Thousands of protesters have demonstrated outside Hungary’s parliament to express their frustration over Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party’s resounding victory in last month’s national elections.
Parliament returned on Tuesday amid demonstrations from across ideological backgrounds, from the left to right-wing nationalists. Protesters chanted “dirty Fidesz” while holding up signs accusing Orban of corruption, stealing European Union (EU) funds, and creating an unfair election system.
Orban’s Fidesz party won national elections in April with 49 percent of the vote, maintaining its 133-seat absolute majority in parliament.
“The main call to action today is for the opposition to unite. Everyone is fed up of the corruption that’s everywhere in Hungarian society. But we cannot fight this while the opposition is weak and fragmented,” Samuel Korandi, a 26-year-old civil engineer at the protest, told Al Jazeera.
Symbolising this message, protesters held up flags amalgamating the different symbols of the opposition.
Orban secured a third-straight term as prime minister with a two-thirds majority in parliament, through a virulently nationalistic campaign that presented him as the defender of “Christian values”, which he claims are threatened by globalisation and mass immigration.
It was a message that resonated with millions of voters, mostly from rural areas.
|Demonstrators chant at Tuesday’s protest [Madeline Roache/Al Jazeera]|
Tuesday’s protests, the third demonstration to sweep through central Budapest in the past month, reveal the highly polarised views towards the Fidesz Party.
Since Orban regained power eight years ago, critics have complained about corruption and cronyism, the dismantling of the rule of law, restrictions on media freedom and his anti-immigration policies.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observed the “constricted space for genuine political debate” and the use of “intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing” in the recent elections.
“Hungary is now a one-party state, totally controlled by Fidesz. There is no opportunity for genuine competition in elections,” Peter Sarosi, director at Hungarian NGO Rights Reporter Foundation, told Al Jazeera.
‘Stop Soros’ bill
At the top of the government’s agenda is the “Stop Soros” bill that would impose a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to non-governmental organisations that support migration, and enable the interior ministry to ban NGOs it deems a “national security risk”.
|Thousands took to the streets of Budapest [Madeline Roache/Al Jazeera]|
Activists could also face restraining orders preventing them from approaching the EU’s external borders in Hungary. The bill is expected to be introduced this week.
The government says the bill is meant to deter illegal immigration, stoked by George Soros, the Hungarian American billionaire who finances organisations worldwide that promote democracy and freedom of expression.
Brian Dooley, a senior advisor at Human Rights First and author of several reports about Hungary’s civil society, told Al Jazeera: “Soros has been particularly targeted by the Fidesz party. It presents Soros as Hungary’s biggest threat, as though he somehow plans to allow millions of migrants to enter the country with the help of his NGOs, and the incompetent, failing EU.”
According to Sarosi, the Stop Soros bill is the latest attempt by Orban to bend civil society to his will and eliminate any opportunity for opposition to form.
“The bill is vague and could be arbitrarily applied. It is a real threat to many NGOs that not only focus on migration, but also on issues that make the public vulnerable,” Sarosi said.
The protests expose the huge dissatisfaction towards the government but, according to Andras Randoti, a Budapest-based foreign policy analyst, it is “very unlikely this general sense of dissatisfaction, with such a mixed crowd, can change the government’s direction”.