Thousands of Hungarians Rally Against Orban, Call for Democracy

Thousands of Hungarians took to the streets in downtown Budapest, rallying against what they call anti-democratic measures by Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The crowd filled up Andrassy Avenue today in front of the opera house, carrying signs demanding democracy and a new republic, and chanting “Orban get out!”

“We must offer an alternative to the current system,” Gabor Vago, a former lawmaker who left the environmentalist LMP Party after serving in parliament, told the crowd. Vago called on protesters to be active in new political organizations.

Orban, re-elected for a second term in April, has drawn criticism from the European Union and the U.S. over the erosion of democratic values. The premier defended his drive to centralize power, claiming in a Dec. 15 interview that Hungarians welcomed a system he calls “illiberal democracy.”

Since coming to power in 2010, Orban has weakened independent institutions designed to limit the premier’s authority. The premier, who wields a two-thirds majority in parliament, has used his position to pass a constitution over opposition protests and appoint allies, often members of his party, to head independent institutions such as courts, the media authority, the prosecutor’s office and the central bank.

In September, U.S. President Barack Obama called out Hungary and Egypt in comments about government intimidation of non-governmental organizations. In October, the U.S. imposed travel bans on six Hungarians on allegations of corruption, charges that Orban’s government rejected.

“We believe that Orban and his system must go,” Bori Takacs, one of the organizers of today’s rally, told the crowd.

Organizers of today’s protest are staging the next rally for Feb. 1, a day ahead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Budapest, Takacs said.

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