Hungary decides on challenger to face Orban next year
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Budapest (AFP) –
A conservative provincial mayor and a leftist MEP faced off in Hungary Sunday after a month-long opposition primary, with the winner set to challenge Prime Minister Viktor Orban in next year's election.
The opposition agreed for the first time to choose just one contender to oppose Orban -- as well as single candidates in each constituency to go up against his nationalist Fidesz party -- in the vote due next April.
After a first round of primaries that saw more than 600,000 people take part, Klara Dobrev of the leftist Democratic Coalition (DK) party and economist Peter Marki-Zay were the final candidates battling it out.
Marki-Zay, 49, came third in the first round but persuaded the runner-up - liberal Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony, who had been the pre-election favourite -- to withdraw and endorse him in the run-off.
A father of seven and a practising Catholic, Marki-Zay argued during the campaign that only he can appeal to both leftist voters and conservatives tired of the divisive Orban.
Marki-Zay, an economist and engineer who lived in the US and Canada for five years, grabbed national attention in 2018 when he won the mayoralty in the small city of Hodmezovasarhely.
Although the southern city had been a Fidesz stronghold for decades, Marki-Zay rallied cross-party support in what he called the blueprint for opposition success nationwide.
Despite having no party machinery or significant funding to rely on, the 49-year-old was also boosted during the primary race by support from younger voters open to his anti-elite and anti-corruption messages.
Dobrev, a vice president of the European Parliament since 2019 and vying to become Hungary's first woman prime minister, emphasised her greater experience and accused her rival of "unsuitability" for the top job.
Polls indicated the mother-of-three's weakness is her husband, former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, who admitted lying in 2006 during a leaked private speech and has been relentlessly attacked by Orban ever since.
With the backing of DK, Hungary's largest opposition party headed by Gyurcsany, Dobrev won the primary's first round but fell short of an outright majority that would have won her the candidacy without a run-off.
The primary elections were designed by a six-party opposition alliance formed last year in an effort to combat an election system that favours Orban and Fidesz.
The primaries were called an "amazing success" by organisers, mobilising over 800,000 voters over the two rounds, almost 10 percent of the electorate in the 9.8 million population EU member.
"That's a lot of people even compared to countries with a long tradition of primaries, unlike Hungary where this has never happened before," Marta V. Naszaly, a Budapest district mayor who volunteered to count votes, told AFP Sunday.
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