Unlike Orbán, the new leader of the united opposition is an actual conservative. Whether he can keep the opposition together is anyone’s guess.
Péter Márki-Zay is somewhat of a dark horse in Hungarian politics. He has no party behind him – but he has scored one of the biggest victories against Orbán in February 2018, running for mayor and proving that a united opposition can beat Orbán’s party even in the most loyal Orbánist district.
The opposition didn’t have time to put the new lessons into practice before the 2018 general elections that followed two months later. It has been the most suspicious election in Hungarian democratic history that brought Orbán yet another damaging supermajority – something that should not even exist.
Ever since then, the work for the opposition has been obvious: to unite. In the pursuit of that goal they started a new tradition, a joint primaries, that proved to be an unexpected success. And the one who was tipped to become their shared candidate in 2022 was Gergely Karácsony, the soft-spoken green mayor of Budapest. But Márki-Zay managed to convince him to step down before the second round of the opposition primaries and let Márki-Zay win the candidacy at record participation.
The move has surprised and shocked everyone – not least Fidesz’ war machine. Fidesz has been pivoting after Márki-Zay’s victory, since their campaign has been designed to target long-ago prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány (and through him his wife) and Karácsony. But not Márki-Zay.
It looks like Fidesz’ war machine will not steer and they will simply try to smear Márki-Zay with the same tools (that he, too, is Gyurcsány’s man) even though that is nonsense.
Márki-Zay’s potential candidacy took another group by surprise: Hungarian journalists. It took them a week to start dropping profiles on him – and since those are my only sources, too, I will link them here:
The American dad against the entire Hungarian political elite – Who is Péter Márki-Zay? by 444 (25 October 2021)
Péter Márki-Zay: From guest worker with seven children to challenging Orbán by Telex.hu (17 October 2021)
Péter Márki-Zay, the visionary by Jelen, 8 October 2021
The most important takeaways:
- Conservative, cosmopolitan, social liberal, pro-market.
- He has solid conservative and Christian credentials (both Catholic and Protestant), having been a practicing religious man with seven children and working as a civilian in local churches.
- A Fidesz voter until around 2006 – after which he grew disillusioned due to the populist politics of Orbán. As early as 2006, he grew disillusioned that Fidesz’ election campaign was built on the message: we are living worse than four years ago – bashing the government but not offering anything better. (Fidesz lost the 2006 elections, although Orbán refused to accept it.) Today Márki-Zay has no nice words to say about Orbán’s subsequent autocratic turn.
- Hoarder of degrees. Has degrees in economics, political science and engineering and speaks fluent English. His wife a physicist and a midwife.
- He spent five years working in the US and Canada between 2004 and 2009, one of their children was born there.
- Worked his way up from door-to-door sales and lugging furniture to a management role in corporate marketing.
- The US has profoundly shaped his views. He expressed admiration for the American attitude of private initiative, of charitable work, and of not expecting the state to take care of everything. He encourages travel and foreign experience to everyone – but also to return after it.
- While remaining religious in his own way, he is liberal in social issues, cosmopolitan and praises diversity without having any visible political benefit from it.
- He praised the American democratic system of checks and balances that thwarted even Trump’s attacks. Expressed elation that an African American president was elected and studied the campaigns of John McCain, Clinton and Obama up close.
- An acolyte of pure American values that the US Republicans claim to represent (very unconvincingly). He is not critical though and doesn’t approve of American health insurance system, for example.
- He worked in the actual private sector – an absolute rarity in Hungarian politics – both in the US and in Hungary.
- Upon his return to Hungary he was offered to participate in Fidesz’ cronyist giveaway, but he was repulsed by the corruption of the local political elite so he took yet another private sector job.
- He moved even within Hungary – a hugely unusual thing, and possibly an asset at the elections.
- Religious, not political religionists – unlike Orbán. Doesn’t appear to be a fundamentalist, but bends religion to his values instead. Considered becoming a monk (and his wife a nun) before they’ve met. Defines God as love.
- Calls for a “love campaign”, versus Orbán’s hate campaigns – confusing absolutely everyone on every side – and believes that people are fundamentally good.
- But that doesn’t stop him to be edgy in his communication against Orbán. Most controversially he bashed Orbán’s anti-gay propaganda by calling out gay Fidesz politicians and implying that Orbán’s son is also gay.
- Has a messianic attitude, claims to have entered politics based on a vision. But not a vision of Jesus or a burning bush, he doesn’t take the Bible literally, just a personal revelation. His messianic vision may be an asset in the mud of the coming campaign – but also a liability in the long run.
- He is popular with youth and voters who are tired of parties because he came from outside of the political elite (has no party himself) and lacks the stale, repulsive reputation of party establishments both on government and in opposition – Orbán being the definition of political establishment. But having no party might become an issue if he cannot cooperate with established opposition parties.
- He is neither Gyurcsány, nor Orbán, and that is a breath of fresh air in this country.
- He appears to charm everyone in person as intelligent and clean. He has he confidence of the uncorrupted. But both intelligence and not being corrupt are usually a liability in politics. So we will see.
Finally, in his interview on Amanpour on CNN Márk-Zay turned the tables on Orbán on issues like migration (pointing out that Orbán allowed massive immigration of favored cronies in his residency program) and Christianity (pointing out that “there is nothing Christian about Orbán“, he started in the communist youth movement, then he turned into liberal and pro-EU, and now he is illiberal and pro-Putin. Also, “there is nothing Christian about corruption“.)