Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party have suffered a critical by-election defeat. The result may signal a decline in popularity of the right-wing party that has ruled in a coalition since 2010.
Orban and his right-wing Fidesz party have ruled Hungary in a coalition with the Christian Democrats since 2010, using their powerful two-thirds majority to make broad constitutional changes that critics say have placed limits on press freedom and judicial authority.
But the majority was lost Sunday in a by-election as voters in Veszprem, a historically conservative town southwest of Budapest, surprisingly elected independent candidate Zoltan Kesz with 43.1 percent of the vote. Fidesz candidate Lajos Nemedi received 33.4 percent of the ballots cast.
"We have shown a yellow card to the government," Kesz said following his electoral triumph.
A coalition of leftist and liberal parties supported Kesz in his victory.
"The voters in Veszprem have fulfilled the expectations of the entire country and ended Fidesz's two-thirds majority," Kesz said.
'Atmosphere of protest'
Fidesz has seen a sharp drop in popularity following a corruption scandal at the end of last year and protests against a proposed Internet tax.
"For the Orban government, it is a sign that there is currently a strong atmosphere of protest in the country," political scientist Attila Juhasz told Hungarian broadcaster ATV.
Orban for his part played down the results of the election and said that he did not foresee initiating future legislation that would require a super-majority in parliament.
Critics accuse Orban of authoritarian tendencies and say he has been cosying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Orban just last week hosted the Russian leader in order to work out a long-term contract for the delivery of Russian gas to Hungary. Thousands took to the streets to protest the visit.
"We resent Orban making a fool of Hungary by inviting Putin here to do secret deals while there is a war next door in Ukraine," protest organizer Marton Gulyas told the AFP news agency last Tuesday.
bw/cmk (AFP, dpa)