With a close election race looming, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been accused of employing tactics from “the darkest days of Communism” to smear his opposition rival.
Peter Marki-Zay, who is leading an anti-Orban coalition into the 2022 election, said the prime minister’s Fidesz party had tried to damage him with a leaked dossier containing intelligence on him and his wife.
He said Fidesz had passed the document to an opposition party which apparently foiled the ploy by giving it straight to Mr Marki-Zay, rather than using it to attack him during an opposition primary.
“Two things can be seen: the fact that Fidesz tried to interfere in the primary election, and the way in which people are being observed,” the opposition leader said.
“This dossier is another example of what the party-state, Fidesz, is doing by profiling and observing the opposition in a way that evokes the darkest days of Communism.”
The Soviet-backed regime in Hungary used surveillance, show trials and labour camps to impose its will before it collapsed in 1989.
Mr Orban’s critics say he is leading Hungary back down an authoritarian path by weakening independent watchdogs such as the press and judiciary.
But Fidesz is a dominant force in Hungarian politics, having won three landslide elections in a row. Both admirers and critics compare him to former US president Donald Trump.
Opposition parties have agreed to band together in a combined anti-Orban ticket in 2022. Mr Marki-Zay won a primary election this month.
Polls predict that Mr Orban, 58, will face his closest race since coming to power in 2010. He has hinted darkly about interference by outside powers and US billionaire George Soros.
“Somewhere on the other shore, Uncle Georgie is getting ready,” said Mr Orban, who has long attacked the Hungarian-born Mr Soros.
Mr Orban has sought to boost his re-election hopes by offering handouts such as a $2 billion tax rebate and stepping up his anti-immigration rhetoric.
He has separately invoked the Communist era by comparing the EU’s criticism of Hungary to hostility from the Soviet Union.
“Brussels would do well to understand that even the Communists could not handle us. We're the David who Goliath is better off avoiding,” he said at a weekend rally marking 65 years since an anti-Soviet uprising.
The EU “speaks and behaves to us as and the Poles as if we were enemies,” he said.
Brussels has raised similar concerns about the rule of law in Poland, with both Budapest and Warsaw promising to veto any moves against the other.