really going forward," adding, "On the really important questions like the (Ukraine) war and migrants, he always decides in line with what the majority wants."

Russia's February 24 invasion of Ukraine cast a long shadow over the campaign.

Diplomatically, Orban fell in line with EU support for Kyiv despite his long-standing closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But at home, Orban has struck a neutral and even anti-Ukrainian tone at times, refusing to let weapons for Ukraine cross Hungarian territory. He cast himself as the protector of stability and accused the opposition of "warmongering."

In his victory speech, Orban said, "We never had so many opponents," reeling off a list that comprised "Brussels bureaucrats ... the international mainstream media, and finally the Ukrainian president."

Putin congratulated Orban on his victory and said he hoped to further build ties, the Kremlin said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has singled Orban out for criticism over his reticence to take a tougher stance against Russia.

French and Italian far-right leaders Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini were quick to offer their congratulations on Sunday.

Le Pen, herself gathering momentum in polls before the first round of presidential elections in France next week, posted a picture of herself shaking hands with Orban and the caption: "When the people vote, the people win!"

As well as electing MPs, Hungarians were voting in a referendum designed to elicit support for what Fidesz calls a "child protection" law banning the portrayal of LGBTQ people to under-18s.

Budapest resident Regina, 25 -- who refused to give her surname -- told AFP she had spoiled her ballot in the "twisted" referendum which she said had portrayed LGBTQ Hungarians as an "enemy."

Partial results showed the referendum had failed as not enough valid votes had been cast.

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