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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Hungary's anti-migration leader secures sweeping victory

Viktor Orban won more than two-thirds of votes with his tough line on Muslim migrants and demand for stronger border defences

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and self-styled saviour of Christian values celebrates his latest election victory. / AFP PHOTO / ATTILA KISBENEDEK
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and self-styled saviour of Christian values celebrates his latest election victory. / AFP PHOTO / ATTILA KISBENEDEK

Prime Minister Viktor Orban is likely to use his sweeping victory in parliamentary elections in Hungary to promote his anti-immigration agenda across Europe and target groups critical of his policies, analysts said Monday.

The strengthened mandate for Mr Orban, a right-wing nationalist, will allow him to push through laws aimed at the Hungarian-born US financier George Soros, whose charitable foundation backs open borders and supported migrant groups.

The prime minister’s re-election with a thumping two-thirds majority was built on his fiery anti-Muslim migrant rhetoric after positioning himself as the saviour of Hungary’s Christian culture.

His government built a southern border fence and has been at loggerheads with the European Union over its handling of the 2015 migration crisis when millions of people crossed the bloc’s borders because of conflict in North Africa and the Middle East.

His campaigning focused on warnings that his opponents wanted to tear down the fences and allow mass migration. His claims was rejected by the opposition, who included staunch far-right anti-immigrant parties, but they failed to dent Mr Orban’s popularity.

His message resonated with voters, predominantly in rural areas, with turnout up from the last election, giving his party the right to push through major constitutional changes. Fidesz and its ally secured 133 of the 199 seats in parliament with most of the votes counted, with another far-right nationalist party, Jobbik, in second place with 26 seats.

“The opposition didn’t have a clear answer to the migration question,” Andrea Virag, of the Republikon think-tank, told The National. “And in the last two weeks of the campaign, the only topic was migration. It was a campaign that worked for him.”

In his celebratory address to thousands of cheering supporters, Mr Orban said the result gave Hungarians “the opportunity to defend themselves and to defend Hungary”. The victory was celebrated by far-right politicians across Europe including France’s Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.

Hungary has only a small Muslim population of about 40,000 people but Mr Orban used the migration issue to play on historical Hungarian fears of outsiders after centuries of military defeats and invasion.

Mr Orban’s electoral success – winning his third successive two-thirds majority – has ensured that he remains a continued irritant to the EU, whose larger members such as Britain and France have much more liberal policies for migration.

Mr Orban’s spokesman Zoltán Kovács said that migration “will pose the biggest threat to Europe” and that the leader’s voice would be a significant voice for the direction of future policy.

German chancellor Angela Merkel wrote to congratulate Mr Orban on his victory and said she would work with his new government. “It is quite obvious that there are also controversial issues in our cooperation, the different stances in migration policy come to mind,” said government spokesman Steffen Seibert.

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Read more:

Hungary's prime minister ramps up anti-migrant rhetoric in fight for third term

Orban launches fresh attack against George Soros at election rally

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Mr Orban’s Fidesz party will be able to push through the ‘Stop Soros’ law because of a failed attempts by the fractured opposition to put up single candidates to maximise their strength.

The opposition won most seats in the capital Budapest but could have taken them all if parties ranging from the far-right to the socialists had been more willing to form an anti-Orban front, said Ms Virag.

That failure allowed Mr Orban to secure a two-thirds majority which will allow Mr Orban to push through the so-called ‘Stop Soros’ law.

Among its proposed measures are a 25 per cent tax on foreign donations collected by NGOs that “support illegal immigration” and restraining orders on activists from approaching the EU’s external borders in Hungary. Mr Orban has described immigration as an issue of national security.

A Fidesz spokesman told state radio on Monday said lawmakers would start work later this month on a package that is “needed in the interest of the country, which could be the Stop Soros legal package”.

Activists said that the ‘Stop Soros’ campaign could have a chilling impact on Hungarian society. The laws not only target groups involved in migration issues but “opens the door to further arbitrary and politically motivated measures against civil society and freedom of expression in Hungary,” said a coalition of groups in the run-up to the election.