Tens of thousands of Hungarians packed Budapest’s most iconic avenue to protest Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s re-election, saying it may further stifle democratic freedoms in the ex-Communist European Union member.
Protesters marched on April 14 from the Opera on Andrassy Avenue to the square in front of Parliament in the biggest anti-government protest in years. Organisers demanded a new ballot and an overhaul of the election system, saying current rules favoured the incumbent. They urged new protests next weekend. Opposition parties have called for a probe into alleged irregularities in Sunday’s vote.
Orban won a crushing victory by pledging a fight against EU plans to allocate refugees across the bloc and a crackdown on civil society groups. Since 2010, Orban has centralised power by appointing allies to the helm of independent institutions, including the courts, and extending his influence over much of the media.
“It’s very important to show that lots of people didn’t vote for Orban and especially now when he wants to silence the last remaining voices that don’t agree with him,” said Tamara Toth, a 20-year-old university student at the protest.
The demonstration in Budapest exposed deep divisions in Hungarian society. Orban’s Fidesz party won 50 percent of the votes in the election but a fragmented opposition and the gerrymandering of electoral districts resulted in a two-thirds parliamentary supermajority for the ruling party. That means Orban can pass any law without opposition support.
Pro-government media labeled the protest as an attack by the “Soros empire,” in reference to George Soros, the Hungarian-born US billionaire who funds non-governmental organisations promoting liberal democracy around the world.
Orban, who’s converting Hungary into a self-styled “illiberal state” modeled on authoritarian regimes, made Soros the central target during the election campaign.