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Turnout high in Hungary's election as Orban fights to retain power

From Reuters - April 8, 2018

BUDAPEST/GYONGYOS, Hungary (Reuters) - Prime Minister Viktor Orban launched a last-ditch effort to mobilise supporters in Hungarys parliamentary election on Sunday, as interim turnout ran even higher than in a 2002 vote that consigned him to eight years in opposition.

After an acrimonious campaign in which rightwing nationalist Orban projected himself as a saviour of Hungarys Christian culture against Muslim migration into Europe, all opinion polls put his Fidesz party well ahead.

A strong victory could embolden him to put more muscle into a Central European alliance against the European Unions migration policies. Orban, Hungarys longest-serving post-communist premier, opposes deeper integration of the bloc.

Interim data at 1300 GMT showed voter turnout at 53.64 percent, a touch higher than the 53.59 percent in the second round in 2002 under a different election system, when final turnout reached 73.5 percent. Turnout in the 2014 vote was 61.7 percent.

Reuters correspondents saw long lines of voters at polling stations. In central London, emigre Hungarians queued for hundreds of metres in the rain to vote, some waiting for more than two hours.

Some pollsters said voter turnout above 70 percent could signal that the opposition was mobilising supporters efficiently, and might even deprive Fidesz of its parliamentary majority.

High turnout means, most probably, less mandates for Fidesz than in the previous term, said Peter Kreko, director of think tank Political Capital.

But he added that since all parties, including Fidesz, had mobilised intensively, it did not necessarily mean Orban was threatened with defeat.

Orban has far-right admirers across Europe who like his tough line on migrants and a landslide win would show that his single-issue campaign, arguing that migration poses a security threat, had paid off.

MIGRATION LIKE RUST

Critics say Orban has put Hungary on an increasingly authoritarian path and his stance on immigration has fuelled xenophobia.

After casting his vote in a wealthy district of Budapest, he said: From here I will go and take part in mobilising voters ... I am asking everyone to take part in the election.

Asked by journalists if he was fighting the European Union, Orban said: The EU is not in Brussels. The EU is in Berlin, in Budapest, in Prague and in Bucharest.

He reiterated he would stand up for Hungarys interests and said Hungary was a loyal member of international organisations.

We love our country and we are fighting for our country, he said.

Orban posted updates on his Facebook page on Sunday, the latest showing him campaigning in a Budapest district.

A strong win for Orban would boost other right-wing nationalists in Central Europe, in Poland and in neighbouring Austria, and expose cracks in the 28-nation EU.

While Fidesz led all opinion polls before the vote, there is a small chance that the fragmented opposition could strip Fidesz of its parliamentary majority if voters frustrated with Orbans policies choose tactical voting in the 106 constituencies.

OUTSIDE CHANCE OF SURPRISE

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