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Outsider Marki-Zay jumps to early lead in Hungary opposition run-off

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By Reuters
Outsider Marki-Zay jumps to early lead in Hungary opposition run-off
Outsider Marki-Zay jumps to early lead in Hungary opposition run-off   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Gergely Szakacs

BUDAPEST – Hungarian small-town mayor Peter Marki-Zay, an outsider with no party affiliation, was ahead of leftist Klara Dobrev with about a fifth of constituencies reporting in an opposition primary run-off to pick Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s challenger.

In next year’s parliamentary election Orban will, for the first time since he came to power in 2010, face a united front of opposition parties that also includes the Socialists, liberals and the formerly far-right, now centre-right Jobbik.

With four of 18 Budapest constituencies and four of 19 counties reporting on Sunday, Marki-Zay had 63,308 votes while Democratic Coalition politician Dobrev had 38,227.

Marki-Zay, who has portrayed himself as a palatable choice for both left-wing and conservative voters, held a wide lead in Budapest, while Dobrev, a lawyer and economist, had the edge in the countryside, early results showed.

The 49-year-old conservative father of seven with degrees in economics, marketing and engineering rose to prominence when he won a 2018 mayoral contest in his hometown, a ruling Fidesz party stronghold.

Both candidates are looking to dismantle what they describe as Orban’s “illiberal state”, including its ideological foundations, Hungary’s constitution and a raft of major laws, which critics say have helped Orban cement his grip on power.

While Orban thrives on conflict and has a series of running battles with the European Union, both Marki-Zay and Dobrev are looking to improve relations with Brussels and they are also in favour of Hungary adopting the euro in the foreseeable future.

“In general, Dobrev might be better positioned to keep the six diverse opposition parties united, but could also struggle to attract independent and right-leaning voters in the general election,” Andrius Tursa at think-tank Teneo said in a note.

“Meanwhile, Marki-Zay could be better positioned to challenge incumbent Viktor Orban, but his relatively low profile and limited political experience might make it difficult to keep opposition parties united behind his candidacy.”