BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Hungarians rallied in Budapest on Saturday to commemorate a 1956 anti-Soviet uprising and show support for nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban who faces a close election race next year.
For the first time since he came to power in 2010, Orban, 58, will face a united front of opposition parties including the Socialists, liberals and the formerly far-right, now centre-right, Jobbik in 2022 parliamentary elections.
The alliance is led by Peter Marki-Zay, a 49-year-old Catholic conservative, father of seven and small-town mayor who seems to embody the traditional values Orban publicly champions and is seen as a tough challenger.
He will make his first appearance as an official prime ministerial candidate when he addresses a separate rally organised by the opposition in the capital on Saturday.
Organizers of the pro-government rally, which is marching across the Danube river to central Budapest where Orban will give a speech, say they want to send a message of unity to the opposition and Brussels.
“It is impossible that again we are facing attacks from the West as they are constantly criticising Viktor Orban,” said Dalma Nagy Mesterhazy, one of the protesters.
“Next year’s election will be about whether Hungary remains a sovereign country … or melts into a Muslim sea.”
The anniversary of the 1956 uprising gives Orban a symbolic platform for his agenda as his Fidesz party scales up its pre-election campaign. He has showered the electorate with handouts, including a $2 billion income-tax rebate for families, and stepped up his strong anti-immigration rhetoric.
While stating that Hungary’s interest is to remain a member of a strong European Union, Orban has clashed with Brussels over his policies, including tighter media freedoms and opposing ceding more powers to the EU.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Mike Harrison)