Challenger to Hungary’s Orban announces new political alternative

BUDAPEST, Hungary — A rising challenger to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban mobilized tens of thousands of supporters in Hungary’s capital Saturday, outlining a plan to unite the country and bring an end to the populist leader’s 14-year hold on power.

At the center of the demonstration, the latest in a recent series of protests against Orban’s right-wing nationalist government, was political newcomer Peter Magyar, a former insider within Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party who has shot to prominence in recent weeks through his allegations of entrenched corruption and cronyism among the country’s leaders.

Magyar addressed a crowd that filled the sprawling square near the parliament building in Budapest, announcing his creation of a new political community aimed at uniting both conservative and liberal Hungarians disillusioned by Orban’s governance and the fragmented, ineffectual political opposition.

“Step by step, brick by brick, we are taking back our homeland and building a new country, a sovereign, modern, European Hungary,” Magyar said, adding that the protest was “the biggest political demonstration in years.”

Magyar, 43, was once a member of Orban’s political circle and is the ex-husband of former justice minister and Orban ally Judit Varga. But he broke ranks in February in the wake of a political scandal that led to the resignation of his ex-wife and the president and has amassed a large following with frequent media appearances where he portrays Hungary’s political life as having been taken over by a privileged group of oligarchs and anti-democratic elites.

He has argued that Orban’s government operates as a “mafia,” and advocated for a moral, political and economic transformation of the country that would rein in corruption and create a more pluralistic political system.

“More than 20 years have passed as our elected leaders have incited the Hungarian people against each other. Whether the fate of our country went well, or we were close to bankruptcy, we were pitted against each other instead of allowing us to band together,” Magyar said. “We will put an end to this now.”

Hungary’s government has dismissed Magyar as an opportunist seeking to forge a new career after his divorce with Varga and his loss of positions in several state companies. But his rise has compounded political headaches for Orban that have included the resignation of members of his government and a painful economic crisis.

Last month, Magyar released an audio recording of a conversation between him and Varga that he said proved that top officials conspired to manipulate court records to cover up their involvement in a corruption case. He has called on Orban’s government to resign and for a restoration of fair elections.

Orban’s critics at home and in the European Union have long accused him of eroding Hungary’s democratic institutions, taking over large swaths of the media and altering the country’s election system to give his party an advantage. The EU has withheld billions in funding to Budapest over alleged democratic backsliding, misuse of EU funds and failure to guarantee minority rights.

One demonstrator on Saturday, Zoltan Koszler, said he wanted a “complete change in the system, which is now completely unacceptable to me.”

“I want to live in a normal, rule-of-law state where the principles of the rule of law are really adhered to, not only on paper, but in reality,” he said.

Magyar has said he will establish a new party that will run in EU and municipal elections this summer.

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