“I think it’s very important that opposition parties work together for the purpose of ending the intimidation and corruption so that Fidesz can be ousted on April 8th. . . . The desire for change is so great that it provides an opportunity to unite the nation. . . When a country robs a child of their youth and their future, that is a tragedy far greater than Trianon.” – Péter Márki-Zay, Mayor, Hódmezővásárhely
Hódmezővásárhely mayor Péter Márki-Zay is new to Hungarian politics, but his stunning win in the mayoral by-election in February proved that an independent is capable of being elected in a Fidesz stronghold. Since winning in the southern Hungarian city, he has used his newfound celebrity status to encourage opposition parties to employ the same strategy that got him elected.
His message and strategy is simple. Voters get two votes: one for a candidate to represent their electoral district, another for a national party list. Voters should vote whichever party is closest to the hearts, but for the candidate with the best chance to defeat Fidesz. He’s not alone in this. Numerous civil organizations, former politicians, academics and businessmen are encouraging voters to employ this strategy because it dramatically reduces the likelihood that the opposition vote splits. As things stand, if many voters adopt this strategy and turnout is high, there is a chance of denying the Fidesz-KDNP political alliance a parliamentary majority, and even the ability to form a government.
Yesterday, Márki-Zay appeared alongside Common Country Movement and So Long Two-Thirds to unveil a list of 53 electoral districts where they have identified the most likely opposition candidate to win. He is doing all this on top of his work at the Márki-Zaycity city hall — a place that has turned into a fierce battleground between him and the Fidesz-KDNP-majority city council.
In an interview published Thursday by 444.hu, Márki-Zay admitted that he is catching flak from locals about his newfound national celebrity status. In particular, there are those who think his self-proclaimed responsibility to encourage opposition parties to cooperate on the joint fielding of candidates may be detracting from his day job.
“My mayoral responsibilities take up at least 8, but more like 10 to 12 hours of my day,” he says. “My side job, my job for society, is to encourage parties to cooperate with one another. I think it’s very important that opposition parties work together for the purpose of ending the intimidation and corruption so that Fidesz can be ousted on April 8th. I’m afraid that if this cooperation doesn’t happen, if this proves to be unsuccessful, the best we can achieve is relative success, that is, Fidesz won’t have two-thirds.” He says he cannot in good conscience turn his back on the important task of ousting Fidesz in the upcoming general election.
When asked about tools he recommends others should use in their campaign, Márki-Zay says Facebook Live has been an effective means of drawing attention to his work. More importantly, he adds: “The key is to cooperate with and be open to people who have different values. The desire for change is so great that it provides an opportunity to unite the nation.”
His openness toward others and ability to cooperate served him well in his own campaign.
“There was a daily cooperation in our campaign [between Jobbik and MSZP]. The presidents of Jobbik and MSZP’s local chapter, along with a leftwing citizen, were my campaign staff. The four of us embodied the collaboration that led to victory.”
Minister Overseeing the Office of the Prime Minister János Lázár recently accused Márki-Zay of wanting to be prime minister, an accusation that Márki-Zay dismisses as a “Lázárism.”
“That [accusation] was a Lázárism. Lázár accused me of wanting to be prime minister. As far as I know, he’s the one who wanted to be prime minister but he’s managed to sully his own reputation so much that I really don’t think he has a chance. And I still don’t consider myself a national politician.”
A tragedy far greater than Trianon
When asked about his recent statement that another four years of Fidesz would lead to another Trianon, Márki-Zay reaffirmed his position.
“I wasn’t exaggerating. As the father of seven kids, I think the country’s situation is absolutely tragic. When Viktor Orbán threatened the opposition during his speech on the national holiday, I took that as something that was also targeted at me. I have no doubts – especially knowing János Lázár’s vengeful nature – that he will do everything to put me in an impossible situation, make accusations, or try to put me behind bars. I feel like this has a direct impact on my own future but that’s not what I was referring to. I used these big words to describe my fears for the future of this country. 600,000 young people live abroad, and research shows that many hundreds of thousands more plan on leaving. If the country is not heading in the direction of European Christian values, it’s heading in the direction of Putin and Erdogan, and that means these people will never come home. Those Hungarian children that are being born abroad will never be Hungarians. When a country robs a child of their youth and their future, that is a tragedy far greater than Trianon,” he says.
When asked whether he isn’t afraid that if Hungary’s opposition were to form a coalition and form a government it would be so fragile that Fidesz could just crush it and return to power stronger than ever, Márki-Zay says the following:
“We must cook with what we have.”
“The candidates are a given, we can’t change them. The best we can do in this situation is to pursue the lesser bad. As an optimistic person, I think something good can come out of this situation. Orbán really did unite the nation, not behind himself, but against him, and this situation presents us with an enormous opportunity. But it also places a huge responsibility in the hands of the opposition’s leaders. We can turn Hungary into an amazing, successful European country, where it’s good to live, a place to which young people want to return. We have huge opportunities ahead of us if the opposition can find common ground: democracy, the market economy, the rule of law, a commitment to the European Union — all of this can happen.
“They say, especially in Fidesz, that the mood is to oust the opposition. Personally, I believe that the desire for system change is so great in the Hungarian nation right now, and the desire to build up a better system is so great, that if the system change comes without the cooperation of the opposition, then there will be a new opposition after the election. On April 8th, this country is either going to get new government or a new opposition. In any case, that will be a big day,” Márki-Zay says.
Commenting further on the state of the opposition, he adds: “There are people [who want to build a new opposition]. I was not involved in politics earlier either. If it turns out that the opposition is inept when it comes to bringing about a system change, then [new] parties will come from the right and the left who will be willing take the task upon themselves.”
“There is a huge desire for people on the right and the left to come together on core issues for the purpose of building a common country.”
Márki-Zay also addressed the situation of disillusioned conservative voters who want change: “There is a vacuum [in the political space] for voters such as myself. I would like a Fidesz that doesn’t steal, a Fidesz whose leaders don’t have castles, a Fidesz that hasn’t let in 50,000 migrants for money since 2010. By condemning their hate propaganda, I would like to call attention to their corruption and their lies. What Fidesz is doing today is the exact opposite of rightwing Christian conservative values. Disillusioned Fidesz supporters like me are looking for a party capable of representing our values.”
When asked about his appearance alongside activists and public personalities at yesterday’s press conference, Márki-Zay said that both István Elek and Péter Ákos Bod are men whose values “are worthy of respect.”
“When people ask me who I think would be the best person to serve as a caretaker prime minister, I usually say Péter Ákos Bod. But I was also able to work well with the Hódmezővásárhely chapter president of the Socialist party, who also supports my work in the mayor’s office, and I think that Hungary needs to unite. I believe that Márton Gulyás and I share core values, even if we have different ways of fighting for a system change.
“There is a huge desire for people on the right and the left to come together on core issues for the purpose of building a common country. If we can restore the core values – democracy, market economy, rule of law, and the commitment to the EU – today’s opposition parties can return to battling each normally because there will be democratic competition. Right now, however, to do this we will have to return to 1990 when this type of unity existed.”