Hungarian political newcomer says to work on unfreezeing EU funds

By Anita Komuves

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - EU election results will show Hungarians that Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government can be replaced, political newcomer Peter Magyar told Reuters after a campaign rally attended by tens of thousands on the eve of the polls.

Sunday's European Parliament election is the first such test for Magyar, an ex-government insider who turned against Orban's rule over what he said was corruption and state propaganda and burst onto Hungary's political scene just four months ago.

Latest surveys put support for Orban's right-wing Fidesz at 44% to 48% of the vote, with Magyar's right-of-centre Tisza polling in a 23% to 29% range.

Whether his party gets 20% or 30% of the vote, "everyone will believe that the government can be replaced, even those who have not believed it until now", Magyar said.

Although his name is the first on the Tisza party list, he does not intend to take up a seat in the European Parliament if elected, preferring to remain in Hungary and lay the groundwork to defeat Orban in the next national election due in 2026.

Magyar said he will start building a party from what is now practically a "one-man-show".

The 43-year-old lawyer said that his party's European Parliament members will first concentrate on "bringing home" European Union funds for Hungary that are currently frozen, although the government has most of the tools to do so.

The EU has suspended a large chunk of funds for Hungary over concerns Budapest had damaged democratic checks and balances.

"That money is really needed, for small- and mid-sized enterprises, farmers, for the healthcare system and education," he said.

His party would propose a mechanism that checks where EU funds are spent before, and not after they are paid, in order to prevent any misuse.

According to polls, Tisza can expect 6 or 7 seats in the European Parliament. Magyar said that Tisza's MEPs will aim to join committees important for Hungarians such as agriculture, competitiveness, finance, environmental issues or healthcare.

"This is also why we are headed to the European People's Party, because that is the biggest parliamentary group and that is where it is easiest to work for our interests," Magyar said.

EPP leader Manfred Weber was quoted as saying by Politico this week that he would be "very glad" to cooperate with Magyar.

(Editing by xxxxxx)