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Hungarians to vote in keenly-watched poll

  • Jastinder Khera

    Agence France-Presse

Budapest, Hungary | Sun, April 8, 2018 | 10:35 am
 Hungarians to vote in keenly-watched poll People listen as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his speech during the last campaign event of his Fidesz party in Szekesfehervar, Hungary on April 6, 2018. Hungarians vote in elections on April 8, 2108 that polls suggest will give Prime Minister Viktor Orban a third consecutive term. (Agence France-Presse/Ferenc Isza)

Hungarians will head to the polls Sunday in an election being keenly observed across Europe to see whether firebrand nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban will win an expected third term.

Polling stations will open at 6 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) and will close at 7 p.m. local time.

Opinion polls have consistently put Orban and his right-wing Fidesz party 20 or more points clear of their nearest rivals, Jobbik, a far-right party that has been moving towards the centre, which in turn has been a few points ahead of the centre-left Socialists.

A mainly first-past-the-post election system designed by Fidesz also gives it an edge over a divided opposition but a high turnout and anti-Fidesz tactical voting could add an element of unpredictability.

Preliminary results are expected to emerge one or two hours after polls close, with broader trends expected to become clear only slowly over the course of the evening.

Even if Fidesz does gain its expected majority in the 199-seat parliament, analysts will be watching to see whether it falls short of the two-thirds "supermajority" that has enabled it to pass some of its most far-reaching and controversial bills.

These include some of the measures that have put Orban on a collision course with Brussels, such as eroding the independence of the media and the judiciary, as well as its crackdown on civil society groups, particularly those funded by Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros.

The government has been accused by critics of using anti-Semitic stereotypes in its relentless campaign against Soros, who is Jewish.

Orban accuses Soros and the organisations he funds of promoting mass Muslim and African immigration into Europe in order to undermine its Christian identity.

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 Orban of xenophobia and racism.

Although Orban's actions, including refusing to participate in the EU's refugee resettlement scheme, have sometimes annoyed other European governments, Fidesz is afforded a measure of protection by virtue of its membership of the main centre-right EPP grouping in the European Parliament.

Senior EPP leaders have themselves courted controversy by wishing Orban luck ahead of the poll.

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