Orban Challenger Makes Final Push Ahead of Sunday’s EU Vote

BUDAPEST – Hungarian opposition leader Peter Magyar rallied tens of thousands of supporters on Saturday, urging them to back his party in Sunday’s European Parliament election. This election presents Prime Minister Viktor Orban with one of the toughest challenges of his 14-year rule.

Orban, who has been in power since 2010, has faced multiple crises recently. A sex abuse scandal has brought down two of his key allies, and Hungary has been struggling with the worst inflationary surge in the European Union. Rising expenditures and a weak economic recovery have prevented Orban from deploying the lavish spending that helped him secure his fourth consecutive victory in the 2022 parliamentary election. This situation has given Magyar a rare opportunity.

Recent surveys indicate that support for Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party is between 44% and 48%. Magyar’s right-of-center Tisza party is polling between 23% and 29%, marking an unprecedented surge for the newcomer who entered Hungary’s political scene just four months ago. Orban’s worst performance in any EU election was a 47.4% result when Hungary joined the bloc two decades ago. No opposition party has managed to secure more than 20% of the vote since 2009.

“If you want it, too, Hungary will be the country of justice, honor, and laws,” Magyar told jubilant supporters at Budapest’s majestic Heroes Square. “Hungary will be not the wedge, but the link between East and West,” the 43-year-old added.

A rally held by Orban in Budapest last week also drew tens of thousands of supporters. The 61-year-old premier cast Sunday’s vote as a choice between war and peace in Europe, amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

Magyar has visited nearly 200 towns on the campaign trail, using his media-savvy background to post hundreds of Facebook messages to boost his appeal. A former government insider, Magyar worked for the foreign ministry and the prime minister’s office in Brussels before joining a state bank and heading a student loan agency. He became disenchanted with Fidesz due to what he described as corruption and state propaganda.

Magyar’s rallies have attracted unusually large turnouts, even in some rural Fidesz strongholds. He has stated that his lawmakers would join the European People’s Party (EPP), which broke ties with Orban in 2021.

Meanwhile, Orban has courted Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s European Conservatives and Reformists Party. His 12 European Parliament lawmakers have not been affiliated with any other grouping since the breakup with the mainstream EPP.