BUDAPEST, Hungary — A diverse coalition of opposition parties issued its final appeal to Hungarian voters on Saturday ahead of the country’s hard-fought elections that will decide whether nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban continues his autocratic rule for a fourth consecutive term.
Several hundred supporters of the six-party coalition United for Hungary gathered in the rain in central Budapest a day before Sunday’s vote. Movement leader Peter Marki-Zay said the national election was aimed at ending the ‘most corrupt government in our 1,000-year history’ and ushering in a new era of inclusive democracy in the central European nation and the European Union.
“We welcome everyone, right or left, Christian, Jewish or atheist, of any origin or sexual orientation. Because we believe that what is important is not what divides us, but what unites us” , said Marki-Zay.
Small-town mayor and self-described conservative Christian Marki-Zay, 49, became the figurehead of the six-party coalition after being selected by an opposition primary in October to challenge Orban for prime minister .
The six parties, which include the liberal Democratic Coalition, the centrist Momentum and the right-wing Jobbik, as well as smaller green and socialist parties, are running against Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party as a united bloc for the first time.
This relentless strategy of total unity, they say, is the only way to overcome structural obstacles to defeating Orban, including what they call a media environment dominated by Fidesz allies and unfairly gerrymandered constituencies. which give Orban’s party many more parliamentary seats than his party of the popular vote.
Recent polls suggest the race will be the tightest in over a decade, but give Fidesz a small lead. Some analysts suggest that due to Hungary’s electoral map, the opposition bloc will have to beat Fidesz by 3-4 points nationally to secure a majority in parliament.
United for Hungary has campaigned to restore Hungary’s alliances with its EU and NATO partners, which they say have suffered under the past 12 years of Orban’s leadership.
At Saturday’s rally, 18 opposition candidates running in Budapest neighborhoods listed elements of their platform, including an end to what they call widespread corruption under Orban. They also want Hungary to get billions of dollars in EU financial support that has been withheld from Orban’s government due to concerns about democratic backsliding and violations of the rule of law.
Marki-Zay also spoke at length about the Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine, a war that transformed the election campaigns of Fidesz and the opposition.
Orban, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has refused to supply arms to Ukraine or allow them to be transferred across the Hungarian-Ukrainian border. Orban also insisted on maintaining economic ties with Moscow, including the import of Russian fossil fuels.
This ambiguous approach to the war in Ukraine, Marki-Zay said, made Sunday’s election the question of whether Hungary would belong to the democratic West or the autocracies of the East.
“This struggle is now bigger than us. The war in Ukraine gave this struggle a special meaning,” said Marki-Zay, adding that “Viktor Orban was left alone” among European leaders.
Ahead of the rally, Ukrainian mothers and their children who fled Ukraine as refugees marched through central Budapest to protest against Russia’s war on their home country. Some held up signs asking Orban to “stop supporting the murderers”.
One protester, Margaretha, left kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, for Budapest two weeks after the start of the war. The 25-year-old graphic designer said since she couldn’t stay in Ukraine “I have to at least make a contribution from outside.”
“I think it is also very important to draw Hungarians’ attention to the historical ties they also had with Russia, so that they can rethink their attitude,” she said, stressing that Hungary had been under Soviet rule for over 40 years.
Closing the rally, Marki-Zay said his coalition “stands at victory’s door” and called on young Hungarians to convince their parents and grandparents to vote for change.
“Tomorrow, together, we can reclaim our national pride. Let us be proud once again to say that we are Hungarians,” he said.