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Hungary vote goes to wire as PM Orban seeks fourth term

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban faced a tough challenge with a united opposition in an unpredictable general election on Sunday.

The six main opposition parties are for the first time fielding a joint list, determined to roll back the "illiberal" revolution Orban's Fidesz party has pursued during 12 consecutive years in office.

That has involved repeated confrontations with EU institutions, including over the neutering of the press and judiciary, and measures targeting the LGBT community.

By early afternoon turnout stood at 40 percent, down slightly from the record participation seen at the last national elections in 2018.

'Anything can happen'

Orban himself voted Sunday morning at a school in a leafy Budapest suburb and told reporters he was expecting a "great victory".

Challenger Peter Marki-Zay, head of the main opposition alliance, cast his ballot accompanied by his wife and seven children after attending mass in the city of Hodmezovasarhely, where he inflicted a shock defeat on Fidesz's candidate to become mayor in 2018.

He said the opposition had to battle "unfair and impossible circumstances".

With the opposition all but absent from state media, he said: "Regardless of the result, this election is not free".

Orban dismissed such complaints and insisted the vote was "fair".

More than 200 international observers are monitoring the election for the first time, along with thousands of domestic volunteers from both camps.

Budapest resident Agnes Kunyik, 56, told AFP she backed the opposition. "We want to remain in Europe, we want a democratic rational state.

"They have ruined our country, destroyed it," she said of Fidesz, becoming visibly emotional.

However, while the capital is fertile territory for the opposition, the election will be decided in around 30 less-urban swing seats out of the 106 directly elected constituencies.

Marki-Zay has been criss-crossing these areas to reach voters directly and try to break through government "propaganda".

By contrast, Orban has been "hidden", with no open events apart from a final rally on Friday, said Andras Pulai of the opposition-leaning Publicus polling institute.

Instead, Orban preferred "closed events where he talked to his most loyal supporters", said Pulai.

Retired engineer Lajos Rebay, 78, said he was voting for Fidesz because "lots of positive things have happened in the last 12 years, an exceptional number," adding: "We must continue."

Publicus' last pre-election poll, published Saturday, put Fidesz and the opposition neck-and-neck, while most other pollsters have Fidesz ahead.

However, given the advantage Fidesz enjoys under the electoral system, "the opposition needs to have a three-to-four-point lead to win a majority" in the 199-seat chamber, Pulai pointed out.

He cautioned that the votes of Hungarians abroad constitute another unknown factor making the election "too close to call".

"Anything can happen," he said.       

(Source: AFP)

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