Ex-PM to challenge Orban in next Hungary poll
MORE THAN 100,000 Hungarians marched through Budapest in rival rallies yesterday, as government supporters hailed the controversial rule of prime minister Viktor Orban and his critics celebrated the return to politics of a potentially dangerous challenger.
On a national holiday commemorating Hungary’s 1956 uprising against Soviet rule, some 50,000 people joined an opposition protest at which former prime minister Gordon Bajnai gave a long-awaited confirmation that he will challenge Mr Orban in elections due in 2014.
Mr Bajnai led a government of technocrats in 2009-10, and stabilised a floundering economy while winning praise from the European Union and International Monetary Fund and earning the respect of many Hungarians for his calm and professional leadership.
He withdrew from politics before the 2010 election of Mr Orban’s Fidesz Party, which has used a two-thirds majority in parliament to push through a new constitution and a raft of reforms they say are needed to modernise Hungary and strengthen its democracy.
Critics at home and abroad accuse Mr Orban of using his power to undermine democratic institutions and concentrate influence in his own hands and those of his allies, and his economic policies have irked the EU and stymied talks with the IMF on a standby credit agreement.
“It was a difficult decision to come back to the stage from the auditorium,” Mr Bajnai told the crowd, who cheered “We are with you!” And “Go Gordon!”
“I know I once said that I am not a politician. Then, that is what I believed, but these last two years have brought a bitter awakening . . . I have to be involved in politics – I cannot do otherwise.”
Mr Bajnai said the government was destroying Hungarian democracy and indulging in corruption, and “claims that it is strong, but is really only aggressive.
“It is our government, which is why we must ask forgiveness from each other, from our children and from the world,” he added.
Speaking in front of parliament to a crowd that officials put at 150,000, Mr Orban struck a familiar note of defiance towards the EU, which he accuses of meddling in Hungary’s affairs.
“In Brussels, many want to breathe life into crooked financial capitalism. They favour the speculators, they want people to bear the weight, but we won’t accept it,” Mr Orban said.
“Others cannot tell us what we can and cannot do in our own homeland.”