In an unprecedented operation to try to oust the autocratic prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, six opposition parties on Sunday announced their sole candidate for the 2022 election.
After a two-round vote, the chosen one was conservative Péter Márki-Zay, a 49-year-old electrical engineer who worked in sales and entered politics in 2018 with an anti-system platform.
That year, Márki-Zay also enlisted a party front to defeat Orbán’s Fidesz party in one of its strongholds and become mayor of the town of Hódmezövásárhely.
With about 74% of the opposition primary’s votes counted, the conservative candidate had 57% of the vote, while the other candidate, the 49-year-old Social Democrat Klára Dobrev, had 43%.
She acknowledged Márki-Zay’s victory and, despite the barbs exchanged during the selection process, announced him as “the candidate for prime minister of our six-party front” and promised to “support him with all his strength to replace the government of Viktor Orbán and then dismantling the system he created”.
The alliance is seen as the only way to topple the prime minister, as he altered the country’s electoral system to gain control of two-thirds of Parliament with just 42 percent of the vote in the 2014 election.
Due to this distortion, resulting from the reduction in the number of electoral districts and the alteration of the perimeters of the constituencies to favor Fidesz — a maneuver known as “gerrymandering” — the front needs to do more than choose a single candidate if it wants to dislodge Orbán.
Thus, the plans are to release just one name in each of the 106 electoral districts and a common list for the other 93 seats in Parliament, in addition to a joint electoral program.
The pact to launch a single candidate among very different acronyms, ranging from socialists to the right, was signed in December, when, isolated, the parties had a maximum of 14% of voting intentions.
Since then, the united front appears in the polls’ average virtually tied with Orbán’s party, with around 48% of voters. In the two rounds in which Márki-Zay won, more than 600,000 voters participated, or around 11% of those who went to the polls in the 2018 election.
Márki-Zay was supported by liberal and center-left politicians such as Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony because he was considered to have the most potential to attract undecided voters and conservatives unhappy with Orbán’s illiberal government.
During his government, the ultrancionalist prime minister, in power since 2010, has promoted an escalation of attacks against LGBT rights, immigrants and the independent press.
Karácsony, who before the caucuses was seen as the favorite to lead the opposition against the prime minister, came second in the first round and dropped out of the contest last week when opinion polls showed Márki-Zay looked better placed to beat Dobrev .
An MEP and vice-president of the European Parliament, she won the most votes in the first round, but opposition members feared she could be a more exposed target against Orbán, as the wife of the controversial former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, who ruled Hungary from 2004 to 2009 by the socialist MSZP.
While the shadow of the left over Dobrev could alienate more conservative voters, especially from the countryside, Márki-Zay presents himself as a former Fidesz voter —“Christian and right-wing”— disappointed with the path taken by the current Hungarian prime minister.
The conservative chosen on Sunday was co-founder in 2018 of the Hungary for All Movement (MMM, for its acronym in Hungarian), a non-partisan group that works to unite those who oppose Orbán.