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#Analize / Mălina Mîndruțescu

Péter Márki-Zay – Hungary’s hope

In April, two pivotal elections are coming up, that will shape the future of Europe – presidential elections in France and parliamentary elections in Hungary.

With French President Emmanuel Macron climbing up in the polls in the last few months, the polls show him winning a comfortable margin against the growing and increasingly influential far right movement.

However, as important at France’s election is, it could be argued that what is happening further east could have a much more lasting effect on how Europe will shape up to look and whether it will divide further. Autocrats are blooming in EU member states and around its borders other European countries and Russia is becoming more aggressive in asserting its sphere of influence. As the Kremlin is trying to prevent a further expansion of the Western alliance into Eastern Europe, one could say that the future of Europe is at a crossroads.

During this time, the concept of European stability and unity is being placed under threat by multiple actors and the developments in Hungary and Poland when it comes to autocratic tendencies and rule of law breaches against the European Union are setting a concerning precedent on how Europe is shaping up to be in this complex context.

In Hungary, a winning scenario for Viktor Orbán seems a dire prospect for Europe. During his 12-year reign, the leader of the far-right Fidesz party has slowly, but surely been able to dismantle democratic accountability and the rule of law in the EU member state.

With a government friendly media and popular social policies, ranging from “the conventional, low-interest family credits, to the unconventional — a zero tax band for mothers with four or more children — and most recently, a cap on the price of basic foodstuffs” polls show a comfortable support base of around 33% to 40% for Fidesz.

In addition, prime-minister Orbán’s “nationalist posturing strikes a chord with many Hungarians whose history education is focused on the perils of existence as a small nation at the crossroads of empires”, according to a CEPA analysis on the upcoming elections. With a high approval rating and an efficient rhetoric, that feeds into people’s grievances, Orbán’s political stability seems assured.


Photo source: Council of Europe


However, these considerations are not the only ones that are being taken into account and which can ensure an electoral victory for Orbán. Another important aspect is also the electoral system in Hungary. “Fidesz’s parliamentary supermajorities depend not only on these policies, but also on a mixed and gerrymandered electoral system that turns pluralities of votes into legislative supermajorities.

These are then used for near-total capture of the state, shielding those in power from the scrutiny of independent institutions and an honest electoral campaign. To have a hope of winning, opposition parties that range from cosmopolitan liberals to the far-right, must unite,” explains the CEPA analysis.

But, after far too long, the opposition has a real chance at gaining power. In October of last year, Péter Márki-Zay, the provincial mayor of Hódmezővásárhely in southern Hungary was chosen by voters to challenge Hungary’s prime minister in the election, as the head of a diverse coalition of opposition parties. “

A longtime conservative, the 49-year-old was the unexpected victor of a primary that marked the first time Hungary’s fractious opposition decided to unite around a single standard-bearer in the hope of ejecting Orbán from office,” cites Politico.

protest hungary

Photo source: Getty Images


The fact that Márki-Zay even stands a chance is very much tied to his belief system. A conservative churchgoing father of seven, he has amassed the support of six opposition parties, spanning social democrats to the former far right, who united to take on Orbán, according to a Guardian report.

Surprisingly, the loose alliance behind Márki-Zay — composed mostly of the centre left but also the right-wing Jobbik party — has been neck and neck in the polls with Orbán’s Fidesz party. Also, thanks to a pre-selection of opposition candidates in ground-breaking primaries, the opposition stands a realistic chance in single-mandate, first-past-the-post districts as well, where a plurality of votes is enough to win, according to the CEPA expert on Hungary and Eastern Europe.

Márki-Zay is also a much friendlier alternative than Orbán, as far as Brussels is concerned. He is staunchly pro-EU, speaks fluent English, French and German, and holds a doctorate in economic history. It is astonishing how he managed to guarantee the support of six opposition parties, as an outsider, while at the same keeping his distance from political tagging.


Photo source: Index


Fidesz was expecting a left-liberal candidate as the main contender, such as the mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karácsony or the leader of the Democratic Coalition, Klára Dobrev, the wife of ex-prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, a wealthy former leader who remains deeply divisive in Hungary.

It is unusual that the left and centre parties, who dominated the political opposition landscape to be led by a conservative outsider coming from the right. Thus, the Fidesz propaganda machine is not only confused, but unsure on an attack strategy – because Márki-Zay is not a liberal lefty they can attack with the usual arsenal of argument, but actually a former Fidesz voter, who became disengaged with the party because of Orbán’s leadership.

However, as much as Márki-Zay is able to rally voters and consolidate a strong opposition base, Orbán’s machine will do anything in its power to win, which could lead to unfair and unfree elections in Hungary this spring.

Hence, in the last few years, the climate has gotten significantly worse: “Orbán’s allies now control a large majority of the offline media market, as well as a public broadcaster now firmly under its control. Relentless taxpayer-funded publicity campaigns praise the government and deride the opposition. In 2021, a journalistic investigation showed that several journalists, public personalities, and at least one opposition politician were spied on with the powerful Pegasus spyware, following its purchase by the government.

Corruption, including in the prime minister’s closest circles, is rampant. For years, Hungary has held the dubious distinction of topping the list of the misuse of EU funds, compiled by the bloc’s anti-fraud office. The Prosecutor’s Office, led by an Orbán ally, cherry-picks the cases it wants to address”, says the CEPA analysis.

It may seem like a long shot, but ideological enemies have united behind Márki-Zay with one goal in mind: to take down Orbán. If the political momentum is on their side, it might just work.


Photo source: 24 HU

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