Hungary: Orban challenger attracts large crowd on eve of vote

Peter Magyar, a 43-year-old former government insider, spoke to a cheering crowd of tens of thousands of supporters in Budapest on Saturday — the eve of EU and Hungarian municipal elections in which he has emerged as nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban‘s most serious political challenger.

Though Orban and his Fidesz party — in power since 2010 — look likely to take between 44% and 49% of the vote, Magyar’s Tisza movement is tipped to take between 23-29%.

A former Foreign Ministry employee in the prime minister’s Brussels office, Magyar left Fidesz over the corruption and state propaganda he said he witnessed from inside Orban’s political machine.

Hungary’s Orban faces protests, new political opponent

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Magyar’s rise amid Orban government’s child-abuse scandal

A relative unknown until recently, Magyar shot onto the scene in the wake of a child-abuse scandal that rocked the Orban government and led to the resignation of Orban allies, including President Katalin Novak and Magyar’s ex-wife, then Justice Minister Judith Varga.

Speaking to supporters Saturday, Magyar attacked the Orban “system” of illiberal democracy and self-preservation.

As flags reading “Wake Up Hungary” and “We Are the Masters of Our Future” waved in the crowd, Magyar bellowed: “Together we can save Hungary… We are here and we are ready to change our destiny… the fate that thieving, oppressive power wants to impose on us. Viktor Orban has been keeping his own people in fear.”

Orban: strongman at home with no bloc in Brussels

The longest-serving leader in the EU, Orban has shown himself to be a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a thorn in Brussels’ side.

Last week, he too, spoke to a massive crowd, though the message was decidedly different, with the longtime leader claiming to be alone in “fighting for peace” in Ukraine — he has repeatedly blocked support for Ukraine since the Russian invasion began as well as accusing the EU and NATO of seeking to drag Hungary into the war.

Orban, an international right-wing darling, has sought to frame Sunday’s EU vote as a referendum on Ukraine and has promised to “occupy Brussels” in the event of a right-wing sweep at the polls.

Orban has floated the idea of joining Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s European Conservatives and Reformists Party in Brussels.

Magyar has said Tisza members would join the European People’s Party (EPP), which parted ways with Orban and Fidesz in 2021 over Budapest’s severe democratic backsliding.

Nearly 8 million Hungarian voters are expected to cast ballots on Sunday.

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js/sms (AFP, Reuters)