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Hungary’s Orban wins third term

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Viktor Orban
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses the supporters after the announcement of the partial results of parliamentary election in Budapest, Hungary, Apr. 8. -- REUTERS

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY — Prime Minister Viktor Orban won a third straight term in power in Sunday elections after his anti-immigration campaign message secured a strong majority for his party in parliament, granting him two-thirds of seats based on preliminary results.

The right-wing nationalist prime minister projected himself as a savior of Hungary’s Christian culture against Muslim migration into Europe, an image which resonated with millions of voters, especially in rural areas.

“We have won, Hungary has won a great victory,” a jubilant Mr. Orban told a large crowd of cheering supporters near the Danube river in Budapest.

“There is a big battle behind us, we have won a crucial victory, giving ourself a chance to defend Hungary.”

According to preliminary results with 93% of votes counted, National Election Office data projected Fidesz to win 133 seats, a tight two-thirds majority in the 199-seat parliament. Nationalist Jobbik was projected to win 26 seats, while the Socialists were projected as third with 20 lawmakers. Two smaller leftist parties, DK and LMP, won nine and eight seats respectively.

That means Mr. Orban could have a two-thirds majority for a third time, and powers to change constitutional laws.

The European Union (EU) has struggled to respond as Mr. Orban’s government has, in the view of its critics, used its two landslide victories in 2010 and 2014 to erode democratic checks and balances.

The victory could embolden Mr. Orban to put more muscle into a Central European alliance against the European Union’s migration policies.

Mr. Orban, Hungary’s longest-serving post-communist premier, opposes deeper integration of the bloc and — teaming up with Poland — has been a fierce critique of Brussels’ policies. He expressed gratitude to Poland’s leaders for their backing ahead of the vote.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, president of the National Front, was the first to congratulate Mr. Orban. “Great and clear victory for Viktor Orban in Hungary: reversal of values and mass immigration as promoted by the EU are rejected again. Nationalists could win a majority in Europe at the next European elections in 2019,” Mr. Le Pen tweeted.

The election produced a turnout of around 70%, exceeding the past three votes. Some analysts say Fidesz’s support was the strongest in small towns and villages.

With his firm grip on state media and his business allies in control of regional newspapers, Mr. Orban’s message was amplified in the countryside.

There, many people only watch the state television news channel, which has showed immigrants causing trouble in western European cities night after night.

The strongest opposition party in the new parliament is the formerly far-right Jobbik, which has recast its image as a more moderate nationalist force. It campaigned on an anti-corruption agenda and urged higher wages to lure back hundreds of thousands of Hungarians who have left Hungary for western Europe.

Jobbik’s leader Gabor Vona said he would tender his resignation after the defeat. “Jobbik’s goal, to win the elections and force a change in government, was not achieved. Fidesz won. It won again,” he said.

The Socialists’ entire leadership also resigned.

With a message that he stands for all Hungarians against foreign meddling, Mr. Orban tapped into feelings shared by many Hungarians who perceive threats to their national identity and feel they are treated as second-class citizens in the EU.

He seized the moment when on Jan. 12 2015, he said immigration into Europe should be largely halted after Paris attacks launched by Islamist extremists. — Reuters