Hungarians Rally in Support of Orban Rival on Eve of EU Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Thousands of Hungarians took to the streets Saturday to protest the policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the final hours of an election campaign for European Parliament and local municipalities.

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The rally was led by Peter Magyar, who burst onto the scene after the resignation of two key Orban allies in a scandal earlier this year. Footage on the website and other broadcasters showed protesters gathering on the iconic Heroes’ Square and nearby avenues in downtown Budapest.

“Whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s vote, we’ve already defeated apathy,” Magyar told his supporters. “At stake in tomorrow’s elections is whether we’ll remain oppressed or free people in our own country.”

Magyar has galvanized opposition in a country where 14 years of heavy-handed rule by Orban left other established parties fragmented. After emerging from relative obscurity this year by seizing on a scandal, he rapidly built up a following for his Tisza party at a series of rallies across Hungary. He has called out corruption and pledged to pivot toward the European mainstream.

The Tisza party is projected to win six out of 21 European Parliament seats for Hungary on Sunday, according to the latest Europe Elects projection published on the Euroactiv website. That could open a pathway for him to become Orban’s main challenger heading toward Hungary’s 2026 parliamentary election.

The crowd on Saturday filled the same square that had hosted a mass protest in February when a child-abuse scandal rocked Hungarian politics and Orban’s Fidesz party. Hungarian newspaper Nepszava said tens of thousands were participating.

A former diplomat and state company executive, Magyar captivated attention in a public falling out with his ex-wife, Judit Varga, who had been slated to lead Fidesz’s list for EU elections before the scandal, and by calling out widespread corruption.

Critics portray him as a former beneficiary of Orban’s regime who’s taking away support from the established opposition rather than from Fidesz.

For his part, Orban has tried to regain the initiative. Last weekend, tens of thousands of the premier’s supporters gathered in Budapest in a show of force. His Fidesz party, along with an offshoot, is on track to win 10 European Parliament seats, still putting him ahead.

Sunday’s EU vote coincides with municipal ballots, including for the mayor of the relatively liberal enclave of Budapest.

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