Hungary News Politics & International

Klára Dobrev leads opposition race as talks between Karácsony and Márki-Zay collapse

Budapest, Hungary – The two mayors did not manage to decide which one of them should withdraw from the second round of Hungary’s opposition primaries. Klára Dobrev, Gergely Karácsony, and Péter Márki-Zay (now endorsed by Momentum) will all run in the race which makes Dobrev the frontrunner.

“I have never asked him to do so, but Péter Márki-Zay has been saying for months that he would withdraw to support me in the second round. However, in the last moment before the election, he decided the opposite. I, of course, respect his decision. As a result, we will run separately in the second round but both of us are committed to keeping and strengthening the unity of the opposition.”- posted Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony on Wednesday night on his Facebook page.

Hódmezővásárhely mayor Péter Márki-Zay told that “Polls indicate that I have a better chance of winning not only the 2022 elections but the primaries as well. It was a tough decision but all I can say is that I made it with all my heart and to the best of my knowledge and I really hope that I am not wrong.”

Talks started on Saturday between the two mayors after the first-round results of Hungary’s first-ever opposition primaries were announced. Klára Dobrev gained 34.8% of the votes, Karácsony 27.2% and Márki-Zay 20.4%. Karácsony and Márki-Zay started negotiating because they perceive Klára Dobrev as a challenger less likely to beat Viktor Orbán due to the negative approval rating of her party, DK, and her husband, former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány.

It was later announced on Saturday that the two agreed that either Karácsony or Márki-Zay will withdraw and that the two candidates will try to reconcile their manifesto commitments with one another’s. On Sunday, both candidates held events in Budapest separately. Karácsony insisted that he is the one who can take on Viktor Orbán and told the press that he would only withdraw if “he gets hit by a tram.” Meanwhile, Márki-Zay stated that he thinks he has a better chance of winning but his vanity would not get in the way if he had to withdraw.

The two met for a second round of talks on Monday in Hódmezővásárhely. After their meeting, Karácsony and Márki-Zay announced that, if elected, they would govern as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and that one would not be able to make decisions without the approval of the other.

At the time, Márki-Zay’s withdrawal also seemed likelier but the fact that they still didn’t manage to decide who should remain standing and Karácsony’s body language before and after the meeting suggested that this was far from certain.

The tables seemed to turn on Tuesday when a Medián poll was published that examined a hypothetical scenario in which all three candidates run, putting Dobrev at 37%, Márki-Zay at 33% and Karácsony at 24%. On Thursday morning Márki-Zay also referred to another poll by Závecz Research which stated that in a run-off between only two candidates, Dobrev would beat Karácsony 53%-39% and Márki-Zay 50%-43%.

Márki-Zay stated that based on these numbers, it is not him who should withdraw. The final plot twist came in the afternoon when Karácsony unexpectedly called a press conference and stated that he is certainly not going to withdraw because only he can deliver his manifesto promises, and labelled polls unreliable (since then two new polls came out which put Karácsony in front instead of Márki-Zay).

An hour later, Péter Márki-Zay said that this was an unexpected announcement because the two candidates were supposed to meet at 6pm and make an announcement on Thursday morning, but based on the polling, he would be happy to fight both Dobrev and Karácsony in the second round alone. The meeting at 6pm took place nevertheless but it was apparently fruitless.

The three-person run-off was always going to favour Klára Dobrev, who just became the frontrunner to lead the opposition’s forces in 2022. However, based on Medián’s polling, Péter Márki-Zay is not miles away from her. As Momentum just endorsed his candidacy on Thursday afternoon, he might be the best-placed candidate to stop Dobrev.

Where this leaves the former frontrunner, Gergely Karácsony remains to be seen.

By Ábel Bede

Ábel Bede was born in Budapest and has two degrees in History from Durham University. He specialised in Central Europan history and has been contributing to Kafkadesk since 2019. Feel free to check out more of his articles right here!

Coordinated by Ábel Bede, Kafkadesk's Budapest office is made up of a growing team of freelance journalists, editors and fact-checkers passionate about Hungarian affairs and dedicated to bringing you all the latest news, events and insights from Hungary.