BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Former U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday endorsed Hungary’s right-wing populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, offering his “complete support” for the controversial leader who is facing a close parliamentary election this spring.
Orban, a champion of what he calls “illiberal democracy,” is accused by critics of dismantling democratic institutions in Hungary, fostering corruption and cracking down on judicial independence and media pluralism.
In a statement, Trump praised Orban as a “strong leader” who “truly loves his country,” and lauded his efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. The crackdown included the 2015 construction of a fence along the country’s southern border, refusing to accept asylum applications on Hungarian territory and pushing unauthorized migrants back across the border with Serbia.
“He has my complete support and endorsement for reelection as Prime Minister!” Trump wrote.
In 2016, Orban was the first leader of a European Union nation to endorse Trump’s bid for the presidency. Trump later hosted Orban at a meeting in the Oval Office in 2019, where he said the Hungarian leader was “probably like me … a bit controversial, but that’s OK.”
Orban, who has been in power since 2010, also supported Trump’s candidacy against Joe Biden in 2020. Relations between the two countries have soured since Biden’s victory.
During a campaign event in 2020, Biden referred to Orban as a “thug,” and Hungary was the only EU member country to not receive an invitation to Biden’s virtual Summit for Democracy in December.
Orban and his ruling Fidesz party will face a coalition of six opposition parties that have banded together in an effort to oust his right-wing government in elections expected in April. Recent polls suggest a close race.
The coalition’s candidate for prime minister, Peter Marki-Zay, has vowed to restore the country’s frayed alliances with the West, and accused Orban of betraying its allies in Europe, the United States and NATO.