In Viktor Orbán’s land, dissent wears a new look. It has a winsome voice, a familiar face and a turbulent tread — one that promises to break barriers that have constricted Hungarian politics. “Step by step, brick by brick, we are taking back our homeland and building a new country, a sovereign, modern, European Hungary,” the challenger declares.

This is Péter Magyar, a lawyer, and until recently, a relatively unknown government insider. Now, he is an opposition figure, vying to be on the frontlines of Hungarian politics. His challenge: to dismantle the regime of Mr. Orban’s Fidesz Party.

In the past month, the 43-year-old has led two rallies — the biggest political demonstrations in years — with hundreds of thousands of supporters pouring into Budapest’s central Kossuth Square. There, Mr. Magyar announced his candidacy for local elections and upcoming European Union polls in June under the TISZA (Tisztelet es Szabadsag, or Respect and Freedom) party. This political outfit is pitched as a convergence of the left and the right, a ‘legitimate’ choice between the Fidesz party and the “ineffectual” opposition.

Until recently, Mr. Magyar’s social capital crafted his reputation. The lawyer was known for his marriage to Mr. Orbán’s popular ex-Justice Minister Judit Varga. The two were married for nearly a decade; Ms. Varga served as an adviser at the EU Parliament while Mr. Magyar held different positions on state boards. The couple, with their three children, were framed in the media as a modern nuclear family.

The former government insider blew the whistle on Mr. Orbán’s government in February, triggering what analysts termed the biggest political crisis during the Prime Minister’s 14-year rule. The series of events unspooled thus: Mr. Magyar resigned from the board of the state-owned MBH Bank, publicly lambasted “the reign of corruption” and published incriminating tapes on Facebook on how the government ‘controlled the Hungarian justice system’.

The government has dismissed Mr. Magyar as an opportunity seeker looking for fame in the aftermath of his divorce. But he seems unperturbed.

Mr. Magyar’s emergence in Hungary’s political landscape quells several concerns for the Hungarian public. The Fidesz party has since 2010 taken on a right-wing, illiberal character, transforming Hungary into a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy,” according to the European Parliament.

Centrist promise

In contrast, Mr. Magyar’s politics is a challenge to Mr. Orban’s “power factory”. His centrist promise is targeted to reach out to people across the political spectrum. He also vows to build a more civil foreign policy that maintains relations with both the EU and NATO. Mr. Magyar’s former status as a government insider carries some favour among voters, who will head to national polls in 2026. His first interview on February 12 with Partizán has more than 2 million views. By mid-March, almost 68% of Hungary’s voters had heard of Mr. Magyar, and 13% said they were likely to support his party (making it the third most popular outfit in the country).

Mr. Magyar has separated himself from the mainstream Opposition landscape. On April 7, he challenged Mr. Orban and Opposition leader Ferenc Gyurcsány to a three-way debate. “Everyone knows that the three sides are in fact two,” he wrote, conflating the ruling and opposition sides as ‘morally deficient corrupt’ polities.

Some, however, are sceptical of the Magyar phenomenon. The government’s dominance and a weak Opposition sparked an expectation for a “messiah”, but it was unlikely that Mr. Magyar was that chosen one, election analyst Róbert László told The Guardian.

On Instagram, Mr. Magyar’s recent post is captioned with the words of A Tisza, a poem by the Hungarian revolutionary figure Sándor Petőfi: “like a maniac just freed from chains, the Tisza rushed in rage across the plains”, ready “to swallow up the whole wide world”.

A comment addressed to Mr. Magyar reads: “You are the Tisza who breaks the barrier.”


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