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Pro-EU Dobrev leads in opposition primary to take on Hungary's Orban

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By Reuters
Pro-EU Dobrev leads in opposition primary to take on Hungary's Orban
Pro-EU Dobrev leads in opposition primary to take on Hungary's Orban   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Krisztina Than and Gergely Szakacs

BUDAPEST -Klara Dobrev, a 49-year-old lawyer, has emerged as the front-runner in a joint opposition bid to unseat Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in 2022 elections, partial results of an opposition primary showed on Thursday.

Dobrev, whose candidacy would raise the prospect of Hungary’s first female prime minister, is in a close race with Budapest’s leftist mayor Gergely Karacsony, 46, who beat the ruling Fidesz party incumbent in a major upset for nationalist Orban in the 2019 Budapest mayoral election.

Preliminary results from the first round of the primary election are expected later on Thursday.

Based on results from 70 out of 106 constituencies, Dobrev, the leftist Democratic Coalition’s candidate for prime minister who favours closer ties with the European Union, was ahead with about 34% of the votes and Karacsony was second with about 29%. However, half of the constituencies in Budapest, where Karacsony has the strongest support, are still left to be counted.

Conservative Peter Marki-Zay, mayor of a southern Hungarian city, is in third place with 21%. If no candidate wins more than 50% of votes there will be a second primary round.

Dobrev, a vice president of the European Parliament, has promised to reduce poverty and work for the adoption of the euro as soon as possible. Karacsony has also campaigned on a pro-European agenda. He has promised a more just tax system and to heal political divisions.

A patchwork of six parties that includes the Socialists, the Democratic Coalition party, liberals, and the formerly far-right Jobbik, which has redefined itself on the centre-right, has formed a united front against Orban for the 2022 parliamentary vote for the first time since he came to power in 2010.

Orban and his Fidesz party have been in power largely due to an election system that favours big parties. The fragmented opposition had been unable to join forces in the last three national elections.

This has now changed, giving hope to opposition voters who turned out in higher-than-expected numbers for the primary, with more than 633,000 people casting votes in Budapest and in 106 constituencies nationwide.

“I have come to vote as I want to oust this government … we have an unprecedented alliance of all opposition parties,” said Budapest resident Tamas Szabo at a polling station.

Opinion polls put Fidesz and the opposition coalition neck-and-neck, raising the prospect of the tightest election in more than a decade.

While Dobrev leads now, she faces a challenge: she is the candidate of a party led by her husband, former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, a deeply divisive figure who in 2006 in a leaked speech admitted that he lied about the economy to win national elections.

Orban has portrayed the opposition, especially Karacsony and Dobrev, as puppets of Gyurcsany.