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Hungarian Prime Minister pushes anti-migrant agenda in national election

Hungarians vote on Sunday in an election which could deliver a third consecutive victory for a Prime Minister who has campaigned hard on an anti-immigrant agenda. Europe Correspondent Michelle Clifford reports…

“The opposition will turn us into a land of foreigners,” Victor Orban tells the crowd at his last rally in Szekesfehervar, 60 kilometres from the capital Budapest.

The choice of location was likely no coincidence – a town synonymous with the foundations of Christianity in this country is a potent place to talk about the clash of civilisations and the dangers of Muslim migrants entering Hungary.

And his message clearly resonated in the crowd. When we met Timea Varnai after the event she looked clearly delighted with what she had heard.

“I strongly agree with his migration politics,” she said, smiling broadly. “I think that he represents our country very well in the European Union and all over Europe. I think he is the best man to represent us.”

Victor Orban
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Many of Orban’s supporters regard him as a strongman

When I ask if she is bothered by the allegations of corruption in his government, abuse of power and curbs on press freedom she says there “are voices like that”.

“But I have to repeat that I think he is doing the right thing. I hear them say he restricts things but he defended the country and that is the most important thing for us. We don’t want this culture to be changed.”

She is one of the many in Hungary who regard Orban as a strong man, defending the rights of Hungarians. There are plenty of others who regard him as a bully, crushing the rights of those who oppose him.

His Fidesz party is on course to win another term in the first election since Orban introduced tough measures to counter the influx of hundreds of thousands of of mainly Muslim migrants into Hungary in 2015.

Some call him a xenophobe but his spokesman Zoltan Kovacs is unapologetic about a political response which involved building a fence on Hungary’s southern border.

:: Hungary migrant vote declared invalid

Border Wall
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Hungary’s borders, including this with Serbia, are heavily fortified

“I would say we talk about and deal in reality,” he tells me.

“We made some tough decisions in the past. It was not easy to build a fence and introduce other methods. But they are effective.

“They are basically the only effective way to stop what is happening in Europe, and what is happening in Europe is illegal immigration happening in waves.”

He adds, as a dig at the EU which has clashed with Hungary over the imposition of quotas for taking in asylum seekers: “In fact if all European countries had been using the same measures and effectiveness we have been using then the situation would have been very different.”

But the actions and language of Fidesz appals many in Hungary.

On a city street in Budapest on the final weekend of campaigning we meet first time voter Marton Erdei, who has joined a drive to oust Orban.

:: EU takes Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic to court over refugees

He’s handing out leaflets urging people to get out and vote and tells me he has come to loathe the man who has led the country since he was a child.

“All he talks about is immigration,” he tells me, “Our aim is to reduce the power of Fidesz. They are still going to win the election but this time they will have less power in parliament.”

The problem is that the opposition is fractured in Hungary with an array of parties from right to left but with no single one able to deliver a fatal blow to Orban.

A YouTube channel and movement called Country For All has tried to get the opposition parties to work together but that effort has been hampered by factional disagreements.

Added to that, opposition parties complain it is much harder to get their message out in a society where significant sections of the media prop up the government.

The election will take place on Friday
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The election will take place on Sunday

“The state media and the state funded media – we call it the government organised media – some of them are officially in private hands but in fact they are in the hands of the pro-Orban oligarchs,” political analyst Peter Kreko tells me.

“They are just pushing the message of the government and doing an ugly smear campaign against opposition forces.”

That, Mr Kreko says, means there is no level playing field in the election. It may be “free” but it’s not fair.

Orban has promised to take “moral, political and legal” revenge against those who oppose Fidesz.

With his victory predicted there is worry about what that means.

Curbs on hostile press? On non-government organisations that help refugees? On outspoken critics?

It is not just people in Hungary wondering, but many in the European Union the country is part of.

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