Partieless Mayor Peter Márki-Zay will be Prime Minister Orbán‘s challenger in the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Hungary. Márki-Zay won the leaderelections of the joint opposition parties in two rounds, which united in one anti-Orbán front. In the second round, he defeated Social Democrat and MEP Klára Dobrev with 56 per cent of the vote.
Márki-Zay (49) thanked his supporters tonight. He promises to compete for a “new Hungary”, where “both left and right; Jews, Gypsies and Gays” are lovingly embraced. “Prime Minister Orbán has reason to be afraid,” opposition leader said.
Opposition parties from left to far right united into one anti-Orbán front last year, because Hungary’s stepped district system gave the individual parties little chance of profit. In polls, the united opposition list and Orbán right-wing populist Fidesz party have been neck-to-neck for months.
Every Hungarian voter was allowed to vote for the leader in the past week. More than 660,000 votes were cast. This includes Fidesz voters, who were able to decide who became the challenger of their own party leader. In addition to one leader, a joint opposition candidate is also chosen for each constituency.
Márki-Zay can be called a surprising winner of the opposition election. With the lowest advertising budget of all candidates, he finished third of five candidates in the first round, behind Dobrev and Budapest Liberal Mayor Gergely Karácsony. It seemed to have the best papers for the list pullership at the start, but Karácsony stepped out of the race after the first round and expressed his support for Márki-Zay.
The partieless Márki-Zay is known to be moderate and conservative; himself once described himself as “disappointed Fidesz voter”. The father of seven is a newcomer to politics: after a career as an economist and marketer, he threw himself into the fight for the mayor of his hometown in 2018: the Fidesz stronghold Hódmezovásárhely in southern Hungary.
He managed to beat the Fidesz candidate. How? Three different opposition parties joined him.
There the bud was laid for the current front of a united opposition to Orbán and Fidesz. Already in 2018 Márki-Zay advocated close cooperation, as Fidesz continues to win a whistling parliamentary election. After today, he is the foreman of his dreamt united opposition.
He promises that as prime minister he will work on combating corruption, the introduction of the euro and protecting the rule of law.
Challenge for Orbán
Political analysts expect Márki-Zay‘s victory to be a big downer for Orbán. “This will be the biggest challenge for Orbán since 2010 (the beginning of his second term of reign, ed. )”, Twitter Thorsten Benner of the GPPi think tank. After all, Márki-Zay’s thought is close to the Fidesz supporters. In addition, unlike the other opposition leaders, the somewhat colourless politician cannot be attacked by political blunders of the past. At the same time, his political inexperience can also work at his disadvantage.
Fidesz seems to have underestimated Márki-Zay. In the run-up to the leaderelections, the party spent a lot of money on advertising campaigns against opposition candidates Dobrev, who was mainly attacked for her relationship with former Prime Minister Gyurcsány, and Karácsony. Márki-Zay got rid of it without defamation campaigns.
According to Hungarian media, Fidesz spent more money on election advertisements than the opposition itself:
Hungarian political scientist Balasz Csekö is curious about how the further election campaign will go. “We have to wait and see if the united opposition will actually remain united,” says Csekö. “Hungary is not a Czech Republic.” In that country, two opposition blocks won the election earlier this month.
The anti-Orbán front may still be played apart when themes on which the parties differ, such as migration or lhbti rights, become a dominant election theme. For example, the right-wing Jobbik, part of the opposition coalition, voted for the controversial lhbti law this summer, while the other opposition parties were fiercely opponents.
The differences between them are secondary to the common goal, according to Márki-Zay. “The upcoming elections revolve around one question: Fidesz or no Fidesz?”