BUDAPEST — Viktor Orbán’s right-wing Fidesz party won a landslide victory in Hungary’s general election on Sunday, setting the stage for the prime minister to pursue his nationalistic vision and fight more battles with Brussels.
The result gives Orbán a third consecutive term as prime minister and a strong platform from which to further rail against migrants and Muslims, stage crackdowns on NGOs and mount strong resistance to greater EU integration.
More clashes between Budapest and EU institutions, particularly the European Commission and European Parliament, look assured. Orbán opposed a Commission plan to distribute migrants around the bloc while the Parliament has voted to put Hungary on a path toward censure for backsliding on democratic standards.
The election result will also likely embolden far-right parties and populists across Europe inspired by Orbán.
Orbán, who built a fence on Hungary’s southern border during the 2015 migration crisis, constructed his election campaign around strong a strong nationalist and anti-migrant message. The U.N. human rights chief earlier this year branded him a racist.
Orbán has, however, managed to keep Fidesz within the main center-right pan-European political grouping, the European People’s Party, whose members also include Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Joseph Daul, the EPP president, tweeted his support for Fidesz ahead of the election, saying Orbán and his allies would “continue to bring stability and prosperity” to Hungary.
Fidesz is expected to take 133 of the Hungarian parliament’s 199 seats, according to official results, with more than 98 percent of votes counted. Such a two-thirds “super-majority” would allow the party to change the constitution on its own.
The party also held such a majority after the last general election but later lost it due to a by-election defeat.
“I congratulate the voters,” Orbán said in a short victory speech on Sunday night, adding that “in times like this it’s better to be modest.”
“A big battle is behind us,” said the prime minister, who has been in power since 2010 and also ruled from 1998 to 2002. He said victory presented an opportunity to “defend Hungary.”
Fidesz improved significantly on its performance in 2014 in terms of the popular vote, taking nearly 49 percent of votes compared to 44 percent in the previous election.
Orbán’s campaign was helped by a strong economy, his party’s tight control over the media and deep divisions among opposition parties.
But a senior Fidesz official said the anti-migrant message was key. “It is simply the fear of migrants. Fidesz did a single-issue campaign and it was successful,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The second-largest party will once again be the far-right Jobbik, with 26 seats. Its leader Gábor Vona, who had tried to give the party a more centrist image, said he would resign.
A coalition of the Socialist party (MSZP) with a small liberal-leaning group took 20 seats. The liberal-leaning Democratic Coalition (DK) was set to win nine seats and the green Politics Can Be Different (LMP) won eight seats. Smaller parties and independent candidates took the remaining three seats.
Opposition parties made gains in some Budapest districts, but divisions among the groups contributed to multiple losses across the country, where opposition parties ran both against one another and against a Fidesz candidate.
Orbán — who started out in politics as a liberal student activist under communism before shifting sharply to the right — came into this election campaign with a big lead in the opinion polls. Nevertheless, the scale of his victory took the opposition by surprise.
Corruption scandals involving alleged wrongdoing by high-level government officials raised questions about whether some conservative voters and undecided Hungarians would turn to the opposition. Turnout was historically high, initially raising opposition hopes.
Some opposition voters have already started pointing fingers at opposition party leaders, accusing them of putting their own squabbles over unity and the fight against Orbán.
At a final pre-election rally on Friday, Orbán drove home his campaign message that nefarious forces want to meddle in Hungarian politics and harm the national interest.
“The situation is that they want to take away our country,” he said, alleging that opposition parties are serving foreign powers.
As he has often done in recent years, he attacked his one-time benefactor, liberal American-Hungarian financier George Soros.
“Europe’s leaders together with a billionaire speculator don’t want to defend the borders, but want to bring in the migrants, that’s the truth,” he said.