Péter Márki-Zay’s victory in Hungary’s first opposition primary on Sunday is the second time that the engineer, historian, economist and relatively newcomer to politics has confused expectations.
Considered an outlier in the first round of voting to decide which individual Hungarian opposition would unite against Viktor Orban in next year’s parliamentary elections, Márki-Zay ended up rejecting Klára Dobrev and Gergely Karácsony, both considered much more likely to to win.
Karácsony, a popular mayor of Budapest and a favorite before the primaries, withdrew from the race while Dobrev, considered a leftist pro-European option, was defeated in the second round.
Márki-Zay’s entry into politics was, for many, equally surprising. Márki-Zay, a father of seven who describes himself as a conservative, won a 2018 mayoral election in his hometown of Hódmezővásárhely, marking Fidesz’s first defeat by an opposition candidate in several years.
At the time, no one really knew where to put Márki-Zay on the political spectrum, and he himself said he would have a hard time supporting both the Hungarian left and the far-right Jobbik, which has since rebranded itself as a centrist force. Now both sides are expected to unite behind him to beat Viktor Orban.
There will be some in Hungary who will be relieved that it is not Dobrev, the vice-president of the European Parliament, who is taking on the nation. She has had an illustrious political career, but her husband, former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, is one of the most divisive figures in Hungarian politics.
It is less clear why Karácsony withdrew, given that he had emerged as the brightest star of the Hungarian opposition after his defeat of the Fidesz-backed mayor in Budapest, István Tarlós, apparently Orban’s personal friend. A spokesperson for Karácsony did not respond to a request for comment.
There is also widespread optimism simply because, for the first time in many years, elections are being held in Hungary that Viktor Orban could lose.
“The fact that there is unpredictability in Hungarian politics is already a step in the right direction,” said Andreas Bock, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Who is Péter Márki-Zay?
Márki-Zay has said that he is a Christian and a conservative, born into a religious family in Hódmezővásárhely. His mother is a chemistry and his father is a physics teacher.
He describes himself as a historian, economist, marketer, and electrical engineer who lived in Canada and the United States, and returned to his hometown after five years working abroad.
He has been mayor of Hódmezővásárhely since 2018.
More generally, analysts describe Márki-Zay as a political outsider.
“In some ways, Péter Márki-Zay can be compared to Donald Trump – a non-partisan player who says surprising new things, comes out of nowhere and goes against conventional political logic,” said Peter Kreko, CEO of Politics. Capital, a group of experts.
“He is also conservative and […] a candidate from the left. This is a phenomenon that can attract a lot of attention, and this attention can be turned, not automatically, but also support. “
Márki-Zay’s conservative credentials could also see him alienate Fidesz voters in their traditional conservative rural territories. That, analysts say, has worried Fidesz.
“To win an election in Hungary, you have to win on the field,” said Bock.
But while there have been suggestions that Márki-Zay has a lot in common with Orban, when it comes to politics, the men couldn’t be more different. Márki-Zay is a believer in the European project and a defender of LGBT rights in Hungary at a time when the community is being attacked en masse by Fidesz. He is also committed to the European climate change goals that the Orban movement has opposed.
One issue on which Márki-Zay’s views are less well known, however, is migration, once against a political hot potato in the EU in the face of the influx of refugees to Poland and the Baltic states of Belarus, as well as Afghanistan. after. the takeover of the Taliban. Bock hopes that if migration is not yet an electoral issue, Fidesz will certainly seek to make it one over the next six months.
Man without movement
Despite having the support of the Hungarian opposition, Márki-Zay is a man without a movement, or at least without a political party. He founded the Everyone’s Movement in Hungary (MMM) to run mayoral candidates during the 2019 municipal elections, but by his own admission, it has only 6,000 members.
He is running as the lead candidate for a coalition of six political parties, from environmentalists to social democrats to far-right centrist conservatives. It has been speculated that Márki-Zay may now form his own political party and run candidates throughout Hungary.
If he doesn’t, it’s hard to see who Márki-Zay will turn to on the second day when he’s building his cabinet: how many socialists? How many conservatives? How many greens?
All of that will have to be resolved if Márki-Zay can confuse expectations once again and unseat Orban after 11 years. In doing so, he faces a leader whose allies have taken control of most of Hungary’s media landscape over the past decade, making the campaign an uphill battle.
According to polls, the united opposition and Fidesz are side by side, but six months is a long time in politics and it remains to be seen if the opposition can maintain its show of unity until election day. He faces a party and a leader who is unlikely to relinquish control of Hungary without a fight.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism