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08/12/2016

Hungarian protests show growing opposition to Orbán

Elections

Hungarian protests show growing opposition to Orbán

A woman carries a placard with the likeness of Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán [Reuters]

Thousands of Hungarians demonstrated against alleged corruption at the country’s tax authority and for wider democratic freedoms in Budapest yesterday (9 November) in the latest protest to rock the country.

The protests against the centre-right government, notably against a planned tax on the Internet, show that, despite a big majority in parliament, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán faces increasingly vocal opposition.

Orbán has raised eyebrows among hisWestern partners, including the United States and the European Union, for policies that have penalised big business, limited democratic freedoms and – his critics say – brought Hungary closer into the Kremlin’s orbit of influence.

The rally demanded the dismissal of tax chief Ildikó Vida, who admitted earlier this week she was one of several people – including government officials – who was barred from  entering the United States on charges of corruption. She denied any wrongdoing.

>> Read: Chief of Hungary’s tax authority on US travel ban list

About 100,000 Hungarians demonstrated on 28 October against a planned tax on Internet data traffic and the broader course of Orbán’s government, which they saw as undermining democracy and relations with European Union peers.

>> Read: Hungarians protest Internet tax

The crowd marched through central Budapest and held up signs depicting the prime minister that read, “You stink to high heavens!”, a Titanic cutout emblazoned with his Fidesz party’s name, and one with a pun on the tax chief’s name, “Vida Loca!”

The protesters said they were marching for more than the specific issues the organisers originally called them out to oppose. They opposed the entire government and want it gone, they said.

“Enough is enough,” said Istvan Kramer. 45. “They are absolutely unscrupulous, while we are oppressed and told to shut up.”

“We don’t want to pay taxes in a corrupt country,” said Pirosha Hahn, 65. “What hurts me most is that my kids need to leave the country to find a job that pays enough to raise a family on.”

“The corruption that works in this country is the worst because it all begins with the higher-ups, the government,” said 30-year-old Dia Szenasi, who arrived with a banner reading, “All corrupted here”.

Background

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, leader of the Fidesz party (EPP-affiliated), has clashed repeatedly with the European Union and foreign investors over his unorthodox policies.

In the past four years, Orbán's policies have included a nationalisation of private pension funds, "crisis taxes" on big business, and a relief scheme for mortgage holders for which the banks, mostly foreign-owned, had to pay.

His policies helped Hungary emerge from recession, but some economists say Orbán may have scared off the kind of investment Hungary needs for long-term growth.