Orban critic draws masses in Hungary on eve of EU vote

Posters held by the cheering masses read 'Wake up Hungarians' and 'We are masters of our future' (Ferenc ISZA)
Posters held by the cheering masses read 'Wake up Hungarians' and 'We are masters of our future' (Ferenc ISZA)

Tens of thousands rallied on Saturday for Hungarian opposition figure Peter Magyar, who has emerged as the main challenger to long-time nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, on the eve of EU elections.

Though Orban's Fidesz party stands to gain an unassailable 50 percent of votes, according to the latest polls, Magyar's Tisza movement is expected to win around 27 percent on Sunday.

Magyar, a 43-year-old former government insider, shot to prominence earlier this year following a child abuse pardon scandal that shook Orban's government in an unprecedented way.

He has railed against a "system" firmly under the control of Orban, who has ruled the central European country uninterruptedly since 2010, making him the longest-serving leader in the EU.

"Together we can save Hungary... We are here, and we are ready to change our destiny, the fate that a thieving, oppressive power wants to impose on us," he told a huge crowd, with many waving Hungarian flags.

"Viktor Orban has been keeping his own people in fear," he added.

Posters held by the cheering masses read "Wake up Hungarians" and "We are masters of our future".

"It's good to be here because people have hope" for a "better future for their families", Zoltan Ekes, a 49-year-old manager, told AFP.

Geza Kenyer, a 51-year-old engineer, said it was the first Magyar event he attended to protest "incredible corruption".

"Orban and his people have no values other than staying in power," said Kenyer, who used to vote Fidesz "a long time ago".

Orban has vowed to "occupy Brussels" as a far-right drift across Europe is expected in the EU elections.

Last weekend, tens of thousands of Hungarians rallied at a "peace march" called by Orban, 61, who is increasingly stoking fears of a war between the West and Russia he blames on Brussels and NATO.

Orban has styled himself as "fighting for peace alone" in the EU, characterising the upcoming European Parliament elections as a referendum on the conflict in Ukraine.

As Moscow's closest EU ally despite its invasion of Ukraine, Orban has refused to send weapons to Kyiv while blocking European military aid.

Earlier this year rare public fury erupted in Hungary after it emerged the then president Katalin Novak had pardoned a convicted child abuser's accomplice.

Novak resigned, but anger at the government -- and Orban's stranglehold on power -- has continued to be expressed at Magyar rallies.

Nearly eight million voters are called to the polls on Sunday in Hungary. Municipal elections will be held at the same time as the EU elections.

mg-jza/imm