Conservative Catholic Wins Hungary’s Opposition Primaries For Prime Minister
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News reporting from Budapest, Hungary
(Worthy News) – After winning Hungary’s first-ever primaries, a conservative Catholic mayor has become the opposition’s prime ministerial candidate.
Péter Márki-Zay will challenge the country’s hardline nationalist Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, in parliamentary elections expected in April.
He won after a difficult race in which all six opposition parties, ranging from left to rightwing, eventually united behind him.
His victory party in downtown Budapest had seemed impossible. But after losing the first primaries round, Márki-Zay still beat his main rival in the run-off.
The 49-year-old Márki-Zay, a practicing Catholic and father-of-seven, thanked “Hungary and Hungarians.” He also mentioned voters in the southeast city of Hódmezővásárhely, where he’s the mayor.
He defeated Klára Dobrev, a European legislator and vice president of the European Parliament.
FIRST FEMALE PREMIER
Dobrev, who was seeking to become Hungary’s first female prime minister, acknowledged her defeat. But the mother-of-three made it clear she now wants Márki-Zay to oust the increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Orbán, who’s ruled Hungary for more than a decade.
“I wish to congratulate Péter Márki-Zay wholeheartedly. Because he’s now the joint candidate for prime minister of the 6-party opposition coalition,” Dobrev told supporters surrounded by her husband and other family members.
“I wish him strength and assure him that I fully support him in every way to replace the government of Viktor Orbán and to demolish the Viktor Orbán regime.”
Márki-Zay’s victory became possible after the liberal mayor of Budapest Gergely Karácsony pulled out of the race at the last minute. Mayor Karácsony had urged his supporters to back Márki-Zay amid fears rival Dobrev would win.
National polls indicated Dobrev’s weakness was her husband, former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány.
He admitted lying in 2006 about the economy during a leaked private speech and has relentlessly attacked Orbán ever since.
ORBÁN FACING CHALLENGE
Analysts say it will be more challenging for Orbán to defeat Márki-Zay than Dobrev.
Márki-Zay is an economist and engineer who lived in the United States and Canada for five years.
However, he admitted to facing an uphill political against Orbán and complained about a lack of campaign resources. “We also expect, I will be honest, that our funding will hopefully a little bit increase,” he told reporters.
“But already outside, when I was speaking to the crowd, I asked for their support. So now that more people know and support us, I believe that our funding will also go up,” Márki-Zay added.
Márki-Zay hasn’t given up hope that the opposition will defeat Orban’s Fidesz party.
He reminded the media that he grabbed national attention in 2018 when winning the mayoral race in the 45,000-strong city of Hódmezővásárhely, a traditional Fidesz stronghold.
BEING MARKETING PROFESSIONAL
“I am a marketing professional, or at least I used to be. We have to be more efficient. It is like guerilla marketing, of course,” he told a crowded news conference.
“In Hódmezővásárhely, in my mayoral race, we were also much more efficient. There is always one effective answer to any Fidesz lie. And if you find that one sentence, it will cross borders and parties,” he said.
“That is even true in these bubbles Fidesz tries to create. But if your message is strong enough, it will get to every people in Hungary,” Márki-Zay added.
However, the Orbán government, which claims to be Christian and against “illegal Muslim migration,” has already prepared a counteroffensive.
It launched a petition called “Stop Gyurcsány! Stop Karácsony!” referencing the liberal mayor of Budapest and the former prime minister, who the government claims is still the dominant force in the opposition.
“With God’s help, we must prevent the return of the Communists,” said a man supporting the petition.
SEEKING GOD’S HELP
“With God’s help, we must prevent the return of the Communists. Otherwise, Hungary’s significant progress will come to a stand-still. These are all Communist offspring and descendants,” he stressed.
“We must be very cautious because there are many misled youth who have no idea about reality. They just press the buttons on the internet and mobile phones,” the Fidesz supporter said.
That’s music to the ears of Fidesz Communications Director István Hollik.
“Many people remember well what the Gyurcsány government did between 2002 and 2010. They don’t want to experience that kind of governance again in Hungary,” he argued.
“I believe this petition will show that a lot of us think the same. This petition is not about numbers, for us, Fidesz, it’s important to find everyone who agrees that Hungary should not return to the pre-2010 political era,” Hollik said.
The government claims more than a million people have already signed the controversial petition. And a political thriller about the era before Orbán came to power has opened in cinemas.
But Orbán faces mounting pressure about corruption and tensions with the European Union over issues such as anti-LGBTQ legislation and his government’s perceived control over most media and courts.
Polls suggest he could still win, though with a much smaller parliamentary majority. But there are still months to go until voters decide who will eventually rule this divided EU nation.
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