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Márki-Zay and the opposition parties: Hungary’s uneasy alliance

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Budapest, Hungary – Today I will take a look at several opinion pieces that have something worthwhile to say about the situation that has developed in the Hungarian opposition with the surprising victory of Péter Márki-Zay, a man without a party of his own.

Péter Krekó, the executive director of Political Capital, a Budapest-based think tank, made an unfortunate remark to Euronews when he compared Márki-Zay to Donald Trump as “a non-party player who says new and surprising things, who comes out of nowhere and goes against the conventional political logic.” This comparison even crept into MZP’s otherwise excellent CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour.

An unlikely challenger, Péter Márki-Zay faces numerous challenges

Still, as Péter Pető, editor-in-chief of 24correctly pointed out, although the two men have nothing in common politically, their success was based on similar cultural experiences. Márki-Zay’s “anti-corruption populism and radicalism created the possibility of rebellion against party elites, the ossified structures and the old divisions, and created a new experience of community.”

Judit Windisch of HVG predicted tension within the ranks of the opposition. “While party representatives have announced unequivocally that they will back the winner […] the last week and a half suggests that it will not be so easy,” especially since MZP’s first announcement after his victory was that “we also changed the opposition today.”

Although he claimed to have “a coalition of the pure” behind him, he is not in an easy position because the two strongest parties, DK and Jobbik, may have reservations about his agenda. And MZP has suggested in other comments that the coalition parties are not in fact all that pure.

Albert Gazda of 444, while stressing that if the election were held today Márki-Zay with the opposition parties behind him would likely win the race, the problem is that the contest will take place in six months. In his view, “in [MZP’s] endless speeches… it is very easy to say things – especially on current human rights issues – that could alienate some of the more populous subcultures of a heterogeneous audience.”

Moreover, Márki-Zay shouldn’t forget that, although he won over the leading lights of the opposition parties in the primaries, the parties will still have the upper hand in the future. He will have to deal with those on the left who didn’t vote for him in the primaries in addition to the undecided voters and even those “with whom Fidesz has a cozy relationship and whom it relies on most of all.” That is quite a task.

A make-or-break candidate?

Zsolt Kerner of 24 wrote an article titled “What about those who do not want to change the opposition?” MZP’s victory is seen by most of the political elite, and by MZP himself, as a change of the opposition, in which an outsider emerged victorious. More than 200,000 new voters turned out in the second round of the primaries, but the turnout was only slightly higher than in the first round, which means that almost 200,000 voters stayed at home.

Kerner suspects that these were supporters of Gergely Karácsony and Péter Jakab. Thus, what happened is not the replacement of the old opposition but a shift in the center of gravity. Kerner notes that, in the last 12 years, voters as well as politicians have forgotten what the word compromise means. A revival of the art of compromise is the only way to ensure the unity of the opposition, because a break in cohesion may mean the end of any hope of defeating the Orbán regime.

On October 26, Daniel Hegedus, Transatlantic Fellow for Central Europe at the German Marshall Fund of the Unites States, wrote an article in Transitions titled “Hungary’s opposition picks a wild card,” in which he describes Márki-Zay as “a fresh face in Hungarian politics [which] could mobilize turned-off voters and beat Fidesz. Or destroy the opposition coalition.” Hegedus praises the work of the six parties which managed to hammer out a workable coalition and also managed, for the first time in years, to dominate the media throughout September and October.

While the primaries were a success, “it remains to be seen whether Márki-Zay will turn out to be a blessing or a curse for the opposition.” On the positive side, “his anti-establishment credentials and right-conservative values” might help him to mobilize undecided voters, but at the same time it may represent a wedge between him and the parties without whose support he may be powerless.

At issue are “his frequent attacks on the ‘old opposition,’ his claim to be an outsider critical of both Orbán and Hungary‘s opposition party elites, and most importantly, his unpredictability and keenness to build a power base (a political faction and potentially a new party) for himself.”

Hungarian opposition’s unity hangs in the balance

Hegedus outlines several possibilities following Márki-Zay’s entrance onto the national political scene. If his popularity keeps rising, his desire to carve out a power position at the cost of the six opposition parties will grow, which might influence his day-to-day dealings with the party leaders.

Hegedus thinks that MZP’s demand to have his own political group “amounts to a threat to try and poach opposition candidates in the 106 single-mandate constituencies, just over half the total of 193.” With such demands, he is giving the impression that he is more interested in his own career than in beating Fidesz.

If support for the opposition rises with MZP as the prime ministerial candidate, all is well. But if support for the opposition decreases and Márki-Zay keeps attacking the old opposition parties, “the united anti-Fidesz forces could collapse, or abandon MZP.”

Here is one early sign that party leaders might find Márki-Zay’s style not exactly to their liking. The criticism came from Péter Jakab, chairman of Jobbik, the party MZP had hoped to be his greatest supporter. Jakab objected to MZP’s use of the first-person singular pronoun when he said in one of his speeches that “I am your last hope.” Jakab retorted that when there is opposition unity, it is not “me,” it is “us.” “It is not ‘I am the solution,’ it is ‘we are the solution.’”

Jakab also said: “I’m glad that someone is not PC and is outspoken, in this we are similar. What makes us different is our willingness to compromise.” Jakab thinks that “he still has to learn that.” Jakab especially objected to MZP’s constant references to “changing the opposition,” when what it is all about is “the experience of unity.” He made it clear to Peter Márki-Zay that “no one has replaced the opposition.” Yes, “this opposition has changed, but this opposition must now be led, and this opposition must be praised.”

For someone who for years has unjustly equated Fidesz’s systemic corruption with the allegedly equally corrupt MSZP, it will be difficult to follow Jakab’s advice.

By the Hungarian Spectrum, an official Kafkadesk partner.