The Rise of Peter Magyar: Can He Topple Orban's System?

Peter Magyar, once a part of Viktor Orban's inner circle, has emerged as a significant political challenger in Hungary, promising to bring change and a new conservative alternative to the current regime

by Sededin Dedovic
The Rise of Peter Magyar: Can He Topple Orban's System?
© Janos Kummer / Getty Images

Many Hungarians were convinced that Orban's power couldn't be shaken. Then Peter Magyar appeared. He belonged to Orban's system, and today he is a hope for change for many Hungarians. Can he succeed? A vehicle in the colors of the Hungarian red-white-green flag arrives at the main square in Sombathely in northwestern Hungary.

A man in his forties stands on it. He is wearing jeans, a shirt, and sunglasses. A song is playing from the speakers: "Tell me who you would choose." The young man with a modern hairstyle is the new political star in Hungary: Peter Magyar.

He speaks in front of a few hundred supporters. And in his speech, it's mainly about one thing: he promises to overthrow Viktor Orban and his system. “What convinced you about Peter Magyar?” asks a reporter from an independent Hungarian portal to a pensioner.

“He doesn’t need to convince me of anything, I’ve had enough of Orban,” replies the pensioner. “Magyar convinced me that there is finally someone who can change something here”.

Lawyer and Government insider Peter Magyar attends an opposition demonstration at the Andrassy Avenue on March 15, 2024 in Budap© Janos Kummer / getty Images

Like this pensioner, many Hungarians are thinking these days.

Since Peter Magyar stepped onto the political stage in February, there has been an atmosphere of change in Hungary. True, the right-wing nationalist party Fidesz (Alliance of Young Democrats) of Prime Minister Viktor Orban won the most votes in the European Parliament elections on June 9, about 44 percent, but for Fidesz, this is the worst result in recent times.

At the same time, Peter Magyar’s party Tisza (Respect and Freedom) won 33 percent of the votes.

A Pure Conservative Alternative

Since Orban took power in Hungary in 2010, every attempt to defeat him in elections has failed.

Not even united opposition parties have come close to threatening Fidesz’s majority. So, what does Peter Magyar, a young man in sneakers, with a rough voice and above-average confidence, have that others don’t? For years, it has been said in Hungary that one day Orban will be defeated by his own people.

And Magyar is exactly that – he comes from Orban’s circle. This 43-year-old lawyer and entrepreneur was married to the former Minister of Justice Judit Varga. He held various well-paid positions in Orban's system and had friendly relations with some of the leading officials in Fidesz.

Since his first public appearance in February 2024, he has presented himself as a kind of pure conservative alternative to Orban – as a man who shares Fidesz’s values but is not corrupt.

Supporters of lawyer and government insider Peter Magyar look on as he speaks at an opposition demonstration at the Andrassy Ave© Janos Kummer / Getty Images

Zoltan Somogyi, a sociologist from Budapest and co-founder of the independent think tank “Political Capital,” explains this new political phenomenon as follows: “Magyar says: ‘I am actually the true Fidesz.

There are two differences between me and today’s Fidesz. I don’t steal, and I explicitly advocate for the European Union.’”

A Scandal as a Trigger

Magyar appeared out of nowhere in February 2024.

He addressed the public after the state president Katalin Novak resigned due to a pardon scandal. She pardoned a man convicted of aiding in the sexual abuse of children. This scandal also led to the political withdrawal of Magyar’s former wife, who was leading Fidesz for the European elections.

The scandal caused great public outrage considering that Orban’s government had made child protection one of its main political issues with a lot of propaganda effort. Peter Magyar initially only expressed his anger that state president Katalin Novak and his ex-wife Judit Varga were victims of Orban’s system, and then announced his entry into politics.

Within four months, he managed to achieve a high double-digit result in the European elections and initiated the admission of his party into the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest group in the European Parliament, which Orban’s Fidesz left in 2021 to avoid being excluded.

“Orban couldn’t have dreamed that such a thing would ever happen,” says sociologist Zoltan Somogyi. “Moreover, Magyar achieved all this without a serious campaign budget – unlike Fidesz, which spends billions on propaganda”.

Magyar’s Tisza is the first opposition political force since 2010 that does not accept state party funding, Somogyi adds.

Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary, looks on alongside Aleksander Ceferin, President of UEFA, prior to the UEFA EURO 2024 g© Matthias Hangst / Getty Images

Shaken Trust in Fidesz

Hungarian Ester M.

has so far unwaveringly given her vote to Fidesz. Now, she says, she is more attracted to Magyar. “For a person with a Christian-conservative worldview like mine, Fidesz has long been the only possible choice in Hungary.

Even in the spring 2022 elections, I voted for Orban because I believed that no one but him could protect us if the war in Ukraine spread,” says the 45-year-old economist who lives in a small town near Budapest. “My trust in Fidesz has been fundamentally shaken since they decided to build a battery factory in my village.

They didn’t pay any attention to the concerns of the villagers,” says Ester M. “Suddenly, it became clear to me that in rural areas in Hungary, there is only one way to survive – namely, to be included in Fidesz’s structures,” writes DW.

Viktor Orban