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Outsider Marki-Zay to stand against PM Orban in 2022 after winning run-off


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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Mayor of Hodmezovasarhely and conservative opposition candidate for prime minister, Peter Marki-Zay, leader of independent civic political initiative “Everyone’s Hungary Movement” speaks at a campaign rally during the second round of the oppos

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By Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Small-town conservative Peter Marki-Zay, a political outsider with no party affiliation, will go head-to-head with Prime Minister Viktor Orban next year for leadership of Hungary after winning an opposition run-off primary on Sunday.

Marki-Zay defeated leftist Klara Dobrev, who on Sunday pledged to support him at the head of an alliance of six opposition parties that will bid to oust Orban after more than a decade in power in next year’s parliamentary election.

“I wish him a lot of strength … in our effort to unseat Viktor Orban and then dismantle his regime,” Dobrev told a news conference.

Marki-Zay’s family-man image and Christian faith could appeal to swathes of undecided voters, both in the countryside and Budapest, making him a tough competitor for Orban.

With 60% of votes counted in the primary and final results due later on Sunday, Marki-Zay’s lead appeared unassailable. He had 230,112 votes to the Democratic Coalition’s Dobrev’s 167,060.

“We can only win together,” Marki-Zay told cheering supporters, with his wife and seven children standing behind him. “No one can break the unity of the opposition.”

“This was a battle, but we have to win the war as well,” he said, referring to the 2022 election.

COALITION OF ‘THE CLEAN’

For the first time since he came to power in 2010, Orban will face a united front of opposition parties that also includes the Socialists, liberals and the formerly far-right, now centre-right, Jobbik.

Opinion polls show Orban’s ruling Fidesz party and the opposition alliance running neck-and-neck.

Marki-Zay, 49, has portrayed himself as a palatable choice for both left-wing and conservative voters.

He said he and Dobrev had agreed ahead of the race that keeping the opposition united was vital.

Marki-Zay, who has degrees in economics, marketing and engineering, rose to prominence when he won a mayoral contest in 2018 in his southern hometown, Hodmezovasarhely, a Fidesz party stronghold.

He has campaigned on leading a coalition of “the clean”, promising to root out corruption and end 30 years of deep divisions in politics and society.

Both candidates are looking to dismantle what they describe as Orban’s “illiberal state”, including its ideological foundations, Hungary’s constitution and a raft of new laws that critics say have helped Orban cement his grip on power.

While Orban thrives on conflict and has had a series of disputes with the European Union, both Marki-Zay and Dobrev are looking to improve relations with Brussels. They are also in favour of Hungary adopting the euro in the foreseeable future.

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