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Over 100,000 Rally Against Orban in Hungary

An estimated 100,000 Hungarians marched in protest against the government of Viktor Orbán on Saturday night, less than a week after the prime minister won an unexpected landslide election victory. Asked about the prospect of forthcoming demonstrations, Mr Orban simply replied: "We won, that's it." A similar number of people attended a pro-Orban demonstration last month.

Pointing to Orbán's tight control of the media and the electoral system his Fidesz party devised, the protesters called last week's vote unfair and demanded a new election.
As FreeHungary already reported Orbán's Fidesz took 133 seats out of 199 in Hungary's new parliament, but won 48 percent of party list votes. Excluding over 216,000 mailed votes coming from ethnic Hungarians in surrounding countries, Fidesz only got 47 percent of the popular vote.
The march was organised through a Facebook group called "We are the majority". Following the large turn-out for Saturday's rally, the organisers have called for a further demonstration next weekend.

BBC correspondent Nick Thorpe reported from Budapest that around 100,000 people attended Saturday's protests. Many were brandishing Hungarian and European Union flags.

A large number of police were deployed in the capital, including riot officers, however the demonstration remained peaceful.

Although some of the protesters and speakers in Saturday's rally came from outside of Budapest, the vast majority appeared to be locals, highlighting the deep division between the more opposition-leaning capital and heavily pro-government countryside.

International observers raised concerns about the election, in particular the way government resources were used to help the Fidesz campaign and the lack of a free media.

The crowd was highly diverse, bringing together groups that in the past would never work together: young liberals, far-right Jobbik supporters, and pensioners all marched together. European Union flags could be seen alongside the red and white Arpad flag, associated with Hungary's murderous World War II-era Arrow Cross regime.

Opposition political parties, which suffer from very low credibility even among their own voters, did not formally take part in the march. However prominent opposition politicians–both current and part–were spotted in the crowd, including former Prime minister and DK chairman Ferenc Gyurcsány, former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, Péter Juhász, Gábor Vona and many others.

Speakers who participated in the event denounced what they called Mr Orban's theft of the election, and the corruption and abuse of power they say characterises his rule.

The organisers of the anti-Orban protests have demanded a recount of all ballots, a new election law, a non-partisan public media, and better organised co-operation among parties opposed to the Fidesz government.

Balázs Gulyás, one of the main organizers, affirmed that forcing new elections in Hungary was the goal. Mr. Gulyás, age 31, was the organizer of the successful protest against the Fidesz internet tax in 2014. The Orbán government withdrew its plans to introduce a tax of 150 forints (approximately C$0.75) on every gigabyte of data used by Hungarian internet users after protesters took to the streets of Budapest in the tens of thousands on 26 October 2014 and on 28 October 2014. As the movement grew, they promised to hold an even larger rally in November. On 31 October 2014, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced that the proposed internet tax would not be implemented.

Mr. Gulyás is following a similar strategy to force Mr. Orbán's hand again. After drawing a crowd of around 100,000, he announced another protest for next Saturday. Viktor Gyetvai, leader of Hungary's Independent Student Parliament, also addressed the crowd. "We say 'no' to oppression. This is the start of our protest so that we might regain hope, so that we are not forced to leave the country and so that a spiteful minority might never again win two-thirds," remarked Mr. Gyetvai. He demanded that the opposition sit down and begin negotiations to ensure that from now on, they will field a single candidate against Fidesz everywhere.

"We already experienced what freedom is, and we are not giving it up," Gergely Homonnay, a journalist and teacher, told the large crowd as it assembled in front of Hungary's parliament building.

One high schooler read a poem on stage about not wanting to leave Hungary, a common theme among young student activists who see many of their friends leaving for Western Europe.

"We want to live in a state of law, where checks and balances are present, we want to live in a real democracy," protest organiser Viktor Gyetvai, 20, told AFP news agency. "This is our last chance to do something for this country," he added.

But beyond the demand for new elections, this protest has another very important, though implicit purpose. In 2019, Hungary will hold municipal elections. As things stand, the left-centre and liberal opposition will likely win in Budapest and may also capture the position of Lord Mayor (főpolgármester) from Fidesz. This is a leadership position of national significance. Observers believe Fidesz will use its two-thirds majority to amend the constitution and strip Hungarians of the right to choose the Lord Mayor through direct elections, as well as reconfigure the districts that form the Budapest municipality in a manner that favours Fidesz. This mass protest in Budapest today is an implicit message to Viktor Orbán: do so at your own peril.

Following the formal protest most marchers went home, but some continued demonstrating in front of parliament and Fidesz's party headquarters. A few protesters broke a police barricade in front of parliament, while several hundred stopped traffic and occupied a key traffic intersection in central Budapest.

"I've had enough of their arrogance," said one 23-year-old Jobbik supporter who broke through the police barricade and sat down in front of riot police. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal. A university student, he said he opposes migration except in cases when the refugees "really need help," and opposes Orbán's policy of allowing economic migrants into the country without what he described as proper security checks. Fidesz "won because of misinformed people," he said.

Source: AFP, BBC, Politico,

Last Updated on Monday, 16 April 2018 09:47



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