Hungary's Viktor Orban suffers surprise by-election defeat ahead of national vote

  • Orban, known for his anti-migrant views and populist rhetoric, is campaigning to serve a third consecutive term from April 8.
  • However, a bellwether vote in southern Hungary backfired for Orban's Fidesz supporters on Sunday.
  • Hungary's current prime minister is still widely expected to secure enough votes to continue his premiership in April. However, analysts suggested a fall from the two-thirds majority won four years ago could conceivably see his mandate weakened next term.
Hungarian Prime Minister and Chairman of FIDESZ party Viktor Orban delivers his state of the nation address in front of his party members and sypathizers at Varkert Bazar cultural center of Budapest on February 18, 2018.
ATTILA KISBENEDEK | AFP | Getty Images
Hungarian Prime Minister and Chairman of FIDESZ party Viktor Orban delivers his state of the nation address in front of his party members and sypathizers at Varkert Bazar cultural center of Budapest on February 18, 2018.

Hungary's ruling right-wing government suffered an unexpected defeat in a local by-election over the weekend, raising concerns for Prime Minister Viktor Orban ahead of an upcoming national vote.

Orban, known for his anti-migrant views and populist rhetoric, is campaigning to serve a third consecutive term from April 8. However, a bellwether vote in southern Hungary backfired for Orban's Fidesz supporters on Sunday.

The battle for political control in Hodmezovasarhely culminated in victory for independent candidate Peter Marki-Zay. Despite being a political novice, Marki-Zay won 57.5 percent of the vote as he enjoyed the support of the full spectrum of the opposition.

Meanwhile, the Fidesz Party candidate, Zoltan Hegedus, won 41.5 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results.

The defeat was a surprise setback for Orban's government with just six weeks to go before a parliamentary election. The embarrassment was further emphasized by the fact Sunday's local election is the home of Janos Lazar — a close ally of the Hungarian premier.

In 2014, the Fidesz Party secured more than 60 percent of the vote in Hodmezovasarhely.

Squarely at odds with George Soros

Orban is still widely expected to secure enough votes to continue his premiership in April. However, analysts suggested a fall from the two-thirds majority won four years ago could conceivably see his mandate weakened next term.

Hungary, which joined the European Union (EU) in 2004, has frequently been at loggerheads with Brussels since its ascension to the bloc. The former communist state has often been criticized for looking to assert its influence over courts, the media and other independent institutions.

In recent months, Orban has publicly clashed with Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros. The country's prime minister has often sought to vilify Soros, whose ideals are squarely at odds with Orban's view that European culture is under existential threat from migration and multiculturalism.