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Hungarian political rivals flex muscles in day of demos

24 october 2012, 13:20
0
Tens of thousands of Hungarians were expected to rally in Budapest on Tuesday in rival political gatherings closely watched for any signs of waning support for Prime Minister Viktor Orban, AFP reports.

Amid sliding poll ratings for the government and following two surprise recent by-election defeats, former premier Gordon Bajnai was widely expected to declare himself Orban's main challenger in elections scheduled for 2014.

But two and a half years after a landslide election victory, the charismatic and controversial Orban still retains strong grassroots support, and the opposition remains demoralised and divided.

"If the opposition is capable of uniting, together they could defeat Orban ... and Bajnai could play a key role in that unity," political analyst Peter Kreko, head of the Political Capital research house, told AFP.

"What we are actually going to see (on Tuesday) is the start of the 2014 election campaign."

Bajnai, 44, a technocrat who is not a member of any political party, is credited with nursing back to health an economy badly bruised by the global financial crisis as premier between April 2009 and Orban's victory in May 2010.

Since then, Orban -- whose nicknames include "Viktator" -- has introduced a raft of legislation that has seen him accused at home and abroad of being a threat to democracy in the European Union member state.

Hungary's currency the forint has plunged in value, the economy is in recession and sharply higher borrowing rates and "junk" credit ratings have forced Orban to go cap-in-hand to the International Monetary Fund and the EU.

Cracks have started to appear in support for the 49-year-old.

In a Szonda-Ipsos poll on October 18, just 20 percent said they would vote for Orban's party Fidesz, compared to 16 percent for the largest opposition group, the Socialists, their best rating since the last elections.

Analysts however believe that since the government recently changed a law on electoral rules, Orban and Fidesz can only be dislodged from power if the Socialists are able to form alliances.

Attendance at Tuesday's events held on the anniversary of the doomed 1956 anti-Soviet uprising will also be a barometer of the balance of power. Both sides were hoping for 100,000 supporters.

Numbers at the pro-government event will be boosted by those joining after a parade through the city in support of Orban, called the Bekemenet (March of Peace), many of bussed in from the countryside and even from ethnic Hungarian areas abroad.

The opposition rally is organised by the non-partisan Milla, short for One Million for Press Freedom, set up as a Facebook group in 2010 following the adoption of a media law which has been widely criticised for curbing the press.

But although the Milla rally will be boosted by supporters of the Socialists, who are not holding their own rally, the group is retaining its neutrality.

"Milla does not stand behind the former prime minister, but merely provides an opportunity for his speech," insisted Peter Juhasz, the group's president.

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