With a united opposition alliance, PM Viktor Orban is facing his toughest contest since coming to power in 2010.
Hungarian President Janos Ader has set a parliamentary election for April 3 with a referendum on LGBTQ issues to be held on the same day, the president’s office said.
For the first time since taking power in a 2010 landslide, conservative nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz Party will face a united front of opposition parties that will make for a close election race.
Voters will decide whether he should continue his policies that prioritise national sovereignty, traditional Christian values and stances against immigration and LGBTQ rights – issues that have soured the Orban government’s relations with European Union leaders in Brussels.
The opposition alliance includes the Democratic Coalition, the Socialist Party, liberals and the formerly far-right, now centre-right Jobbik. It is led by Peter Marki-Zay, who in 2018 ended many years of Fidesz rule in the farming town of Hodmezovasarhely where he is now mayor.
Marki-Zay says he has the skills to forge a broad spectrum of voters who are desperate for change but he faces the challenge of holding together his six-party alliance, now running neck and neck in opinion polls with Fidesz.
On the day of the election Hungarians will be asked to vote on four government questions regarding LGBTQ issues as Orban is casting himself as the defender of traditional family values as a key part of his campaign.
In the referendum, voters will be asked whether they support the holding of sexual orientation workshops in schools without parental consent, and whether they believe gender reassignment procedures should be “promoted” among children.
They will also be asked whether media content that could “affect” sexual orientation should be shown to children without restrictions.
Orban remains popular at home despite accusations by critics that his centralising policies have steered Hungary towards authoritarianism.
His supporters say that he has reformed Hungary after decades of stagnation, and maintained the Central European EU member’s national sovereignty and Christian identity.
Since 2015 the 58-year-old has also become well-known abroad for his hardline anti-immigration policies, emerging with Poland as a fierce critic of EU policies in this and other areas.
At the last election in 2018, Orban’s Fidesz Party, with its junior coalition partner the Christian Democrats, won about 48 percent of the vote, giving it 133 of the assembly’s 199 seats.
The result meant Fidesz retained the two-thirds “supermajority” it won in 2010 and 2014, enabling it to push major bills through parliament.
But for the first time since 2006, a Hungarian general election is unpredictable after the opposition joined forces to combat election rules introduced under Orban in 2012 that favour Fidesz.
In October a six-party alliance of opposition parties from left to right held its first-ever primary to select single challengers versus Orban and Fidesz in all 106 electoral districts.
That month Orban accused Brussels and Washington of trying to meddle in Hungarian politics ahead of the parliamentary election.
He told tens of thousands of supporters at a rally in central Budapest that Washington and billionaire George Soros were trying to get the left-wing opposition elected using their money, media and networks.