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Hungarians Turn Out To Vote In Parliamentary Elections

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Hungarians are voting today in national elections. The populist prime minister and his party are widely expected to win. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Budapest on a race that centers on fears over Muslim migration to Hungary even though there actually isn't any.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: A steady stream of Hungarian voters are showing up at this and other polling stations here. But some election observers say it may be mail-in ballots from new citizens who live outside Hungary that decide whether incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party win.

GABOR GYORSI: There's a genuine attachment between the cross-border communities and the Hungarian government.

SARHADDI NELSON: Gabor Gyorsi is a senior analyst at a progressive think tank called Policy Solutions.

GYORSI: These people will overwhelmingly vote for the government - also because the government has invested a lot of money and effort and energy in cultivating this voting base, starting with the fact that it was this government that gave them dual citizenship.

SARHADDI NELSON: Another Orban campaign tactic has been to stoke xenophobic fears over Muslim migration even though his government only allows two asylum seekers into Hungary each day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER VIKTOR ORBAN: (Speaking in Hungarian).

SARHADDI NELSON: Recently, the Prime Minister again accused his favorite target, American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, of wanting to tear down border fences to boost Muslim immigration. Soros and his foundations, which are involved in democracy building here, vehemently deny such claims. Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs defends Orban's focus on Muslim migration...

ZOLTAN KOVACS: Because that's what matter for the moment, that's what are going to decide about the fate of Hungary and the European Union for generations. If he make bad decisions, that can be - you know, ruin the future of a nation and the continent.

SARHADDI NELSON: But opposition candidates accuse the Hungarian government of diverting attention away from the real issues, like inadequate education and healthcare or corruption. Surveys here show the Hungarian opposition with little chance of winning although if they were to join forces, they could prevent Orban and Fidesz from forming a new majority government. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Budapest.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAT MATHENY GROUP'S "A STORY WITHIN A STORY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.