BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – Three candidates aiming to oust right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in next spring’s elections have passed the first round of a nationwide opposition primary, the first in the history of this central European country.
The poll, which closed on Tuesday evening, gave Hungarians the opportunity to choose between five opposition candidates vying to challenge Orban in the national elections scheduled for April. The first three candidates will move on to a second round of voting which is due to start next week.
Klara Dobrev, Liberal Democratic Coalition candidate and vice-president of the European Parliament, won the most votes, with 34%, followed by center-left mayor of Budapest Gergely Karacsony, supported by the Hungarian Socialist Party and two the small green parties, with 27%.
In third place, Peter Marki-Zay, independent curator and mayor of a small town in southern Hungary, with 20%.
If elected in the spring, Dobrev, a 49-year-old lawyer and economist in favor of closer integration with the European Union, would be the first female prime minister in Hungarian history. She vowed to dismantle Orban’s political system and challenge the 2012 Hungarian constitution drafted and unilaterally adopted by her party.
“We won’t stop until we defeat Viktor Orban’s system,” Dobrev said at an event celebrating his victory on Thursday night. “We won’t stop until next April, when we can finally say that we live in a European, democratic and Hungarian republic.”
Almost 634,000 votes were cast in the one-week contest, or around 8% of the Hungarian population of voting age. Observers noted that the turnout was similar to that of the 2020 Democratic primary in the United States.
The five candidates held two televised debates before the primary, a novelty in Hungary where Orban has refused to debate with challengers since 2006.
In an online statement Thursday, Karácsony, the mayor of Budapest, said “a great victory has been achieved” thanks to the primary competition.
“Democracy won, the cause of change won, and our belief that there is room for fair debate and open competition in politics won,” he said.
In addition to the election of a candidate for the post of Prime Minister, candidates for parliamentary seats were also chosen from each of Hungary’s 106 electoral constituencies.
Dobrev’s party candidates won the most constituencies with 32, followed by the former far-right Jobbik party with 29.
The contest was part of a hard-won strategy by Hungary’s six main opposition parties to put aside ideological differences and coordinate their candidates after more than a decade of bitter losses against Orban’s Fidesz party, which holds a two-thirds majority in parliament.
Their coalition, which includes green, liberal and right-wing parties, will present a single candidate for prime minister to face Orban, and single joint candidates against the Fidesz candidate in each constituency – the only method, they say, to overcome an electoral system. written by Orban’s party which gives him an unfair advantage.
This method led to significant gains in the municipal elections of 2019, when the coalition overthrew the leadership of Budapest and most of Hungary’s major cities.
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