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1st Jul 2022

United anti-Orban opposition pins hopes on primaries

  • MEP Klára Dobrev, vice president of the European Parliament, is so far leading the race for the prime ministerial candidacy - according to early results on Wednesday. A run-off between the top three is scheduled for later in October (Photo: European Parliament)
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Opposition activists are counting the votes cast by Hungarians in an unprecedented primary election in the country, where next April the newly-united opposition has their best chance in a decade to beat right-wing prime minister Viktor Orbán's ruling Fidesz party in the general election.

The primary election ended on Tuesday, with results for the constituencies trickling in on Wednesday (29 September) on who will stand against the Fidesz candidates across 106 constituencies.

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If required, a run-off for the prime minister candidate will be held between 4-10 October. Results are expected on Thursday.

After years of bickering and a string of losses, the opposition alliance - made up of liberal, leftist, green but also formerly far-right parties - came together last year with the aim of pushing Orbán out of power.

The parties hoped to build on their success at municipal elections in 2019, when they first used the strategy of uniting against Fidesz.

The primaries have been organised by the alliance, with voting taking place in person and online. Over 633,000 people have cast ballots, which is approximately 25 percent of all opposition votes cast in 2018. Back then, over 5.7 million voted in total.

"It is the biggest political innovation in the last decades, perhaps in the last 30 years. It is unprecedented," Robert Laszlo, an analyst with the Budapest-based think tank Political Capital told EUobserver.

"It is a good sign also that, even if slowly, the opposition parties found answers to the system in Hungary, that they are willing to work together even though there are more issues that divide them than they agree on," Robert added.

However, some cracks have become visible in the alliance. In June former far-right party Jobbik broke ranks, by voting for the anti-LGBTQ law proposed by Fidesz.

They are united, however, in accusing Orbán - who often clashes with the EU over migration and rule-of-law issues - of endemic corruption and power-grabbing since he came into power in 2010.

Robert pointed out that the primaries have an important mobilisation factor.

Voters all over Hungary who had never interacted with opposition activists now did so, and opposition parties campaigned in regions where they are often absent because of the lack of real competition against the local, dominant Fidesz candidate, he said.

"It is difficult to quantify it at this point, but this will have an invaluable impact," Robert said on mobilisation for the general election.

While four years ago, opposition parties scrambled to coordinate at the last moment, this time voters will know the opposition candidates six months before the election.

"The realisation of the need to cooperate, fielding common candidates, multiplied the chances of the opposition," Rober said, adding that the perception that there are now two large blocks, instead of a variety of quarrelling small opposition parties, will also boost opposition chances.

'Unequal' contest

The two blocks have been polling neck-and-neck.

Robert said that both in 2014 and 2018 the sum of voters who cast their ballots for opposition parties was larger than votes cast for Orbán's Fidesz - not counting the votes cast abroad.

He added that because of the specificities of the electoral law, tweaked by the Fidesz government, the governing party's overwhelming media and financial resources, the opposition parties need to win by more than just a few percentage points next year to claim victory.

The winner-takes-all system, created under Orbán, handed Fidesz powerful parliamentary "supermajorities" in 2014 and 2018, despite winning less than half of the vote.

"The conditions are not equal," Robert warned.

The five opposition prime ministerial candidates held three debates during the primaries. Their centre-stage role will give them a chance to sway undecided voters.

The mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karácsony is the candidate for a leftwing-green alliance, MEP Klára Dobrev, the wife of former socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, runs as a candidate for the Democratic Coalition.

The dark horse of the primaries could be Péter Márki-Zay, a conservative politician, who in 2018 won a mayoral by-election in the town Hódmezőváráshely, a Fidesz stronghold until then.

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