BUDAPEST Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Sunday he was ready to lead his Fidesz party in 2018 national elections, aiming to become prime minister for a third consecutive term.
Orban, who swept to power in 2010 and was reelected in 2014, has seen his approval ratings boosted by his hardline anti-immigration policies, including the construction of a steel fence along Hungary's southern borders to keep out hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty.
He has put Hungary's economy back on a solid financial footing but his government has come under fire from the European Union and the United States for curbing media freedoms, its reforms of the court system, a centralisation of power and a crackdown on civil society groups.
Upon being reelected party chairman on Sunday, the 52-year-old father of five pledged to create new jobs, increase support for families and boost construction of new flats by slashing the value added tax on home construction to 5 percent from 27 percent in coming years.
He also said he planned to run for a third term in 2018.
"I would like to make it clear to you that in two years' time, if the trust is there, I am ready to lead you in the election fight and ... if we win, to continue my work at the head of the government," Orban told his party to applause and cheers of "Viktor, Viktor".
Orban has received much criticism from the EU for his hard stance on immigration. Earlier this month, Hungary filed a lawsuit challenging EU's mandatory relocation quota system for migrants, along with neighbouring Slovakia.
A recent poll by Median showed Fidesz had 51 percent support among decided voters, compared with 21 percent for the second strongest party, the far-right Jobbik. The leftist opposition is still weak and fragmented.
Europe has become a battleground, he said, reiterating that it was being "invaded" by millions of migrants.
Orban said Hungary needed strong police and anti-terror squads to protect itself.
"We will protect our borders (and) Hungarian people from criminals, terrorists (and) illegal immigrants," he said.
But he said the real problem with Europe was that it no longer believed in Christianity, common sense and national pride.
"(Europe and) its people today believe in superficial and secondary things: in human rights, progress, openness, new kinds of families, tolerance," Orban said. "These are nice and sweet things, but essentially, they are secondary."
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Ros Russell)