Hungary’s Orban, a long-time Trump ally, rocked by political scandals

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives to attend a European Council summit at EU headquarters in Brussels on March 21, 2024.

Sameer Al-doumy | Afp | Getty Images

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban faces political difficulties ahead of June’s European parliamentary elections, with his ruling party rocked by two political scandals in six weeks.

Orban is a longtime ally of former U.S. President Donald Trump and widely seen as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest supporter in the European Union. The right-wing leader has ruled the central European country since 2010, making him the EU’s longest-serving head of state.

However, two major scandals have recently shaken its dominance over Budapest’s political landscape at a sensitive time when Hungary is preparing to hold local and European elections in early June.

The latest controversy “is likely to prove more problematic” for Orban, according to analysts at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, who note that the Hungarian prime minister has already been able to emerge from a pardon scandal without significant loss of public support.

Peter Magyar, a little-known lawyer and former close associate of Orban’s government, released an audio recording last week that he says proves senior officials conspired to cover up corruption. He has since announced plans to form a new political party to compete with Orban’s Fidesz party.

Lawyer and former government member Peter Magyar addresses people during a protest he organized in front of the General Prosecutor’s Office on March 26, 2024 in Budapest, Hungary.

Janos Kummer | Getty Images News | Getty Images

“Previously a virtually unknown figure a few months ago, (Magyar) is now successfully organizing large-scale protests in Budapest and dominating the political agenda and public discourse,” said Zsuzsanna Vegh, a visiting scholar at the German Marshall Fund. of the United States, a transatlantic think tank.

Vegh told CNBC that Magyar’s sudden political breakthrough indicates a strong demand for new political leadership in the country.

“He announced the launch of a political movement, and he could try to exploit a mix of disillusioned Fidesz and opposition voters, and especially undecided, perhaps even apolitical voters,” Vegh said.

“We don’t know if Magyar can maintain its momentum”

Magyar posted on Facebook and YouTube a recording of a conversation with Judit Varga, his then-wife and Hungarian Minister of Justice at the time. – in which she implies that she knew that government officials had falsified evidence in a corruption case during her tenure.

These revelations prompted several thousand citizens to demonstrate near the parliament in Budapest on March 26, according to Reuters. The demonstration followed the country’s biggest protest in years which took place in early February, when it emerged that former Hungarian President Katalin Novak had pardoned a man imprisoned for covering up a series of sexual abuses against children.

Orban’s allies, including Novak and Varga, were forced to resign following the pardon scandal.

A government spokesperson was not immediately available when contacted by CNBC on Wednesday.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs previously refused to answer questions sent by Reuters about the contents of Magyar’s audio recording, calling the scandal “much ado about nothing.”

Supporters of lawyer and former government member Peter Magyar as he addresses the people during a protest he organized near the Hungarian Parliament on March 26, 2024 in Budapest, Hungary.

Janos Kummer | Getty Images News | Getty Images

In a March 26 Facebook post, Varga accused Magyar of domestic violence during their relationship and claimed she made the comments under duress. Magyar denied the claims in a separate Facebook post.

Vegh said Magyar’s political success would largely depend on whether he can maintain the momentum that sustains him through Hungary’s 2026 parliamentary elections – a challenge that Eurasia Group analysts say is hampered by the “omnipresent” influence of the ruling party on the public media landscape. .

“Given these realities, it is unclear whether Magyar will be able to maintain its momentum through the June European Parliament elections unless it continues to make substantial revelations about alleged government wrongdoing,” they said. said analysts at Eurasia Group in a research note published on March 28.

“In addition, adding another party to the composition of opposition formations could play into Orban’s hands in the June elections, where parties face a minimum threshold of 5% to enter Parliament. Any vote for parties that remains below this threshold will ultimately help Fidesz, potentially allowing the party to increase its share of seats,” they added.


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