Opposition win in key Veszprém by-election much larger than anticipated

An unpublished Ipsos opinion poll commissioned two weeks before a critical by-election in a traditionally centre-right Veszprém riding suggested that Zoltán Kész–the independent candidate supported by most of the left-centre opposition–stood a semi-realistic chance of beating Fidesz in a constituency that it had long held. The leaked poll found that Fidesz’s candidate, Lajos Némedi, was ahead of Mr. Kész by just six points. This evening, it turns out that Mr. Kész came out nearly 10 percentage points ahead of Mr. Némedi, thus formally ending Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s two-thirds majority in parliamentary. Mr. Orbán, despite trying to ensure that the campaign focused on local issues, rather than on his government’s tumbling approval ratings, will find it difficult to explain a defeat and a result that was not even close, even if he will still be able to muster together two-thirds in parliament by working with individual Jobbik politicians or at least convincing the odd MP to stay home.

Mr. Kész received 42,7%, while the Fidesz candidate trailed at a distant 33.6%. Jobbik did worse than expected in the riding, garnering only 14.15% in support (it won over 16% in Veszprém in April 2014) and the Politics Can be Different (LMP) green party also failed to match or exceed its previous results, winning only 4.6% in the by-election.

Zoltán Kész during a visit to Montreal in 2014. A sports enthusiast, Mr. Kész was watching a hockey game at the Bell Centre.

Zoltán Kész during a visit to Montreal in 2014. A sports enthusiast, Mr. Kész was watching a hockey game at the Bell Centre.

Turn-out was high for a by-election, at nearly 45%. This strongly indicates a protest vote.

But it’s not the only thing that suggests that anger at the Fidesz-KDNP was the deciding factor. Mr. Kész is no left-winger. He is actually an avowed conservative and staunch supporter of small government. He is the founder of a blog that focuses on the virtues of generally unregulated free market capitalism and also established an organization called the Free Market Foundation. On Facebook, he was referred to as Veszprém’s libertarian candidate. Mr. Kész would probably be relatively at home among Republicans and even some Tea Party activists in the States, though he might find Canada’s Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a bit too economically left for his comfort. (HFP’s Canadian readers are now probably shuddering.) To be fair, Mr. Kész has undoubtedly spoken up against racism, including at soccer and other sports games, where racist speech is common and he has spearheaded some noteworthy initiatives on this front.

Politically, Mr. Kész is close to Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy of the Democratic Coalition and to television personality and political analyst Zoltán Somogyi, both of whom are economic right-wingers.

Mr. Kész was also formerly involved with Fidesz and had served as the leader of Veszprém’s Fidesz youth wing, Fidelitas, but quit after less than a year. He said that even then–back in 2004–Fidesz’s leadership didn’t much care for cooperation and diverging viewpoints.

Professionally, Mr. Kész has worked as a teacher and as a sports reporter. But he was never far from the world of local politics. Back in June 2007, I was part of a Hungarian Canadian delegation in Veszprém, where we met with a few dozen local politicians, county officials, as well as church and business leaders. Mr. Kész was one of the coordinators of this visit and it was with great ease that he brought together both municipal and county-level officials and political leaders from all parties, in both Veszprém and Székesfehérvár.

Zoltán Kész in 2007. Photo: Christopher Adam.

Zoltán Kész in 2007. Photo: Christopher Adam. (Mr. Kész is standing on the far-left.)

Following his victory, both the pro-Orbán Heti Válasz and the right-wing Magyar Nemzet focused on the fact that Fidesz has now lost its two-thirds majority in parliament. Neither publication tried to bury the story, as they often did in the past with unpleasant political news. Gábor Széles, the owner of the far-right and also pro-Orbán Magyar Hírlap remarked on Facebook that his rival right-wing oligarch, Lajos Simicska–who had an unprecedented and very public anti-Orbán meltdown earlier this month–must now be happy with the result.

Moving forward, Mr. Kész told hvg.hu after his victory, that as an independent MP, he will now focus on matters of importance to local Veszprém residents and is happy to cooperate with any democratic political party, in order to help his constituents.

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