Friday 17 August 2018

Hungarian turnout high amid claims of poll fraud

Votes are counted in Hungarian parliamentary election. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
Votes are counted in Hungarian parliamentary election. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Peter Foster

Hungarians voted in their highest numbers for 20 years in yesterday's parliamentary elections as Viktor Orban, the country's controversial leader, sought to secure a third consecutive term as prime minister.

Polling stations were forced to stay open for an extra two-and-a-half hours in some districts of Budapest to accommodate long lines of voters at the culmination of a bitter campaign that saw Mr Orban demonising immigrants, Brussels and foreign-funded NGOs.

The campaign highlighted the gap between Mr Orban and Brussels over migration issues and raised questions about his increasingly autocratic approach to government that has seen his party, Fidesz, monopolise the media and other apparatus of state.

As the vote got under way yesterday, Fidesz was facing calls for an inquiry into alleged electoral irregularities after a newspaper revealed how the country's diplomatic corps was being pressed into finding "negative" immigration stories to boost Mr Orban's re-election campaign.

The Swedish ambassador to Hungary, leading opposition figures from both the left and right as well as senior figures in Brussels, all accused Fidesz of misusing state power for propaganda purposes.

As independent TV channels alleged other irregularities, including vote-buying and the transport of voters in the south-western city of Pecs, opposition supporters began to gather in Budapest where extra police were deployed as night fell.

However, Zoltan Kovacs, a senior government spokesman, said the high voter turnout proved Hungarian democracy was "alive and kicking".

In one Budapest district, the voting line was reported to be more than 1km long, with turnout at 68pc at the official close of polling at 7pm.

Opposition parties hoped a turnout around 70pc could repeat the shock defeat handed to Mr Orban's ruling Fidesz party in 2002, although the majority of analysts remained cautious about the chances of an upset.

Eve-of-vote polls had suggested Mr Orban was comfortably on track to win another term.

Mr Orban has been accused of increasingly monopolising Hungary's media, with Fidesz-friendly oligarchs buying up large numbers of local newspaper and radio stations since 2010, sending Hungary sliding down international media transparency rankings. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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