Nationalist parties won in both Serbia and Hungary, two countries currently close to Putin’s Russia and lukewarm on the Kremlin’s moves in Ukraine. Hungary’s President Viktor Orbán won his fourth consecutive term in office on Sunday, his fifth in total. His nationalist Fidesz party secured a two-thirds majority in parliament. This will also allow him to make changes to the Constitution. The six opposition parties coalesced under the umbrella of United for Hungary, led by Péter Márki-Zay, were largely defeated. With about 91 percent of the votes counted, Orban’s coalition got 53 percent, but electoral law gives it two-thirds of the seats, while the pro-European opposition coalition got just over 34 percent, the National Election Office said on Monday.

In his victory celebration speech, the Hungarian leader named the “opponents” he defeated. They included the international media, Brussels bureaucrats and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who attacked him bitterly for his opposition to arms supplies and further sanctions against the Russian invader. Putin was quick to congratulate Orbani on his victory. Orban has focused his campaign precisely on war, portraying the election as a choice between peace and stability or war and chaos. At his last election rally on Friday, he said he would not supply arms to Ukraine – Hungary was the only EU member to refuse – would make the country a military target, and that sanctioning Russian energy imports would cripple Hungary’s economy.

The opposition, on the other hand, demanded that Hungary side with Kyiv and act in unison with the European Union and the NATO military alliance, of which it is a member. The pro-government media widely supported Orban’s claim that the opposition wanted to drag Hungary into the conflict. Orban was an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin even before the invasion of Ukraine, and has insisted that Hungary remain neutral and maintain its close economic ties with Moscow, and above all continue to import Russian gas and oil. supplied on particularly favourable terms. 85% of Hungary’s gas and 64% of its oil comes from Russia.

This marks a break with former Soviet bloc countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic. “Az oroszok menjenek haza!” “Russians go home!” the slogan from the time of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 chanted by some young people in Budapest, has not been echoed, and despite the break-up of the so-called Visegrad Pact, which brought together Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Orban remains firmly in power. Having spent heavily on taxes and subsidies to win elections, the Orbán government needs EU funds to fill the deficit created in state finances. It remains to be seen whether Brussels will be able to use this weapon to induce the president to show greater respect for minorities and fundamental EU rights.

Vucic’s victory in Serbia

Serbia’s incumbent president, Aleksandar Vucic, also secured re-election with 59.5 per cent of the vote in the presidential election the same day, when the State Election Commission counted 87.67 per cent of the ballots. The commission also announced that Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) won 43.4 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections. Opposition presidential candidate Zdravko Ponos, a retired army general, got 17.5, while his alliance United for Victory got 13 percent. The Socialist Party of Serbia, an ally of Vucic’s coalition, was third with 11.7 percent.

Despite his past – Vucic was information minister in Slobodan Milosevic’s government – he has since distanced himself from his political past, adopting a pro-European orientation, leading negotiations for Serbia’s EU membership, and has forged close ties with European leaders, particularly Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. He has often been criticised as an autocrat and populist for his intransigent handling of political opponents.

Parliamentary elections were scheduled for 2024; however, in October 2020, President Aleksandar Vučić declared that parliamentary elections would be held in April 2022 or earlier. In addition to the general elections, local elections were held simultaneously in 12 municipalities and 2 cities. It is thought that the decision to bring forward the elections resided in the belief, now confirmed, that the result of the presidential elections would be reflected in the parliamentary elections, consolidating his power in the House as well. For this reason, his critics say, he dismissed the government and called early parliamentary elections to coincide with the presidential elections. His government supported the UN declaration condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine and also supported Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but would not impose any sanctions on Russia. Again, supplies of fuel and food played a key role. To the rejection of sanctions, Vucic added a veto on exports of key foodstuffs, and capped prices of essential goods. His campaign slogan, which used to be ‘Results speak for themselves’, was replaced with ‘Peace, stability, Vucic’.

This took power away from opposition protests over plans by mining company Rio Tinto to open a lithium mine in western Serbia. Protesters have blocked highways and roads trying to force the government to stop the highly dangerous project due to water pollution and environmental degradation. Activists and environmental groups were gaining ground in the polls, but the government managed to prevent environmental issues from determining the course of the campaign by cancelling all agreements with Rio Tinto and stopping the project.