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Karácsony quits Hungary’s opposition primary race in favour of Péter Márki-Zay

Karácsony quits Hungary’s opposition primary race in favour of Péter Márki-Zay

This marks the end of a week-long cat-and-mouse game between the two contenders who had to face Klára Dobrev in the second round

Today, Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony announced at a joint press conference with Péter Márki-Zay that he would withdraw from the opposition’s primary race and support his Hódmezővásárhely counterpart and leader of Hungary for All Movement in the second round. He also asked the parties and organizations that had nominated him (Párbeszéd, LMP and MSZP) to do the same.

A Tale of Two Mayors

The surprising U-turn came after a protracted cat-and-mouse game between the two contenders for the position of a joint challenger to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the forthcoming general elections next April.

In the press conference which was aired directly on Karácsony’s Facebook page, the Mayor of the capital said the big question is whether Hungary will remain a democratic state under the rule of law or become something akin to Eastern dictatorships. Péter Márki-Zay responded, saying that he shares the same goal and will continue in alliance with Gergely Karácsony. As a token of gratitude, he announced that he would join Karácsony's Párbeszéd movement, writes Szeged.hu, summarizing the speeches.

Péter Márki-Zay praised the Democratic Coalition’s Klára Dobrev, front-runner in the first round, as a politician with incredible diligence and ability. Proof of this, he said, was her best-of-all campaign which enabled the DK candidate to win 214 thousand out of 634 thousand votes cast in the first round. However, he again voiced his and Karácsony's doubts that Dobrev will be able to challenge Viktor Orbán given that the entire propaganda machine of the Fidesz government will be turned against her.

Dobrev is wife of Hungary’s Socialist ex-PM Ferenc Gyurcsány, blamed for the country’s economic collapse in 2008 which brought Fidesz back to power. The government, which describes the opposition primary as a “circus” orchestrated by Gyurcsány, claims that his Stop Gyurcsány! campaign has already gathered over a million signatures.

Cat-and-mouse game

Initially, Gergely Karácsony and Péter Márki-Zay agreed that one of them must step back, because the risk of Klara Dobrev winning the run-off is too high if three candidates remain in the race. Later on, Karácsony pressured Márki-Zay to resign, portraying himself as the more politically experienced of the two. He even offered his opponent the post of deputy prime minister after an eventual election victory.

Márki-Zay in turn imposed three conditions (adoption of the Euro, preservation of Fidesz’s tax system and holding Orbán accountable) with Karácsony disagreeing on the first two. The attempt of the two candidates to run side-by-side instead of being listed under each other also hit a snag, as the Civil Electoral Commission said that the rules cannot be changed during the elections.

What broke the deadlock was polls showing that Peter Márki-Zay trailed behind Klára Dobrev by a small margin, while Karácsony stayed distant third. Anyway, the Budapest mayor garnered most of his votes in the first round from capital districts, and not all of them. The tripping point was András Fekete-Győr’s announcement that Momentum would stand behind Péter Márki-Zay.

Péter Jakab, the president of Jobbik, had already stated that his party would not support anyone now to avoid influencing the right-wing voters in the second round. Commentators, however, have pointed to Jobbik and DK colluding in some districts in the first round.

Second round from 10 to 16 October

The second round will be held from 10 to 16 October. People can again vote online and in-person. There is an important change, however, as now the whole country will be treated as one constituency.

This allows everyone to vote in person wherever they want, regardless of their permanent address. The opposition parties have agreed that they will stand united behind the person who wins the primary in the build-up to the parliamentary elections next spring.

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