Viktor Orban: How Hungarian PM faces toughest EU election as six-party coalition gains

Boris Johnson meets Hungary PM Viktor Orban

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As Vladimir Putin wages war in Eastern Europe, the continent’s key leaders have come forward, united behind Ukraine as the bloody invasion enters its third week. Some are fielding responses to Russian aggression while preparing to fight for their roles in upcoming elections, notably French premier Emmanuel Macron. The one who faces the most political resistance is career Putin apologist and increasingly right-wing Fidesz leader Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary.

Now in the 12th year of his premiership, Mr Orban has served as prime minister since 2010.

He is seeking a fourth term in office this year, with the coming vote scheduled for April 3.

Although he isn’t the only one defending his position this year, he faces the fiercest challenge.

He is up against a united opposition and conflict on his country’s border with Ukraine sponsored by one of his former close allies.

The first obstacle in his path is a coalition of six Hungarian opposition parties who have set up a united front against him.

United For Hungary includes the DK, Jobbik, MSZP, Dialogue, LMP and Momentum parties under one umbrella led by conservative Péter Márki-Zay.

Together, they have urged the country to move away from Orban’s creeping move to the authoritarian right and embrace Europe, stating the incumbent leader is too aligned with the east.

Mr Orban has long served as one of Putin’s staunchest supporters within the EU and central Europe, a position from which he is meekly attempting to separate himself.

As Hungarian public opinion turns against Russia, he has drawn closer to the EU and NATO, supporting sanctions while condemning Putin’s advancement.

But, at the same time, Hungarian state broadcasters controlled by the Orban regime have regularly regurgitated Kremlin talking points and, at times, hosted experts who have openly attacked Volodymyr Zelensky.

United for Hungary has used this to its advantage, with Mr Márki-Zay stating that voters had to choose “choose Europe instead of the east and freedom instead of authoritarianism”.

Their tactics have worked, as they are within a hair’s breadth of removing Mr Orban from office.

The latest polls from within Hungary have Mr Orban’s Fidesz on a slim lead.

As of February 26, Politico’s Poll of Polls placed the opposition on 45 percent to Fidesz’s 49 percent.

Some lone polls have the gap much closer, with one from Republikon around the same time giving the coalition 46 percent and Fidesz 48 percent – just a two-point lead.

One of the largest, however, conducted by IDEA with 2,000 participants, suggested Fidesz had opened up a seven-point lead with 50 percent to 43 percent.

Mr Orban might have risked trailing under pressure from the EU without the sudden shock of the war in Ukraine.

Before bloc leaders had their attention shifted further east, they were trying to rein in some of their more fringe members.

Both Poland and Hungary have taken authoritarian turns to the right in recent months, with officials preparing to clamp down on EU-wide rule of law observance.

Hungary’s premier has, at least for the time being, strayed from rocking the boat too much in Europe and at home.

His central promise for the coming race is one of stability, as he seems reluctant to commit resistance to Russia.

He has pledged not to send Hungarians to meet Putin’s forces should they take Ukraine, a country with which Hungary shares a border to its east.

In a speech on Friday, he said he would not place his people between “the Ukrainian anvil and the Russian hammer”.

Should the public chime with his message, the leader could win his fourth term by next month.

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