April 11, 2016 / 11:15 AM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 1-Hungary to end Sunday trading ban in rare climbdown for Orban

(Adds detail, political analyst, opposition comment)

By Marton Dunai and Gergely Szakacs

BUDAPEST, April 11 (Reuters) - Hungary’s government decided on Monday to scrap an unpopular ban on Sunday retail trading in a rare climbdown for Prime Minister Viktor Orban who wanted to avert a potentially awkward referendum on the issue sought by the opposition Socialists.

The retreat represents a tactical victory for the Socialists, but Orban’s ruling nationalist Fidesz party, in power since 2010, remains well ahead of its rivals in the opinion polls. The next parliamentary election is due in 2018.

The trading ban, which forces all but the smallest retail outlets to close on Sunday, has been in effect for just over a year but has proved unpopular with Hungarians.

“The ban ... has proved divisive,” Orban’s cabinet chief Antal Rogan told reporters.

“We could not convince people that this is a successful measure from their point of view. (They perceived) that it made the everyday lives of families more difficult.”

Two thirds of Hungarians surveyed by pollster Ipsos last year said they opposed the Sunday trading ban. The government had argued that the ban was beneficial for the retail sector and that employment in the sector rose last year.

Socialist politician Istvan Nyako, whose party had pressed for a referendum on the ban, said: “We see this as a victory, the victory of Hungarian people. We managed to force the Orban regime to retreat for the second time.”

In 2014 a mass rally forced Orban to abandon plans to tax use of the internet.

The government will send a proposal to parliament later on Monday to rescind the ban and the previous system could be restored by the weekend.

“It would have been too big a risk not only to potentially lose the referendum but there would have been a months-long campaign about an issue that is unfavourable for the government,” said Csaba Toth, a political analyst at think-tank Republikon Institute.

“It was at least as much about controlling the agenda as about the possible outcome of the referendum,” he said, adding that the campaign had the potential to boost the ailing Socialist party.

Public support for Fidesz dipped in February, a poll by the Median institute showed, after months of solid ratings underpinned by its tough stance on Europe’s migrant crisis. (Additional reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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