(Reuters) – Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban accepted his ruling Fidesz party’s endorsement on Sunday to lead it into an election next year, saying he needed another four year term in power to make his transformation of the country “irreversible”.
Orban, who has steered Hungary into confrontation with the European Union by campaigning against immigration, asserting control over the media and courts, and criticizing efforts to deepen European integration, received a unanimous 1,358 votes at a party congress to remain Fidesz leader for two more years.
With an election five months away, he leads all contenders and looks likely to secure a third consecutive landslide.
“There is no mood for a change of government in Hungary, so much as a mood for a change of opposition,” Orban said to laughter and applause, referring to disarray within the center-left.
Polls show the center-left likely to be overtaken at the next election by the far-right Jobbik party, seen as leaning even further towards ethnic nationalism than Orban’s Fidesz.
“We need to work for four more years to strengthen our achievements to the point that they are irreversible,” Orban said.
The 54-year-old premier has been widely criticized by Western allies for eroding democratic freedoms, which he and Fidesz deny.
He has become unassailably popular at home, especially since 2015, when Hungary became the main land route into the EU for around a million Middle Eastern migrants who crossed the Balkans on their way to Germany and other rich countries further north.
Orban and Fidesz say hostility towards them is being whipped up as part of a conspiracy by George Soros, a Hungarian-American financier who has long contributed to “open society” causes around the world, including in his native Eastern Europe.
In his speech accepting his party’s endorsement, Orban said he was fighting against “globalist” views that threaten the EU’s Christian nations and their moral foundations, for which he blamed Soros.
“Some countries in Europe decided to transcend Christianity and their own national character,” he said. “They want to step into a post-Christian, post-national era.”
“To execute Soros’s plan they want to root out governments which represent national interests around Europe, and that includes us,” he said. “They act like Soviet agitprop agents once did. We old war-horses know them by their smell.”
Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Peter Graff