BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Prime Minister Viktor Orban demanded four more years at the steering wheel of Hungary's "fast and bold racing car" on Saturday at an election rally attended by hundreds of thousands of supporters.
Orban's ruling centre-right Fidesz party is firmly on track to win the April 6 election, according to opinion polls, despite concerns among foreign investors and in the European Union about its unorthodox economic policies and some other measures.
Throngs of people waved national white, green and red flags as they headed through central Budapest to Heroes' Square, where Orban shot to fame in 1989 by calling for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from then-communist Hungary.
"We have come here today to tell each other, the country and the world, that we seek four more years," said Orban, sporting an orange tie, the trademark colour of Fidesz.
"Working together with you we have transformed Hungary. From a battered, sluggish old banger with a flat tyre we have built a reliable, fast and bold racing car," he told the crowd.
To his supporters, Orban, 50, is a patriotic hero who defends Hungary's interests against foreign encroachment. His critics accuse him of centralising power and filling key public sector posts with party loyalists.
A March survey by pollster Tarki put Fidesz at 38 percent of all voters, while a leftist opposition grouping had dropped to 16 percent, just ahead of far-right Jobbik.
Rating agency Standard & Poor's, which raised its outlook on Hungary's "junk"-rated debt to stable from negative on Friday, said some of Orban's reforms had weakened the checks and balances between state institutions.
Orban's government says it has saved Hungary from collapse under a Greek-style debt pile inherited from the Socialists in 2010. With a two-thirds majority in parliament, it says it had the democratic mandate to introduce sweeping reforms.
"We think that the country is headed in a very good direction and we would like to continue on this path and would like people to see that there are many others like us," said Zsuzsanna Szikora, 59, a doctor, who attended the rally.
"Everyone needs to turn up and vote because if this (leftist) gang returns again, this country is finished," said Szikora, a Hungarian flag draped around her neck as a scarf.
The leftist opposition grouping, led by Socialist party chairman Attila Mesterhazy, will hold a rally on Sunday.
Saturday's peaceful march was briefly disrupted by a small rival group wearing masks of Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a reference to a recent nuclear deal between Hungary and its former communist master.
Orban has said Hungary, a member of the EU and of NATO, is opposed to economic sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)