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Protests expected as Orban readies for third term

Victor Orban's ruling right-wing Fidesz party defied predictions of a tight contest by winning with a landslide 49 percent of the vote in last month's election
AFP

Budapest (AFP) – Hungarian anti-government protestors prepared to take to the streets Tuesday after strongman Viktor Orban was nominated for re-election as prime minister for a third consecutive term, as the country’s new parliament was inaugurated.

Orban was recommended as prime minister by President Janos Ader in the first session of the new 199-seat assembly, with his formal re-election and swearing in as premier scheduled for Thursday, not Tuesday as previously indicated by parliament.

Earlier, several hundred angry anti-Orban protesters gathered outside to jeer at lawmakers amid a heavy police presence, shouting “Traitors!” and “Orban, come out!” 

A bigger demonstration, expected to draw tens of thousands, is scheduled outside parliament on Tuesday evening.

They are part of a grassroots civil protest movement that has sprung up since April’s parliamentary election, with opposition party leaders still reeling from the results.

Orban’s ruling right-wing Fidesz party upset predictions of a tight contest by winning with a landslide 49 percent of the vote compared to under 20 percent for its nearest challenger, the nationalist Jobbik party.

That helped Fidesz clinch a third consecutive two-thirds parliamentary majority in a row, allowing Orban legislative carte blanche to amend the constitution and fast-track new laws.

Since the vote, Orban has pledged to govern in the interests of all Hungarians and has called his victory “the biggest mandate” since the switch from communism in 1990.

Turnout also increased sharply on previous elections, Ader said during his speech to open parliament, adding that the legitimacy of the result is “above question”.

The vote was a “celebration of democracy,” he said.

– Constitutional change –

Orban’s election campaign was dominated by strident anti-immigration rhetoric, and early signs are that he will continue in the same vein.

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 Orban says orchestrates immigration.

Orban’s critics 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”.

“Accreditation for an event should not be used as a tool to curb the content of critical reporting,” OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir said in a statement, noting that the three media outlets are regarded as critical towards the work of the government.

– ‘Corrupt system’ –

Since the election, two protests organised via social media by a group called “We are the Majority” have drawn tens of thousands in Budapest, with smaller demonstrations taking place in cities around the country.

The protesters are from a cross-section of society, spanning age, class and political affiliation, with rainbow and EU flags flown alongside ultra-nationalist symbols.

Their demands include reform of the electoral system, redesigned by Fidesz in 2011 and which critics say helped deliver Orban’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.

However, a poll last week said voters mostly blamed the bitterly divided parties themselves for their crushing defeat.

Their failure to forge an effective anti-Orban 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 Hegedus, 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.

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