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High turnout in Hungary as Orban eyes third straight term

Ferenc Isza, AFP | Hungary's right-wing prime minister has whipped up the anti-immigrant sentiment during the election campaign.

Hungarians turned out in large numbers on Sunday for parliamentary elections that will decide whether nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban wins an expected third consecutive term.

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Orban has clashed with EU institutions over his moves to clamp down on civil society and his fiery anti-immigration rhetoric, but he has drawn plaudits from other nationalist politicians and those on the far-right who look to him as an inspiration.

Most polling stations closed at 7pm local time, but some remained open until much later to accommodate a surge in turnout, which stood at 68.13 percent as of 6.30pm, nine points higher than the same point in 2014.

Preliminary results were delayed as a result of the extended voting hours, with analysts warning that general trends would emerge only slowly over the course of the night.

'We're looking at record-high turnout'

Polls have consistently put Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party at least 20 points ahead of its nearest challenger Jobbik, a far-right party that has been moving towards the centre. Jobbik in turn has been a few points ahead of the centre-left Socialists.

Fidesz is widely tipped to win another term in power, though analysts said the high turnout, especially in opposition-leaning Budapest and other big cities, may help other parties to overcome a mainly first-past-the-post election system which disadvantages the divided opposition.

The poll's results will be keenly watched for their possible wider ramifications in Europe.

A strong victory could embolden Orban to put more muscle into a Central European alliance against EU migration policies. Hungary's longest-serving post-communist premier also opposes deeper integration of the bloc.

The EU has struggled to respond as Orban's government has used past landslide victories in 2010 and 2014 to erode democratic checks and balances, by curbing the powers of the constitutional court, controlling the media and appointing loyalists to key positions.

Orban's sometimes lurid rhetoric against immigrants resulted in February in a spat between the government and the UN's top human rights official, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, who accused the Hungarian leader of xenophobia and racism.

The government has been accused of using anti-Semitic stereotypes in its relentless campaign against civil society groups funded by Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros, who is Jewish.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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