Hungarian opposition ‘forced marriage’ to depose Viktor Orbán – POLITICO

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BUDAPEST — On the campaign trail, the Hungarian opposition faces a harsh reality ahead of Sunday’s general election.

As a country often ranked As one of the least democratic countries in the EU prepares for the elections, opposition politicians drive across the country to mobilize voters against Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s powerful Fidesz party in a last-ditch effort.

In town squares and sidewalks, the Prime Minister’s opponents are resorting to old-school retail politics to try to overcome what they call a rigged system.

“It’s quite difficult to counter the brainwashing,” Péter Márki-Zay, the opposition’s joint candidate for prime minister, told POLITICO. “It’s a wonderful sign of the resilience of the Hungarian people that after 12 years of such brainwashing, we still have a chance to win.”

Uneven playing field

Ahead of the vote, the opposition has raised concerns about Hungary’s electoral system, state control of much of the media and the ruling party’s use of state resources for political campaigns.

Polls show Fidesz is currently ahead – although some are predicting a close race while others expect a big win for the Prime Minister. And while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has transformed the election campaign, Orbán’s amicable relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t undermined the prime minister’s position at home.


For more survey data from across Europe, see POLITICS poll of polls.

During a campaign stop in downtown Szolnok, Márki-Zay, a 49-year-old conservative provincial mayor, said it was necessary to speak directly to the people as the ruling party dominated the media and advertising landscape.

“The challenge,” he said, “is that we have to speak to people personally, they have to speak personally to their friends and family.”

Some voters welcomed this approach.

Sitting on a bench in the town of Mezőtúr after a Márki Zay rally, a local resident, who gave only his first name Mihály, said he was impressed by the candidate’s visit. “He’s honest,” he said. “He says what he thinks.”

But voters cannot avoid the ruling party’s own messages: streets and highways are littered with posters promoting Orbán and attacking opposition figures.

“They are dangerous! Let’s stop them! Only Fidesz!” reads a billboard that can be seen across the country, with photos of Márki-Zay and former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Fidesz and its allies spent almost eight times more on political billboards than the united opposition and well above the legal limit in March, a new publication says learn by a group of independent NGOs.

Experts say long-standing concerns about Fidesz’s use of state resources to advance its political interests have been simply ignored.

Occasionally report Published on March 11, the election observation mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights found that most of its previous recommendations for Hungary “are largely disregarded, including those relating to the misuse of administrative resources and the blurring of the roles of the state and political parties source, and transparency of campaign finance.”

Opposition politicians say they are doing their best to break an uneven playing field.

Klára Dobrev, MEP and lead candidate in the left-liberal Democratic Coalition, said she believes the current electoral system is designed to help Orbán.

“There are voters who can vote outside the country without any checks” by postal voting, while “gerrymandering has made the situation of the opposition much more difficult,” she said after a town hall rally in the Budapest suburbs, where she enthusiastically spoke to pensioners. “We don’t have the same resources,” she added.

“Nevertheless, the majority of Hungarians want a change of government,” said Dobrev, who is married to Gyurcsány, who was prime minister from 2004 to 2009. “The question is mobilization at the end of the day – whether we can give our voters enough hope and enthusiasm,” she said.

The Hungarian government has long rejected criticism of the disregard for democratic norms. A government spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

A forced marriage

Orbán’s opponents have decided that the only way to defeat him is to put aside their ideological differences and vote in elections together. Six opposition parties from across the political spectrum held their first-ever primaries in the autumn to select joint candidates.

The coalition has grappled with internal issues — distrust, competition and mixed messages from candidates — that have weakened its position, but it has formally held together and will appear as one coalition on Sunday’s ballot.

“Fidesz cheats as always – but we have united like never before,” Péter Jakab, leader of the right-wing Jobbik party, told a crowd in the southeastern city of Békéscsaba.

Jobbik began as a far-right, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic movement, but skewed to the centre-right in recent years as Fidesz moved to the far right.

Jakab, whose great-grandfather was a Jewish Hungarian murdered in Auschwitz, has sought to position the party in the mainstream by working closely with left-wing and liberal parties within the opposition alliance. However, the party’s critics say its transformation is far from complete as it still has members who have a track record of racism.

In Békéscsaba, the Jobbik leader underscored the need for unity across ideological lines – while acknowledging differences within the opposition alliance.

“Unity is far stronger than deceit, stronger than threats… stronger than potatoes, if you will!” said Jakab, eliciting laughter by pointing out the (illegal) practice of handing out food against votes.

On Sunday, voters can tick two boxes to fill the 199-seat parliament: a constituency representative and a national party list — while voting in a contentious anti-LGBTQ+ referendum. Jakab urged the crowd to vote for the united opposition – led by Márki-Zay and including representatives of the Six Party Alliance – for their party list.

“It’s possible to like Péter Márki-Zay or not,” Jakab told the crowd. “But one thing is really, really not possible now: to vote for others,” he said, adding: “Whoever doesn’t vote for Péter Márki-Zay will keep Viktor Orbán in power.”

In Budapest, Anna Donáth, MEP and leader of the centrist Momentum party, said she always asks her voters “when they come to complain” about their campaigning with Jobbik or socialist candidates: “’Do you like the government? Do you want them still governing by two-thirds? [majority]?’ Of course they hate it more.”

Donáth, a 34-year-old third-generation Hungarian politician, was speaking after a rally in the capital where she ran alongside Márki-Zay and other opposition candidates.

“It’s a forced marriage, to be honest, we all know that,” she told POLITICO. “That doesn’t mean we can’t be civilized, and it doesn’t mean we can’t find common ground.” Hungarian opposition 'forced marriage' to depose Viktor Orbán - POLITICO

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