August 11, 2022

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Hungarians rally against Orbán’s reforms, skeptical about change

Hungarians rally against Orbán's reforms, skeptical about change
  • Urban raises taxes on small businesses and lowers caps on utility prices
  • Facing the toughest challenge since 2010 due to the war in Ukraine
  • Latest anti-government rally attracts low turnout
  • Some protesters question whether Orban will change course

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – About 1,000 Hungarians demonstrated against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government on Saturday, the latest in a series of small demonstrations this week since his right-wing Fidesz party passed a law that sharply raises taxes on small businesses.

Nationalist Orban faces his toughest challenge yet since taking power in a 2010 landslide, with inflation at its highest level in two decades, the forint at record lows, and EU funds in limbo amid a dispute over democratic norms.

A blockade of a bridge in Budapest on Tuesday failed to block approval of a government proposal to increase the tax rate for hundreds of thousands of small businesses, defying criticism from some business groups and opposition parties.

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On Wednesday, Orban’s government also cut a cap on utility prices for high-use households, rolling back one of the 59-year-old prime minister’s policies in recent years over rising electricity and gas prices amid the war in Ukraine.

“I have an acquaintance who is only heated by electricity,” said Miklos Neri, 70. “The monthly electricity bill has been 30,000 forints ($75) so far, which is not much, but from now on he will pay 153 thousand.” – The old retiree at the rally.

“He’s a pensioner, so the electric bill will eat up the pension, and they’ll be left grazing in the field,” he said, adding that a small-scale protest is unlikely to force Orban to change course.

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The rally on Saturday was called by small-town mayor Peter Markie Zee, Orban’s independent challenger, whose opposition coalition suffered a crushing defeat in parliamentary elections in April.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban sits before the swearing-in of Parliament in Budapest, Hungary, May 16, 2022. REUTERS/Bernadette Szabo

The low number of marchers suggests that despite the underlying discontent with Orbán’s recent fiscal bolster reforms in Hungary, anti-government sentiment has been struggling to gain momentum even in Budapest, where the opposition had its strongest performance in April.

Ildiku Hende, 52, who works as a cleaner in a bank, also lamented the low turnout at the rally.

“I’ve been working for over 30 years, but what’s happening in this country right now is hell incarnate,” she said.

Despite Orban capping the prices of fuel and some basic foodstuffs, inflation jumped to its highest level in two decades, at 11.7% year-on-year in June, prompting the central bank to enter its steepest rate-tightening cycle since the collapse of communist rule.

However, the forint is avoiding record lows against the euro, fueling inflationary pressures.

“I just want to be able to live a normal life, without having to pinch pennies at the end of every month,” Hind said. “The prices are so high it makes you go crazy. This really isn’t sustainable.”

(1 dollar = 397.2500 forints)

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(Girgili Szakas Report) Editing by Clelia Oziel

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