March 2, 2018 / 1:29 PM / 22 days ago

Hungarian PM steps up anti-immigrant campaign after by-election loss

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday opposition parties would unite to try to oust his ruling Fidesz in the April 8 election and would turn Hungary into a haven for immigrants, after his party suffered a surprise by-election defeat.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a joint news conference with Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in Sofia, Bulgaria, February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/Files

Orban’s rightwing nationalist Fidesz is seeking a third consecutive term. The party is leading in opinion polls but suffered an unexpected setback at a municipal by-election on Sunday when an opposition-backed independent comfortably beat the Fidesz candidate for mayor.

Orban told state radio on Friday fragmented opposition parties would unite and present a single candidate to run against Fidesz in each constituency.

Political analysts have said the by-election result could change dynamics within the opposition, which had struggled to mount any serious challenge.

The Socialists, the strongest opposition party the nationalist Jobbik and the smaller leftist liberal parties have so far not presented a common nationwide front against Fidesz.

“The (by-election) was a laboratory case, and this will be repeated in several constituencies,” Orban said. “In the end, there will be a candidate in every constituency from the opposition who supports immigration ... and our candidate who opposes immigration.”

Orban said if Hungary becomes an “immigrant country” it would bring “terror, women and girls will no longer be safe and our cultural identity will weaken and slowly evaporate”.

He reiterated that Central European EU members - Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary - along with Austria and Bavaria rejected the European Union’s migration policies.

“They shoot at Poland, both Germany and Brussels ... because if they weaken (Poland) they weaken the whole Central Europe, and this way they also weaken the central European opposition to immigration,” Orban said.

Orban has been one of the loudest opponents of mandatory migrant resettlement quotas proposed by the EU.

Orban said the opposition would use funding from U.S. financier George Soros and get the backing of a great part of foreign-owned media operating in Hungary. Fidesz frequently vilifies Soros, saying he wants to bring millions of migrants into Europe, which Soros denies.

Voter support for Fidesz dropped to 29 percent in February from 32 percent in January but the party is favourite to win the election, a poll by the Republikon institute showed on Wednesday.

Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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