Orban challengers pledge to stop Chinese university and railroad project
BUDAPEST, June 22 (Reuters) – Six main candidates vying to run against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban jointly announced on Tuesday that if elected they would reject two giant Chinese projects – a university campus in the capital and a path railway to Belgrade.
Hungary’s long-divided opposition plans to field a single candidate for prime minister against nationalist Orban in an election slated for next year, which is set to be the toughest challenge of his 11 years in power.
Orban, a self-proclaimed “illiberal,” angered his Western allies by orienting his country towards closer ties with Russia and China.
In two of its most prestigious projects with Beijing, Orban aims to open a campus at Shanghai Fudan University in Budapest and have Chinese companies build a new rail link between the Hungarian and Serbian capitals.
In a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, the six candidates said they had agreed that whoever became prime minister “would honor the clear intention of the majority of voters and immediately stop” both projects.
The letter was quoted on the Facebook pages of Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony, Left Liberal Democratic Coalition candidate Klara Dobrev and liberal Momentum Movement leader Andras Fekete-Gyor. They said he was also signed by far-right Jobbik leader Peter Jakab and two independent candidates.
A Hungarian government spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters. Orban’s government has said in the past that the railway will ensure the flow of investment to Hungary, while the university will bring advanced technology and know-how.
Opponents of Orban have long opposed the two Chinese projects, which would be financed by loans of one billion euros from Beijing. Read more
The new Chinese university campus offering graduate degrees in technical subjects is said to be opened just a few years after Hungary’s largest private higher education institution, the Central European University, decamped to Austria due to the legal changes adopted by Orban. Read more
Commercial terms of the rail project were not fully disclosed. The subcontractors include allies of Orban.
Budapest Mayor Karacsony argued that despite all of Orban’s talk about sovereignty, his trade deals had weakened the independence Hungary had won by overthrowing the Communist regime in 1989.
“Liberal Hungary was created precisely to cancel such an exhibition. The stakes are the same now.”
Report by Marton Dunai @mdunai
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