An independent candidate backed by opposition parties scored a stunning upset at a mayoral by-election in the town of Hodmezovasarhely, a Fidesz stronghold, on February 25, in a vote widely perceived as a dress rehearsal for the April 8 general election. Peter Marki-Zay, a political outsider won by a whopping 16pps, garnering 57% of the votes with the voter turnout exceeding 61%, an all-time record in a mayoral race.
Opposition parties hailed the victory of the independent candidate. The results will strenghten calls for stronger cooperation by the fragmented opposition as the one-round election system clearly favours the incumbent party, analysts said.
The south-eastern town of Hodmezovasarhely has been the bastion of the ruling Fidesz party since 1990, where opposition parties never had a chance of even coming close to the rightwing incumbents. Christian Democrat Andras Rapcsak, who was mayor of the town of 45,000 for three terms, won with 78% of the vote in 1994.
Janos Lazar, who is now head of the Prime Minister's Office and is considered the second most powerful man after Viktor Orban himself, succeeded him until 2014 when he chose a government job, leaving behind the post of mayor. The by-election was announced in November after the death of mayor Istvan Almasi.
Peter Marki-Zay, a 45-year economist, and a father of seven, lived in the United States and Canada for five years and moved back to his hometown in 2009. In interviews, he described himself as a conservative and a disenfranchised Fidesz voter.
With no political background, but a native and credible candidate, he got the support of the local chapters of the Socialist Party and Jobbik, but later all major opposition parties backed him. It was the first time that opposition parties united behind one candidate. The fact that the voting took place in the hometown of PMO leader Janos Lazar increased the significance of the vote.
Marky-Zay was the underdog in the race and has faced an uphill battle from the start. He got fired from his job soon after he announced his candidacy and street cameras were installed near his home in an otherwise safe and peaceful neighbourhood.
Ministers of the Orban government visiting the town were not in shortage of generous campaign promises as billions of new investments were announced. Pensioners received handouts and even the local priest stepped in and campaigned in favour of the local-mayor during a mass celebration. Even a third candidate filed for the race, who was later expelled by the Socialist Party.
According to final results, Marky-Zay gathered 13,076 of the votes, or 57.5% while Fidesz candidate Zoltan Hegedus had 9,468 of the votes, or 41.6% of the total. Speaking at a crowded local restaurant before jubilant supporters, he recalled that the atmosphere in the town was similar to that of 1989 when the communist regime was overthrown. In his victory speech, he said the city of Hodmezovasarhely has risen up against intimidation, corruption, and lies and the results offer hope to people that Fidesz can be defeated.
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