More than 10,000 Hungarians rallied in Budapest on Monday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, accusing him of employing corrupt public servants and cosying up to the Kremlin.
The numbers who turned up at Parliament for the rally — billed by organizers as a "Day of Public Outrage" — were much smaller than the crowds that protested a planned tax on the Internet last month and forced Orban to shelve the plan.
Alleged corruption has become a new rallying cry for Orban's opponents after the United States said it was barring entry to six Hungarian public servants, including the head of the tax authority, on suspicion of being associated with graft.
Although Hungary — like many former Eastern Bloc countries — adopted the form and institutions of a liberal democracy following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Orban's government has tilted in a more authoritarian direction. In late July, he said publicly that he wanted to construct an "illiberal state" in the mold of Vladimir Putin's Russia.
The Internet tax and the corruption allegations have slightly weakened public support for Orban's center-right Fidesz party. But it still leads by a wide margin over the fragmented opposition, which includes several left-wing parties and the far-right nationalist party Jobbik.
The protesters chanted "Orban go away!" and held up banners with slogans including: "We don't pay tax to criminals." They chanted "Europe, Europe!" after two people lowered a European Union flag from a window of the neo-gothic Parliament building.
Tax chief Ildiko Vida said early this month she was one of several people — including government officials — who were barred entry by the United States on charges of corruption. She denied any wrongdoing.
One banner at Monday's protest read, "People against corruption, so much for the two-thirds," referring to election victories in which Fidesz secured two-thirds parliament majorities in 2010 and then again in April this year.
Several opposition politicians were in the crowd but there were no party symbols, as requested by the organizers.
Protest organizers — a loose collective of students, activists and artists — have said that they have tapped into a groundswell of indignation.
One protester, Gyorgy Brull, said he and millions of Hungarians had no party to vote for. "I have clear ideas on what country I would like to live in," the 57-year-old winemaker said. "But I still do not see who could represent that in a coherent way."
Al Jazeera and wire services