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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

In their Own Words: a Glimpse into … Péter Márki-Zay, co-founder Everybody's Hungary Movement (MMM)

Updated: Oct 16, 2021

Márki-Zay, 49, and an economist, marketing specialist and electrical engineer, is also Mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, a town in south-east Hungary with a population of 45,000.

Photo: Péter Márki-Zay, in campaign mode - with the simple (if not so very innovative) slogan "Vote for Péter Márki-Zay" - taken for taken from his facebook page. Péter Márki-Zay surprised many observers when he took third place in the first round of the opposition alliance's pre-election/primaries to select the common prime ministerial candidate for next spring's general election. After some determined campaigning across the country, including Budapest, he won just over 20% of the vote, trailing second-placed Gergely Karácsony by some seven percentage points. However, after some controversial horse trading, Karácsony dropped out, deeming the mayor from the provinces the best person to beat Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in next year's general election. That decision also also pits the conservative Márki-Zay against the first-round winner, social democrat Klára Dobrev, in the second and final round of the opposition primaries. Márki-Zay burst onto national political scene when he won the mayoral by-election in 2018 for his home town of Hódmezővásárhely, which had previously been viewed as a Fidesz stronghold. Quickly gaining a reputation as a “Mr Clean Hands”, he was widely regarded as probably the least divisive of the five nominees entering the prime ministerial pre-elections, acceptable to many voters on both left and right. However, his rhetoric in the past week, when he was reliably reported to have accused those Socialist politicians who declared themselves in favour of Dobrev as “traitors”, plus his haughty disparaging of the DK candidate herself, caused serious tensions within the opposition camp – the first such rift in a campaign largely notable for its goodwill on all sides. Tempers were, superficially at least, calmed on Wednesday this week when the two agreed to a “no-smear” campaign in the final days of the vote. (But then, that had been agreed and largely adhered to from the beginning of the opposition alliance.) The second round is energising opposition voters, with Klubradio reporting “a near record 96,000” having cast ballots on Thursday. Voting ends on Saturday, with the result expected on Sunday evening. This “glimpse” of Márki-Zay is taken from an online meeting with the mayor on 18th February this year, when the third wave of the Covid pandemic was accelerating.

Péter Márki-Zay (self-introduction): I'm a former voter for Fidesz. I have seven kids, I'm a conservative, I was the parish council leader in our Catholic community, the St Stephen's parish church, and up until 2010, I was a devoted Fidesz supporter. I didn't support everything, but I still believe that Hungary developed closest to the European allies the fastest during [Prime Minister] Orbán's first government, between 1998 and 2002. Of course, at that time, Orbán didn't have exclusive power, so he had to come to agreements not only with the opposition if he wanted to change the constitution, but also his allies, the MDF and Smallholders. There was three-party coalition up to 2002. I see the problem with Orbán [as] becoming the sole leader, first in his party, then on the right wing of the political spectrum, and from 2010, gradually everywhere in the country. He switched off the checks and balances, as much as they worked, [and now] he has almost unlimited power. He controls the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court. He has a big influence and the party has a big influence here even in regional courts, here in Csongrád County. They launched, I believe, about 18 court cases against me. If I remember well, in every single instance, Fidesz always won, even when the accusations were outright ridiculous and we were able to prove in three cases already which got to the Kúria – the highest court you can go to – and in all three cases which got there, they overturned the local judgement, and I won. But locally here, in the county, János Lázár [current MP and former Minister of the Prime Minister's Office] has such a big influence that it's pretty much impossible to win in court. So, the judiciary is not independent. This is one of the problems. Yes, I did manage to win this mayoral seat twice, in both cases it was 57% vs 42%, and formerly in Hódmezővásárhely, the council was two-thirds majority for Fidesz. Now we have a two-thirds majority So it was a big victory, but Fidesz did not get weaker … still with 10,000 votes, but we got 13,500. So this means that we more than doubled the opposition's former support in our city, and that's because independents, former Fidesz voters and uncertains went to vote in large numbers. [Note, Márki-Zay fails to mention of any left-wing or liberal voter support here - Ed.] Hódmezővásárhely had the largest turnout in 2019, more than 65% of eligible voters turned out to the polls. That's how we achieved such a victory here, locally. I myself, I'm a Christian, conservative, if you want, right wing. I believe in local independence, in municipal independence, checks and balances, the control of the power of the state. I'm against the unlimited centralisation which Orbán has been doing, I'm very much pro-European Union and pro-Nato. So, that's why I consider myself as right wing. I have a very strong stance against corruption, [and that] is also why we managed to win here. Mr Lazar's local government was perceived as hugely corrupt. Also we paid the highest local tax anywhere in the country, which we cancelled. So, simple households don't pay a property tax anymore. Not that I'm against property tax in general. In the US I was paying property tax, and I feel it's a very just form of taxation, but here this was one of the biggest issues. ....

Journalist Question: What is the situation with the vaccination campaign? Do you have any figures? Of course, GP doctors officially belong to the city, [but] the hospitals … anything else pretty much belongs to the state, and the state-organised healthcare, including the emergency services, ambulances everything. We were cut off from the organisation of vaccination, unfortunately, as we have been cut off from data for the last one year. So, all along, the coronavirus crisis, we have never received official information on the number of cases, the number of deaths or vaccinations in our city. All we see is county level information, nothing specific, and even that is highly inaccurate. So we see, sometimes the chaos, we try to help, we help people, but we ourselves don't get information. We also have an operative staff here, locally. The police are also participating, and two of the GPs who are also council members, they participate, a Fidesz member who is the head of our social services and head of the retirement home, she is also participating at these meetings, so we have information from our own institutions. And we get some information from the school board, which is state-owned, managed by Fidesz appointees and Fidesz members, but we still get some information on how students and teachers are affected, but nothing from the healthcare system, nothing from the hospital. People are concerned. People care about the vaccines, and there is very limited support, or none, pretty much for Chinese and Russian vaccines. Even Fidesz voters, as I see, they only trust the EU-approved vaccines.

Journalist: How do you know? Péter Márki-Zay: It's just word of mouth, it's on the street. But of course, I spend a lot of time on social media, facebook, and there is zero support for Russian and Chinese [vaccines] from the people. Diplomat Question: Could you say more on the opposition unity and preparations for elections? What is your strategy to mobilise the opposition in small towns and villages, which seem to be strongholds for Fidesz?

Péter Márki-Zay: Of course, it's a difficult question. We are facing many difficult issues, and credibility issues. But I can tell you about good examples, and it's typically Jobbik – I've never been a member of Fidesz either. I was just a Fidesz supporter - but now, as an independent, if I look at all the parties and movements in Hungary, then I can tell you that the strongest organisation in rural Hungary is Jobbik.

They have the best organisation, best campaign strategists and mobilisation experience. They are also the most efficient on facebook. So they do have a very efficient campaign organisation, which we experienced in person, of course, in Dunaújváros one year ago, and in Borsod VI, the by-election there. They are very efficient. That's the only way to do it, building a data base, absolutely legally, as they did here in Hódmezővásárhely. Jobbik was the party that supported me the most. In theory all the opposition parties helped me three years ago, in my surprise win at the by-election, but campaign tactics, communications, facebook use, mobilisation, I learned all from Jobbik and their national team that were here. We had enough activists here, we had enough financial support from donations, so I didn't receive activists or money from Jobbik, or any other party, but methods, and how to us facebook, etc, I learned from Jobbik. They have an efficient force, [but] I'm afraid that they won't use it anywhere where there is not Jobbik candidate. That's a problem. They haven't got unlimited resources, either, so of course, they will focus on those districts where the joint opposition candidate will be someone from Jobbik. But if we could learn these methods and spread this information all over the country to help, even if it's a socialist or DK candidate or an independent - this is what MMM, Everybody's Hungary Movement, will do. We try to help our independent candidates to use the best methods available. So, it is possible, but it's still difficult for the opposition, and of course we have no media.

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