Independent conservative Peter Marki-Zay won a primary contest Sunday to become the joint candidate of a six-party opposition coalition that will challenge right-wing populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary's elections next spring.
The small-town mayor won the second round of the primary over Social Democrat Klara Dobrev, who conceded the race Sunday evening. With roughly 98% of votes counted, Marki-Zay led by more than 13 percentage points in his bid to become the opposition bloc's candidate for prime minister.
Marki-Zay called his victory “a revolution of the ordinary people,” and encouraged supporters of all opposition parties to get behind him going into elections scheduled for April.
“Viktor Orban doesn't have to be afraid of me, but of all of you,” he told his supporters.
Marki-Zay now has the pledged support of all of Hungary's six major opposition parties, which range across the political spectrum from left to moderate to right-wing. The parties have vowed to put aside ideological differences and get behind a single leader in an effort to oust Orban and his governing Fidesz party.
They say such cooperation is the only way to overcome what they contend is an unbalanced media environment and an election system designed by Fidesz that gives it an unfair advantage.
Marki-Zay, a political outsider and mayor of the small southern town of Hodmezovasarhely, entered the primary as an independent without political support or financial backing from any of the six opposition parties. The father of seven children who describes himself as a conservative Christian says he will be able to mobilize voters from across the political spectrum, including disaffected Fidesz supporters.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Marki-Zay said his victory was “very positive news for all Hungarians, because it shows that parties alone are not enough.” He pledged to work with all members of the opposition coalition against Orban's “corrupt dictatorship.”
“We are very happy and very hopeful that next year we can also prove we can build a coalition that can change the history of Hungary,” he said.
The primary election was the first of its kind in the central European country, and the second round saw 662,016 opposition sympathizers cast ballots for one of the two remaining candidates. That was nearly 30,000 more voters than took part in the first round of the primary, which closed Sept. 28.
Around 700 volunteers representing all six opposition parties filled three floors of a building in Budapest to count the hundreds of thousands of ballots arriving from around the country.
One counter, Maria Konder, 72, said the alliance of parties that were once political foes reflects the will of opposition voters who have suffered electoral defeats three times since Fidesz took power in 2010.
“I’ve seen how important it is for us to band together,” she said. “It’s important for democracy.”