Orban Holds Major Rally in Show of Force Ahead of EU Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Tens of thousands of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s supporters gathered in Budapest in a show of force for the nationalist leader ahead of local and European Union elections marked by the emergence of a potent competitor.

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Orban’s backers walked along the Danube River on Saturday and then out to the capital’s Margaret Island, where the five-term premier sought to galvanize his voters a week before elections. Hungary holds local government and European Parliament ballots simultaneously on June 9.

Orban is looking to regain the initiative from Peter Magyar, who’s surged in polls after bursting onto the political scene earlier this year. A lawyer, former diplomat and state company executive, Magyar has outshone Hungary’s lackluster and fragmented opposition in calling out corruption and underwhelming economic performance, while capitalizing on scandals that have dented the popularity of Orban’s Fidesz group.

At the rally, Orban cast the elections as a choice between war and peace in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and portrayed himself as the one working to prevent Hungary from being dragged into military conflict. EU and NATO partners, as well as much of the domestic opposition, have accused Orban of being Russia’s Trojan Horse by opposing Western aid to Kyiv.

“We’re the only pro-peace government in the EU,” Orban said, adding that a vote cast for his Fidesz party was a vote to keep Hungary out of war.

Read more: Why Orban Is Stonewalling Allies Over Aid for Ukraine: QuickTake

With local and EU elections historically having lower turnouts in Hungary than parliamentary ballots, Orban’s ability to mobilize his core voter base may well decide whether Magyar — who’s drawn large crowds during his campaign — will consolidate much of the opposition votes or go further and eat into Fidesz’s support, which would pose a more material political threat.

Orban pledged to set a “world record” for voter mobilization next week. Fidesz, along with a satellite offshoot, is on track to win 11 of 21 European Parliament seats up for grabs in Hungary, according to the latest Europe Elects projection published on the Euroactiv website.

While that still puts it in first place, its estimated 44% share of the vote would mark the weakest result in an EU election for Fidesz, which had won more than half the vote in each of the past three ballots going back to 2009.

Magyar’s Tisza party is projected to win six seats in the same poll, which would eclipse all other opposition parties and open a pathway for the political upstart to claim the mantle as Orban’s main challenger heading toward the 2026 parliamentary election.

(Updates with crowd size in first paragraph, Orban comments from fourth paragraph.)

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