Hungarian conservative politician Peter Marki-Zay emerged on Sunday as the surprise challenger to premier Viktor Orban in elections set for April 2022 after he won the country’s first national primary contest against the centre-left candidate Klara Dobrev.
Marki-Zay is a 49-year-old conservative father of seven and mayor of the small southern town of Hodmezovasarhely — a post he won as the candidate of a unified opposition against the political machine of Orban’s ruling Fidesz party.
Before the two-round primary Marki-Zay, who is not a member of any of the parties competing in the selection process, had widely been considered a long-shot behind Dobrev, Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony and Peter Jakab, leader of the centre-right Jobbik party. But after a late surge in the initial polling, he dominated a run-off campaign to face Orban.
Well over 600,000 Hungarians participated in each round of the primaries, a level of engagement in a country of 10m that Marki-Zay said afforded him a great level of legitimacy.
Marki-Zay told the Financial Times that the result and the voter participation would allow him, as a civic candidate, to work effectively with all six parties of the opposition.
“I am very optimistic that the parties — which all have sought me out already — will co-operate with the civic forces outside formal politics,” he said at the concluding rally of his campaign in a pub in central Budapest.
He said his candidacy was a strong message to the European Union, and his campaign would continue to focus on a markedly pro-western attitude contrasting with the “eastern opening” policy pursued by Orban, who has moved closer to Russia and China and often locked horns with Brussels during his 12 years in power.
The maverick populist Orban has stabilised Hungary’s economy during his time in office but also built a self-styled ‘illiberal’ regime that Freedom House, the political freedom and human-rights organisation, no longer considers a full democracy.
“Keeping the interests of our country front and centre we want to be faithful citizens of the EU,” he said.
Dobrev, who was Marki-Zay’s only opponent after Karacsony stepped down, conceded defeat after she was behind 60 to 40 per cent with just about two-thirds of the votes counted.
“The situation has crystallised tonight,” Dobrev told a brief press conference. “From tonight onwards, he is the premiership candidate of the six opposition parties. I will support him with everything I have to replace the government of Viktor Orban, then unwind his system.”
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