In their Own Words: a (second) Glimpse into … Péter Márki-Zay, Winner of the Opposition PM Primaries
Since posting the first "Glimpse" into the Mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, he has become international news by winning the opposition alliance's prime ministerial primary elections - a feat few could have believed just three weeks earlier. He is thus set to face off with current Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in next year's parliamentary elections.
Photo: Péter Márki-Zay, in Budapest after his opposition primary election victory on the evening of Sunday, 17th October. Used with permission, Szilárd Vörös, estost.net
This "In Their Own Words" is taken from the transcript of Péter Márki-Zay's meeting with the Hungarian International Press Association online meeting on 18th February, 2021
Péter Márki-Zay (introduction, continued) : Overall, I'm very proud how we've managed the finances of the city. Although we do not get any state support, and the Fidesz state is preventing many of our developments. In many cases we just need one signature, just one ok from the state, and we don't get it.
For a public procurement, we sometimes have to wait six months before they authorise a single public procurement, so that's how they want to stop us from using EU funds and developing the city. It's really outrageous, all these bureaucratic processes and administrative hindering of developments. So, this is really a fight between the Fidesz universe and Hódmezővásárhely.
Nonetheless, we still have our successes. We serve the local community, we try to preserve the local culture. People have started to volunteer and give donations. Both of my campaigns, I used micro-donations, public support, in both campaigns. And after the campaigns, I revealed all donations, without the names of the donors, of course, but every single item, it was an itemised list, I published.
I also published an itemised budget of my campaign, every single invoice that I received is public. That's pretty much unique in Hungary. I used public funding, private donations to fund my campaign, and I made a transparent account of all the funds used, where it came from and where it went.
This is a different culture. Of course, it's not independent of the fact that I lived for five years in Canada and the United States, and I think the culture there – of course, Im not saying it's perfect, as a society – but there are many things that we can and should learn from our western allies, and I think one of these things is transparency.
All procurements are public here. Anyone can come and give the best offer, and if it's a former Fidesz supporter, they can still win, and they do.
The Gypsy community, they had never won a public procurement before. Now, if they give the best price, and often times they do, then they get the jobs from the city. Regardless of political views or connections, anyone with the best price can win a public procurement tender in Hódmezővásárhely.
Journalist Question: You mentioned when you won Hódmezővásárhely twice that you had done this by succeeding in getting the vote not only of the opposition but also former disgruntled Fidesz voters.
We saw in Borsod VI district [near Miskolc – a by-election in 2019], even with your support, even with a very active Jobbik campaign, albeit with a questionable candidate,
they succeeded in getting 46-47% of the people who are against Fidesz, but, they didn't manage to win over any ex-Fidesz voters, and surely, on a national level, it's not enough, you have to reach out to disgruntled Fidesz voters.
What's your strategy for 2022, what's your advice to the rest of the opposition, whether party based, or independent, to reach former or disgruntled Fidesz voters, and prevent them from just staying at home and to actually get them to vote for an opposition candidate?
PMZ: I think that's the key. We can win, we can win any town or any village, there is no one, well, there are probably very few Fidesz strongholds where Fidesz cannot be defeated. Hódmezővásárhely would have been one of these, but with our strategy, yes you can win in any community.
What do you need for that? First of all, you need a credible candidate and a credible programme, something that is effective for everybody, and even the most – sorry to use this term – brainwashed Fidesz voter, they cannot come up with an excuse against a programme-credible candidate.
Of course, Fidesz will still use anything what you want – I have been a migration supporter, a Soros agent and anything you want – but it was not too difficult to prove that all these were lies, and somebody who is known, as I was, by 20-25% of the local population before my campaign.
I was also the president of the parents-teachers association, the PTA, in my kids' school. Of course, with seven kids, there were many other parents who met me as a fellow parent. Also, as an active church member, many from the church knew me personally. I grew up in Hódmezővásárhely, so people knew that I'm not a wrongdoer, not an evil person. So it was pretty hard, all these hate campaigns against me, they had no merit and no use.
Of course, some dedicated Fidesz voters, some of them, probably believed it, but not too many. So, all these campaigns, the smear campaigns, didn't work. And I think we need to find people who are clean and credible enough, known enough, so that such campaigns cannot work against them.
Many such candidates, for example Pál Veres, in Miskolc, the long-time director of the best secondary school in town, absolutely no smear campaign could work against him.
People know him, they know he's credible, they all trusted him. So that's one of the biggest things that we need.
And of course, party candidates, they not only carry their own past, which might not be 100% clean. Everybody has made mistakes, everybody has some enemies, even childhood enemies from the past. But, a party candidate carries the burden of the party as well, so a Jobbik candidate, for example, is very difficult to promote among the Roma population. Although I was supported by Jobbik, but ever since … you know, I've been a big supporter of the Roma community, and they have also been a big supporter of me.
OF course, there is always a part that is loyal or directed by Fidesz, Fidesz can always convince or pay some Roma activists, but not in Hódmezővásárhely.
Journalist Question (Kester Eddy): On foreign language education here in Hungary, I was shocked to hear, from a competent person, in secondary schools, on average, only 15-20% of kids leave with a B2-level foreign language qualification. So, 80 – 85% of kids fail in this area. You have seven children, I don't know what it's like in Hódmezővásárhely, but this seems to me appalling for the long-term hope of the Hungarian economy to have this kind of level of language competency. Is this a question that concerns you?
PNZ: Yes, absolutely. I think it's one of the most critical issues. In the US, although I was not a citizen, I was approached by the mayor in our little town of Newcastle, Indiana, and they asked me to become one of the two county representatives in the workforce development board of the council.
So, I had some hands-on experience in developing workforces, helping disadvantaged youths to reach their full potential on the labour market, including a conference in Indianapolis, for example, we organised for the local, disadvantaged youth, many of them, of course, with an African-American background. ...
But language is essential, I agree. English, predominantly, so we also launched a programme here which is very affordable, way below market prices, and subsidies for needy kids, again participating in the mentor programme, is also available. I also convinced members of the international community to participate, to give free, or affordable lessons, have public discourses in English. So we really try to encourage them.
... Everyone who is participating in the language programme, and achieves the B2 level, will get back the entire cost of the tuition. They will have to pay to participate, but at the end, if they pass the test, then - it's about HUF 30,000 over a period of eight months - they will get all this back.
So yes, language is important. I'm not happy with the level of language education in Hungary – I'm not happy with level of education in Hungary.