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Tens of Thousands of Hungarians Protest Against Newly Elected Leader, Demand Fair Elections

They demanded a recount, a non-partisan public media service, fresh elections and for the opposition to unite. Singing the national and EU anthems, they vowed to return for another demonstration next week.

AFP

Updated:April 15, 2018, 6:07 PM IST
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Tens of Thousands of Hungarians Protest Against Newly Elected Leader, Demand Fair Elections
People attend a protest against the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, Hungary, April 14, 2018. (Photo: Reuters/Bernadett Szabo)
Budapest: Tens of thousands of Hungarians thronged Budapest on Saturday in anger at strongman Prime Minister Viktor Orban's crushing re-election victory.

The crowd, around 100,000 strong according to organisers and AFP reporters, marched through the city centre in sunshine to parliament for a rally under the motto "We are the majority".

"We want to live in a state of law, where checks and balances are present.. We want to live in a real democracy," said protest organiser Viktor Gyetvai, 20, a student.

"If the demands are not met then we cannot live in this country, this is our last chance to do something for this country," he told AFP.

Many of the demonstrators, most of whom were young, were chanting "democracy" and brandishing Hungarian and European Union flags.

They demanded a recount, a non-partisan public media service, fresh elections and for the opposition to unite. Singing the national and EU anthems, they vowed to return for another demonstration next week.

There was a strong police presence, with riot officers at the ready, rows of police vans in streets nearby and a helicopter overhead. The demo remained peaceful, however.

"If there is no new free and fair election I don't see any other option but to make plans to leave," said Andrea Varkonyi, 26.

"I've already been looking for job opportunities abroad."

Bannon's Man

The fiercely nationalist Orban, 54, a "hero" for US President Donald Trump's former strategist Steve Bannon, secured a third straight term in the election last Sunday.

He has been in power since 2010 and according to critics has curbed judicial independence, muzzled the press and rigged the electoral system.

Campaigning hard against the "poison" of immigration, Orban's overwhelming victory saw his Fidesz party secure around half the vote.

This means Fidesz with small junior coalition partner the Christian Democrats will have 134 seats in the 199-seat legislature, a two-thirds majority.

This will allow Orban, who with Poland's like-minded government has regularly clashed with Brussels, to steamroll legislation through parliament.

Already he has readied legislation that will make life harder for civil society groups operating in the central European country of 10 million people.

In the crosshairs in particular will be groups funded by Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros, whom Orban says wants to destroy Europe though mass immigration.

'Intimidating'

Images of Soros, 87, were plastered on billboards in the election campaign and Orban depicted opposition figures running in the election as "Soros candidates".

On Thursday a list of some 200 "Soros enemies" was published in a pro-government magazine owned by a close Orban ally.

Several Western ambassadors criticised the list, with the US embassy in Budapest saying it condemned an "attempt to intimidate these citizens".

OSCE observers said this week that the election campaign was marked by "intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing".

The findings were derided by Orban as "political".

With 99 percent of votes counted, Fidesz is far ahead of the nationalist Jobbik party (19 percent) and a Socialist-led centre-left alliance (12 percent).

But the result has been disputed by civil society groups and opposition parties.

Alleged irregularities were reported at some polling stations last Sunday as well as an IT system outage at the National Elections Office.

Concerns about the media were heightened after the election with the closure of Magyar Nemzet, one of Hungary's few remaining opposition dailies.

Magyar Nemzet is owned by Lajos Simicska, an oligarch and former Fidesz treasurer who fell out spectacularly with Orban in 2015.

The number of independent outlets has dwindled as business interests close to Orban have bought up TV stations and national and regional newspapers.

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| Edited by: Bijaya Das
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