Pro-Orban media fails to question Putin ties ahead of tight April 3 election
Often unreliable polling suggests Hungary’s populist prime minister Viktor Orban has a slender lead ahead of the April 3 general election.
Orban has claimed the six-party opposition coalition is keen to engage Hungary in the Ukrainian war. Orban’s control of the conventional media leaves little space to question his close ties with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
In Hungary, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 the state news agency, the Hungarian Telegraph Office (MTI) instead of using the word “war”, described a “Russian military operation”. During the first five days of the war, the agency referred to a “Russian military operation” (orosz hadművelet) 431 times, according to Zsuzsanna Wirth of the investigative media group Direkt36, who follows how Orban’s government controls MTI.
After criticism, MTI began to use “war” in its Ukraine coverage.
“We cannot get between the Ukrainian anvil and the Russian hammer,” Orban told his supporters, using an unfortunate image.
Some analysts question whether an Orban victory will be enough to revive western populism since the Ukraine invasion. A new rift has opened with Poland’s populist PiS, which favours a tougher approach to Putin.
Hungary’s parliamentary constituencies are highly gerrymandered to favour the ruling Fidesz party.
Gergely Karacsony, the anti-Orban mayor of Budapest, said the opposition needs to win the popular vote by three or four percentage points to secure a majority in parliament.
Opposition leader Peter Marki-Zay, 49, the centre-right mayor of the southern town of Hodmezovasarhely and a Catholic father of seven, says voters have been told to fear change.
Marki-Zay said he has not been invited to appear on television since 2019, while Fidesz portrays him as a danger to Hungarian values.
He says he wants lower taxes and a decentralised government and has been hard to dismiss as a mouthpiece for the metropolitan elite that Orban leads culture wars against.
“Putin and Orban belong to this autocratic, repressive, poor and corrupt world,” Marki-Zay told the New York Times. “And we have to choose Europe, west, Nato, democracy, rule of law, freedom of the press, a very different world.”
Marki-Zay says Orban has told voters the opposition will send their children to fight in Ukraine and allow sex-change surgery for preschoolers without parental consent.
Marki-Zay says voters are frightened by the media campaign. “They hate. I meet such people every day during this campaign. People who are just shouting profanities. You can feel the hatred, and you can see in their eyes how fearful they are of Orban losing the election,” he told the Times.
Putin and Orban. Picture credit: YouTube