Protesters jubilant as Hungary rows back on internet tax plan

President Viktor Orban says government will now have talks on variety of internet issues

People gather to celebrate after Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban announcd that the government would put an internet tax proposal on hold. Photograph: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

People gather to celebrate after Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban announcd that the government would put an internet tax proposal on hold. Photograph: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

 

Prime minister Viktor Orban of Hungary said yesterday his government would abandon, at least for now, a proposed tax on internet usage that drew tens of thousands of demonstrators to the streets this week.

“We are not communists, we don’t govern against the people,” Mr Orban said in his weekly interview on Hungarian radio. “We govern together with the people. So this tax, in this form, cannot be introduced.”

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“Mr Orban admitted his defeat,” organisers said in a statement. “We are the people! And we the people have the right to rule the country.”

Mr Orban said that instead of pushing ahead with the tax, the government would begin discussions early next year on a broad variety of internet issues, including regulation and taxation.

Government press officers had said the organisers of the protests – which began in Budapest last Sunday and swelled in the capital and in other cities on Tuesday – had deliberately misrepresented the proposal as a new tax when it was just an extension of an existing telecommunications tax.

Under the proposal, internet data was to be taxed at 150 Hungarian forints (about 49 cent) per gigabyte. After the Sunday protests, the government inched back, saying it would cap the tax at 700 forints per month, but that failed to appease the protesters.

Government spokes man Zoltan Kovacs said the protests were an attempt by Hungary’s socialist opposition to revive their flagging movement by pretending it was nonpartisan. As the protests grew though, the proposal also drew criticism from right-wing quarters. Even Heti Valasz, a conservative periodical that normally supports the government, attacked it.

“Orban has a good political instinct,” said Balint Ablonczy, domestic political editor of Heti Valasz. “The most important thing for him is to keep voters on his side. Everybody was against the tax. We have written two pieces a day against the foolish plan.” – (New York Times service)