Hungary tipped to re-elect conservative government
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Hungarians headed to the polls on Sunday to cast their vote in the country’s parliamentary elections, which are widely expected to hand right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban another four years in office.
The elections are also being viewed as a test for the country’s far-right Jobbik party, which has been accused of anti-Semitic and anti-Roma views.
If Jobbik wins enough votes, it could overtake the leftist opposition to become the second biggest political force.
Over his first term, the 50-year-old Orban has proven himself both controversial and popular. He has had repeated disagreements with the European Union and foreign investors, particularly over heavy taxes on the country’s mostly foreign-owned banks, telecoms and energy firms. He has also increased state control over the energy sector.
Critics say Orban has used his mandate to curb democratic checks and balances and the freedom of the media, allegations his government rejects.
But he has garnered broad support for stabilising public finances and cutting utility bills. Opinion polls predict that his conservative Fidesz party is on course for a landslide victory. Yet it remains to be seen whether Orban can retain his two-thirds majority in parliament, which allows him to change the constitution.
Public support for Orban’s Fidesz stood at 34 percent a week before the vote, according to a poll by Ipsos, while a leftist alliance led by Socialist party chairman Attila Mesterhazy scored 20 percent and Jobbik was third with 14 percent.
Orban has promised to continue to cut energy prices and to get rid of foreign-currency mortgages that are burdening households. Foreign banks fear this could inflict further losses on them.
More unpredictable policies could weigh on the currency, the forint, especially if the central bank - led by a strong ally of Orban’s - cuts interest rates further from record lows, against a backdrop of jittery sentiment in global markets.
“A Fidesz-led government would guarantee long-term political stability and policy continuity,” Blanka Kolenikova, Senior Analyst at think-tank IHS Country Risk, said in a research note.
“However, it would further erode the investment and business environment, undermining Hungary’s competitiveness towards its regional peers.”
Voting at over 10,000 polling stations began at 0400 GMT and polls close at 1700 GMT. An unofficial result will be announced on Sunday night.
Unlike four years ago, when Hungarians voted in two rounds, Sunday’s election will feature a first-past-the-post single round in 106 constituencies, with the number of lawmakers in parliament reduced sharply from 386 to 199.
Ethnic Hungarians in central Europe, locked outside Hungary’s redrawn borders after World War One, will vote for the first time, although they are not likely to have a major impact on the election’s outcome.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)