By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – Hungarians head to the polls Sunday for what could be one of Europe’s most consequential elections overshadowed by the Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, long a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, seeks a fourth term in office, and opinion polls suggest he will succeed.
Orbán planned his election campaign about what he saw as the dangers of immigration and threats to traditional family values. But the war in Ukraine changed that and shifted the political landscape in Hungary.
Yet Prime Minister Orbán has been able to rally hundreds of thousands of supporters in the runup to the ballot. He’s ruled Hungary for 12 years and is still popular, though he’s long been a thorn in the side of fellow European Union leaders for his perceived authoritarian rule.
Orbán faced unprecedented pressure since Russia invaded Ukraine as he is seen as Vladimir Putin’s closest EU ally.
He has been reluctant to support an EU boycott of Russian energy imports. And Orbán refuses to approve the supply of weapons and troops for neighboring Ukraine through Hungarian territory, telling a massive crowd in front of Parliament: “The left has lost their mind. They would blindly walk into a bloody war. Instead, the left wants to send soldiers and weapons to the front lines. We won’t let that happen. We will not allow the left to move us into war.”
Comments like these sparked an immediate response from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “Hungary, I want to pause here and be honest once and for all. You have to decide for yourself who you are with. You are a sovereign state,” he said in a recent emotionally charged video message.
“Listen, Viktor, do you know what is happening in the port city of Mariupol? Please, if you can, go to your waterfront. Look at those shoes of the Holocaust memorial. You will see that mass killings can happen again in today’s world,” added Zelensky, who is Jewish.
Zelensky referred to a memorial consisting of shoes next to the River Danube in Budapest. It’s where thousands of Jews were shot dead and thrown into the Danube during World War Two.
In recent days many Hungarians and Ukrainians have visited the shoe memorial. They fear similar atrocities are taking place in Ukrainian cities such as Mariupol. But supporters of Orban’s Fidesz party understand his views on the war in Ukraine.
“Towards Russia, I think Orban is doing an excellent job. We should stay outside the war. Orban is right,” a woman said. “We shouldn’t be involved in the war. When I quarrel with someone, I also don’t involve someone else in my problem,” a man added.
Six opposition parties have joined forces to try and oust Orbán at the polls. Their candidate for prime minister is Péter Márki-Zay
Since the war started, he’s highlighted Hungary’s multi-billion euro energy deals with Russia and criticized Orbán for allowing a Russian-led investment bank, known by critics as the Putin Bank, to operate in Hungary and giving favorable loans to his allies.
Orbán went to Moscow just weeks before the invasion. And Márki-Zay says the two leaders’ relationship has isolated the Hungarian nation.
“Orbán was, until the last moment supporting Putin. Putin’s position,” he told Worthy News. “But he always was short of vetoing sanctions against Russia, for example. So I will be curious how far he will defend Putin,” Márki-Zay stressed.
“But Orbán has been isolated in Europe as the last puppet of Putin. He is the last loyal figure for Putin in Europe. And I really hope we can replace Orban soon, and Hungary will become a very respected member of the EU community,” he added.
That’s music to the ears of Márki-Zay supporters, with one woman saying: “He represents the soul of Europe and the European values. He has an open spirit.”
With a war in Hungary’s backyard, opinion polls predict Viktor Orbán may get enough votes to win a fourth term in office as Hungarians seek a strong leader they already know.
But Márki-Zay hasn’t given up hope. He’s the mayor of a provincial town and says that he’s “always lost in opinion polls, but never an election.”
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