Hungarians vote in parliamentary elections in 'test for Europe'

2018-04-08 11:07
Demonstrators in Budapest march to protest against potential closure of their university. (Janos Marjaj, AP)

Demonstrators in Budapest march to protest against potential closure of their university. (Janos Marjaj, AP)

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Budapest - Hungarians are heading to the voting booth to cast their ballots in elections that have been billed as test for the country and Europe, with opposition parties hoping to oust the ruling Fidesz party.

Polls opened at 06:00 local time on Sunday and will close at 19:00.

Sunday's elections have been highly contested, with opposition parties struggling to form an electoral alliance capable of overcoming incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Orban's increasingly far-right Fidesz.

Hungary, where there are more than eight million registered voters, takes to the ballot box every four years to decide on the 199 seats in the country's parliament.

With far-right and populist parties making gains in a spate of recent European elections, including in Italy and Austria, analysts have speculated that Orban's anti-migrant and "illiberal" policies could have long-lasting implications for the European Union (EU).

"I think this will be the most frenzied elections Hungary has had [since the fall of communism in 1989]," Bulcsu Hunyadi, a senior analyst at the Political Capital Institute think tank, told Al Jazeera.

Running against Orban is a hodgepodge of liberal and centre-left parties as well as Jobbik, the far-right party with neo-Nazi roots and a lengthy history of anti-Semitism.

Ahead of the vote, the prime minister urged voters to "save Hungary". 

Orban's campaign has focused largely on issues like migration and George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist who Fidesz accuses of encouraging refugees to flood the central European country.

"This is a political strategy of the governing party," Hunyadi said. "They think these are the only topics with which they can dominate the discussion."

As of February 15, upwards of 415 000 Hungarians living abroad were registered voters, according to the Budapest Beacon news site.

While Fidesz appears slated to maintain a majority, it remains unclear if the incumbent ruling party can maintain a super-majority of two-thirds support.

Immigration a key issue

In February, the Hungarian government introduced a package of proposed laws targeting NGOs funded by Soros.

If Orban's government maintains its control of the parliament, it is expected to pass through the bill - dubbed "Stop Soros" - which would place a 25 percent tax on NGOs that encourage or support "illegal immigration".

The laws also propose banning entry to Hungary for foreigners who are alleged to encourage refugees and migrants to come to the country.

It would also empower the government to fine or ban NGOs that fail to undergo a security check by the country's intelligence services.

Julia Ivan, director of Amnesty International's branch in Hungary, said civil society groups are "are fully aware of how government and politicians say their first move will be to adopt the 'Stop Soros' legislation".

"We do fear that the consequences may be lethal for NGOS, which are critical," she told Al Jazeera.

"Anti-migration sentiment and anti-NGO populist propaganda have already taken the focus from serious issues like healthcare and education."

Read more on:    hungary  |  election
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