Thousands of Hungarians gathered Tuesday (8 May) to protest against strongman Viktor Orbán after he was nominated for re-election as prime minister for a third consecutive term during the inauguration of the new parliament.
Fresh from his right-wing Fidesz party’s landslide election win on 6 April, Orbán was officially proposed as prime minister by President János Áder in the first session of the new 199-seat assembly.
Orbán’s formal re-election by parliament and swearing in as premier is scheduled for Thursday.
In the third of a series of major protests organised on social media by a civil group since the election, around 20,000 protestors assembled outside parliament where speakers urged the rebuilding of opposition to Orbán and Fidesz.
— Hungary Journal (@hungary_journal) May 8, 2018
“Either we stay in Hungary and begin working and acting now, or we do nothing and leave,” Viktor Gyetvai, a 20-year-old student, told the crowd.
The protesters say that Orbán’s win was mainly thanks to massive anti-immigration government propaganda, as well as an unfair election system in which Fidesz can only be beaten by a united opposition front.
Fidesz upset predictions of a tight contest by winning with 49% of the vote compared to under 20% for its nearest challenger, the nationalist Jobbik party.
That helped the party clinch a third consecutive two-thirds parliamentary majority, allowing it legislative carte blanche to amend the constitution and fast-track new laws.
Since the vote, Orbán has pledged to build a “Christian democracy” in the interests of all Hungarians and has called his victory “the biggest mandate” since the switch from communism in 1990.
Turnout increased sharply on previous elections, prompting Áder to say during his speech to open parliament that the legitimacy of the result is “above question”.
Orbán’s election campaign was dominated by strident anti-immigration rhetoric, and early signs are that he will continue in the same vein.
“The most important task of the new government will be the defence of Hungary’s security and Christian culture,” said the 54-year-old, who built anti-migrant border fences during the last term.
One of his first steps is likely to be a constitutional clause preventing the “settlement of alien population”.
Another package of bills targets non-governmental organisations funded by Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros who Orbán says orchestrates immigration.
Orbán’s critics also accuse him of removing democratic checks and balances and steering the country away from the European mainstream.
Further pressure on judicial and media independence, squeezed in recent years, are seen as likely by analysts.
On Monday the OSCE expressed “major concern” that three journalists for independent news websites were denied accreditation for the opening of parliament, saying this set “a bad precedent”.
The protestors, who call their group “We are the Majority”, have also held smaller demonstrations in cities around the country, a nod to sweeping electoral losses by the opposition outside Budapest.
Their demands include reform of the electoral system, redesigned by Fidesz in 2011 and which critics say helped deliver Orbán’s party its two-thirds majority, even though it won under half of the vote.
State media should also adhere to non-partisan guidelines according to the protestors after international observers found “media bias” had helped tilt the poll in Fidesz’s favour.
“The legitimacy of the new parliament is questionable,” an opposition MP Ákos Hadházy told AFP outside parliament Tuesday while the inauguration proceeded inside.
Hadházy, of the green LMP party, was the only lawmaker who refused to make an oath of allegiance to the constitution Tuesday.
“The opposition has to somehow find a way of not legitimising the government but at the same time do the actual work of a proper opposition,” he said.
A poll last week said opposition voters also blamed the bitterly divided anti-Orbán parties themselves for their crushing defeat.
Their failure to forge an effective anti-Fidesz front has prompted calls that they should boycott the new parliament or even that a new opposition be built from scratch.
Although “personnel, policy, and moral renewal” of the opposition parties is a must, Daniel Hegedüs, an analyst, told AFP that they could better serve frustrated voters by staying in parliament.
“Coordinated parliamentary and street opposition will have to be built up together during the coming years,” he said.