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Hungarians queue for polls in the shadow of war in Ukraine

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (AP) – Hungarians flocked to polling places yesterday as voters in the Central European country faced a choice: take a chance on a diverse, Western-looking coalition of opposition parties, or grant nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban a renewed mandate with a fourth consecutive term in office.

The contest is expected to be the closest since Orban took power in 2010, thanks to Hungary’s six main opposition parties putting aside ideological differences to form a united front against his right-wing Fidesz party.

Recent polls suggest a tight race but give Fidesz a slight lead. Analysts have predicted high turnout, and around 40 per cent of Hungary’s nearly 7.7 million eligible voters had cast a ballot by 1pm, according to the National Election Office.

Opposition parties and international observers have pointed out structural impediments to defeating Orban by electoral means, highlighting pervasive pro-government bias in the public media, domination of commercial news outlets by Orban allies and a heavily gerrymandered electoral map.

The Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a full observation mission to Hungary to monitor Sunday’s election, only the second time it has done so in a European Union (EU) country.

Speaking at a polling place in a wealthy Budapest neighbourhood, the head of the OSCE mission, Ambassador Jillian Stirk, said the organization’s assessments would be based “on the facts that we observe, from what we see and what we hear. So we don’t come with any kind of preconceived ideas”.

Gabor Somogyi, a 58-year-old marketing professional, said after voting with his family that he believes that Hungary’s media environment favours Orban and Fidesz, and made the election unfair.

“I really count on the monitoring, it’s fine, I’m happy with that. But I don’t really believe (the election) will be clean enough. Even the campaign was not clean enough,” Somogyi said.

Yet despite what it calls an uneven playing field, the six-party opposition coalition, United For Hungary, has asked voters to support its efforts to introduce a new political culture in Hungary based on pluralistic governance and mended alliances with the EU and NATO.

Elections posters and the Hungarian flag are seen outside a polling station for general election in Budapest, Hungary. PHOTO: AP
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