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5th Feb 2023

New Hungarian opposition head seeks Orbán 'regime change'

  • Péter Márki-Zay told press in Brussels "'we will have to start from scratch' rebuilding the rule of law in Hungary (Photo: Eszter Zalan)
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Hungary's new united-opposition leader, Péter Márki-Zay, said Hungary will need a new constitution, democratic and based on the rule of law, and plans to have a referendum on a new constitution as soon as possible - if elected next April.

Márki-Zay was on a three-day visit to Brussels after - in a surprise win in unprecedented opposition primaries last month - he secured the mandate to head a unified opposition challenge to prime minister Viktor Orbán in the general election next April.

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The 49-year old met six commissioners during his three-day visit to Brussels, including commission vice-president Vera Jourova, responsible for values, and top MEPs from several parliamentary groups.

It is the first time that opposition parties from the far-right to the left have united behind a single candidate - who himself does not have a party - to defeat Orbán.

They have to best chance for victory in a decade, as Orbán's Fidesz party and the united opposition are currently polling neck-and-neck.

Márki-Zay is a Christian-conservative small-town mayor, father of seven, who in 2018 first garnered national attention when led the first locally-united opposition to victory and defeated the local Orbán-ally candidate in a Fidesz stronghold.

He warned winning in 2022 will be an uphill battle, as Orbán's moves to redraw constituencies, stifle free media, erode the independence of the judiciary, and "unlimited" financial resources, all favour the illiberal incumbent.

"I believe we can win, it is not going to be easy," Péter Márki-Zay told press in Brussels, wearing a blue ribbon as a symbol of fight against rampant corruption under Orbán's rule.

'Regime change'

Márki-Zay plans to throw out Orbán's 2011 Basic Law, and replace it with a new constitution.

He previously raised eyebrows for not ruling out law-making by a simple majority, if the opposition wins, to replace laws passed by a two-thirds majority under Orbán's Fidesz.

"We don't need need a two-thirds majority to state that many of the things he [Orbán] did were unconstitutional to begin with," he said.

"You cannot defeat Orbán if you accept his rules," Márki-Zay said, adding that they will accept the rules until the election - because they have no choice.

"There will be no democratic, free-and-fair elections in Hungary. Because in Orbán's system this will be not democratic, not free and not fair. But we still believe we have a chance defeat him on his own turf, in his own system," he said.

"The only change that makes sense is a radical change," he said, adding that "the only chance we have to survive after a victory if we disregard Orbán's rules, if we declare them invalid."

"We have to restore the values, we have start it from scratch. Nazi crimes cannot be prosecuted according to Nazi law," Márki-Zay said.

"We are talking about regime change, not a government change," he said.

Left-Right balancing act

Marki-Zay meanwhile has the daunting task of holding together a six-party alliance.

He not only needs to mobilise leftwing voters who feel uncomfortable with his conservatism, but also galvanise support from undecided or disillusioned Fidesz voters.

He said the six parties agree on core values: democracy, rule of law, a market economy, and European integration.

He said they are working on a joint opposition programme that will address the "legitimate demands of greens, socialist, conservatives alike".

Once a Fidesz-voter himself, Márki-Zay said he became more and more upset by Orbán's party's populism, betrayal of Western values, and corruption.

"We have a joint opposition programme, leftwing and conservative voters support the same programme, it is not my personality that matters," he said of leftwing voters, adding "if they want to replace Orbán, they will have to support me."

He plans to establish an anti-corruption agency, and have Hungary join the European Public Prosecutor's Office. He also promises to introduce the euro.

Marki-Zay said Orbán was right to build a fence at Hungary's southern border to keep illegal migrants out, adding that his government will keep it in its place. He also backs Orbán's effort to make legislation slimmer.

At the same time the Fidesz government allowed 20,000 people into the EU with "citizenship bonds", which included Russian criminals and Islamists, for profit, Márki-Zay argued.

"Orbán is a security risk to Europe," he added.

He also promised to scrap the latest anti-LGBTIQ legislation of the Orbán government, and said he supported gay marriage.

Márki-Zay said he plans to build a Hungary based on love and tolerance and acceptance.

He said the Orbán targets vulnerable communities and runs "hate campaigns just like in the Nazi and communist regimes".

Asked what happens if he loses next April, he said: "We will continue fighting".

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