Uprising in Hungary — Orbán regime suffers historic defeat in its most loyal bastion

Viktor Orbán’s party knew Sunday morning that it was in serious trouble, and of all places in its most loyal bastion, the town of Hódmezővásárhely (population 47,000). This is a city that has been ruled by Fidesz or the right since 1990. Péter Márki-Zay, the independent candidate for mayor supported by the entire opposition, bumped into his rival for the mayoralty, Fidesz candidate Zoltán Hegedűs, at the market this morning. Mr. Márki-Zay was stunned: the Fidesz politician was actually polite to him. Then we found out that János Lázár, a former local mayor and the current Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office did something completely new: he escaped the television cameras by voting early in the morning. After this we discovered that Fidesz was not holding an election night party in Hódmezővásárhely. It was as if the regime felt that there was trouble on the horizon and it was best to disappear.

And trouble there was. The turn-out in the local election reached 63%–strikingly higher than in any previous local election and even higher than national elections in 2014. And then the results came in:

  • Péter Márki-Zay (INDEPENDENT): 57.35%
  • Zoltán Hegedűs (FIDESZ-KDNP): 41.83%
  • Gyula Hernádi (INDEPENDENT): 0.82%

Péter Márki-Zay on February 25th.

During the campaign, Fidesz threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the avowedly conservative Mr. Márki-Zay, who is also a practicing Roman Catholic. Fidesz claimed that the opposition’s candidate was insane, that he wanted to cause chaos, that he was a lackey of Lajos Simicska and quite remarkably coming from Fidesz, that he “wanted to rob the town’s cash register.” But it was not just the politician who came under attack, but ordinary, private residents of Hódmezővásárhely, who were seen to support him. Fidesz went as far as to name and shame ordinary residents on campaign posters and in flyers.

Election poster naming and shaming private residents of Hódmezővásárhely for supporting the opposition candidate.

Márki-Zay paid a heavy personal price for running against the regime. In December 2017, right before Christmas, the father of seven young children was fired from his job at a multinational company. The firm claimed that they decided to dismiss Márki-Zay in October, but for some reason opted to let him go before Christmas, soon after he announced his candidacy in the mayoralty. Reportedly, Márki-Zay was hesitant to run for office and was warned by friends and family that this is a dangerous move in Orbán’s Hungary.

Fidesz campaigned hard in this otherwise solid bastion because internal polling showed that the united opposition candidate was viable. Viktor Orbán campaigned alongside the candidate, as did János Lázár–the latter on a regular basis. The government also showered the city in promises of lavish funds and investments. The minister of national defense promised to invest 5.2 billion forints, Lajoa Kósa then committed an additional 12 billion forints. In the middle of the campaign, residents over 62 years of age were promised 10,000 forints each (C$50) as a gift.

Yet this was no longer enough. And the George Soros boogeyman did not do the trick either.

A few weeks ago, a journalist from Index attended a campaign event organized by the Fidesz candidate. The journalist asked an elderly man what a possible win for the opposition would mean for his town. The implication was that a win by the opposition would suck the city dry of government funding. The elderly man, who was presumably a Fidesz-supporter considering his presence at a Fidesz event, surprised the journalist when he responded: “The city will have been liberated.”

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