“Never before have I worked in a workplace where I had people around me who had stolen so much public money!”
“You cannot decide things from a nice, air-conditioned room in Budapest. You need a lot of work. You need people willing to build things up from the bottom. . . . We need to find a lot of people who are willing to put in the work, and this can easily be won.”
– Zoltán Kész, independent member of parliament
Zoltán Kész wants to bring about fundamental change to the political setting of Hungary. Born and raised in the western city of Veszprém, the 41-year-old, father of two was elected to parliament as an independent in February 2015. Previously, he taught English and history, serving as a Fulbright exchange teacher in southern California in 2001. In addition to authoring five language books, he worked as a sports commentator.
Realizing that “students are not taught about economics, money, and how to handle their economic affairs”, in 2010 Kész and two friends founded the Free Market Foundation, which publishes articles and provides lectures about free market capitalism. He has delivered speeches on cronyism and the spread of the extreme right in Hungary in 20 countries.
Kész says that it was through his work with the Free Market Foundation that he came to be well known in Veszprém. After speaking at a demonstration he helped organize in November 2014, Kêsz decided to run for parliament in the February 2015 by-election as an independent candidate.
Kész attributes his victory over the Fidesz-KDNP candidate to the fact that people were fed up with the governing party’s two-thirds parliamentary majority and the present-day party system.
“It is not enough to be the alternative candidate,” says Kész. “You have to work”. He and supporters did so continuously for three months, visiting 24 villages on 24 different occasions in addition to campaigning in Veszprém.
He says the “willingness to go down to the villages, talk to people, communicate and represent them is what true democracy is about”, and that the Veszprém and Tapolca by-elections of early 2015 “perfectly show the state of Hungarian politics”.
Kész says Hungarians are not inherently racists, and the reason the radical right-wing Jobbik candidate won the Tapolca by-election was because ”people voted for the candidate that had not been corrupted before”. He believes that had there been an independent candidate such as himself willing to work hard, that person could have won.
“There needs to be alternatives to MSZP and Fidesz, which have been discredited from corruption,” says the independent MP.
Kész says he devoted the first three months in parliament to learning the ropes. He says that as an independent MP his role is limited, but he remains confident he can fulfill the nine promises he made to voters. He says that in the absence of party discipline he can vote the way he, his colleagues and his voter base feel.
On the subject of the 2018 general elections, Kész says the goal is not simply compiling a list of 105 candidates, but “changing the whole political setting of Hungary … You cannot decide things from a nice, air-conditioned room in Budapest. You need a lot of work. You need people willing to build things up from the bottom … We need to find a lot of people who are willing to put in the work, and this can easily be won.”