Hungary's Viktor Orban Could Have Smeared, Defeated Jesus Christ: Rival

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's electoral victory earlier this month proves that he cannot be defeated at the ballot box, his rival Peter Marki-Zay told Newsweek as the country's opposition parties lick their wounds and prepare for a fourth Orban term.

Marki-Zay, the center-right mayor of Hodmezovasarhely who was anointed Orban's challenger by the alliance of Hungary's six opposition parties, said the decisive victory for Orban and his Fidesz party was facilitated by their close control of the national media.

Even a perfect candidate would have been unable to overcome the "propaganda machine," Marki-Zay said: "If we could have had John Lennon or Jesus Christ as the candidate, Fidesz still would have been able to paint them as evil."

"Even John Lennon, they could have painted as a warmonger," he added, referring to Fidesz accusations that the opposition wanted to pull Hungary into direct confrontation with Russia in Ukraine.

Peter Marki-Zay in Budapest election night address
Hungary's opposition alliance leader and candidate for Prime Minister Peter Marki-Zay delivers a speech at the election party of the United for Hungary alliance in Budapest on April 3, 2022. FERENC ISZA/AFP via Getty Images

A spokesperson from Orban's office told Newsweek in a statement: "A fool is known by his speech. On 3 April, Hungarian voters made it clear that they no longer want the left and its puppet, Peter Marki-Zay."

Marki-Zay and the combined opposition were always facing a daunting task. Orban and his allies have spent more than a decade putting their mark on Hungary's constitution, its electoral system, its highest courts, the education system, and the national media.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which monitored the April 3 elections, said the polls were "marred by the absence of a level playing field."

"Contestants were largely able to campaign freely, but while competitive, the campaign was highly negative in tone and characterized by a pervasive overlap between the ruling coalition and the government," the organization said.

The OSCE also noted its concerns over a lack of transparency and oversight of campaign finances and biased news coverage.

Orban won 53 percent of the popular vote to Marki-Zay's 34 percent, while Fidesz increased its number of seats in parliament securing a two-thirds majority. Even with the obvious challenge at hand, the opposition performed worse than the pre-election polls suggested they might.

"Many people, including myself, are extremely disappointed," Marki-Zay said. "And it's not the fact that Orban turned out to be stronger. We expected that, it would have been a miracle if we could win."

"It's the level of their victory, and also the efficiency of their propaganda machine, that is what was truly disappointing," Marki-Zay added. "It doesn't leave us any hope for the future. There's absolutely no democracy."

Former allies quickly turned on Marki-Zay. The leader of the conservative Jobbik party Peter Jakab said Marki-Zay "promised to renew the opposition in October but rather than doing so, he has actually caused its fall."

Ferenc Gyurcsany, a former socialist prime minister and head of the Democratic Coalition which was the largest faction within the unified opposition, also blamed Marki-Zay.

The defeated challenger does not believe he was the problem. "Many things went wrong, but nothing influenced the result in any meaningful way," Marki-Zay said of his own strategy. "The result was not the opposition's fault, the result was the consequence of a very efficient system that Orban built over the last 12 years.

"Such a powerful media—but not only media—environment in which the opposition has absolutely no chance. We can't call it a democracy...They already built their Death Star, and even in the future they can win any election they want.

"The problem was not in the execution of our strategy. The problem was that this strategy is not working anymore. It did work in municipal elections, but not in the national elections, and also because of the propaganda machine."

Gyurcsany's criticism is ironic given Orban and Fidesz spent time and money framing Marki-Zay as a puppet of the former prime minister. Gyurcsany resigned from office in 2009 after three years beset by economic crises, public unrest, and allegations of corruption.

His spectacular political collapse opened the door for Orban's second premiership.

"I'm not Gyurcsany's man. But I became Gyurcsany's man as soon as I won the primary," Marki-Zay said of Fidesz efforts to conflate the two men. "They also convinced voters not to vote for the opposition, so that's how we lost about 800,000 voters from before," he added, referring to the previous election four years ago.

Marki-Zay said he no longer has any belief that engaging in the democratic process can bring change. "There's pretty much no hope that Orban can ever be defeated," he said.

"I don't believe that Fidesz can be defeated at elections. This election proves that is impossible. It's definitely not a functioning democracy anymore."

"You just don't see the exit, you don't see how you can get out of this system," Marki-Zay continued, comparing the current sentiment in the depths of the Cold War.

"A larger external factor must happen before we can break the system here. I would really appreciate it if there is more outside pressure on Orban to restore media freedom in Hungary, to somehow get European protection from our own corrupt rulers."

The combined opposition won 57 seats in parliament, but Marki-Zay said even those offer little hope. "I see absolutely no sense in parliamentary politics," he said. "Having an opportunity to speak in the Hungarian parliament and get to a few percent of the Hungarian population; it doesn't change a thing."

He added: "We have to come up with a new model for the opposition. We need to look at how to change the fundamental structure of public opinion and politics."

The Economist Intelligence Unit said in 2020 that Hungary was a "flawed democracy," while the Freedom House think tank no longer considers Hungary a democracy at all. Immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, the Roma minority, and other vulnerable groups have all seen their situations become more precarious under Orban.

The government's control of the media narrative makes it difficult for opposition figures. Marki-Zay, for example, unsuccessfully demanded a televised debate with Orban throughout the campaign.

Marki-Zay suggested the opposition must now pivot away from politics as usual towards some kind of peaceful resistance campaign, with a focus on blunting government propaganda and fake news.

He cited as inspirations famed Indian non-violent resistance leader Mahatma Gandhi and the Serbian Otpor movement, which peacefully agitated against 1990s dictator and war criminal Slobodan Milosevic.

"We have to work out scientific solutions for anti-fake news and anti-propaganda campaign solutions," he said.

"I'm very open to solutions, we definitely need theoretical help as well. We have to come up with practical solutions, be present in smaller communities, get our message through. It's a very difficult job.

"Right now, in Hungary, there is no chance of defeating Fidesz in elections. But we still need to maintain and build up a level of distrust of Fidesz's lies and fake messages in society.

"We cannot be defenseless against such a disgusting and absolutely shameless propaganda machine."

Viktor Orban PM office Budapest Hungary election
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks in the prime minister's office in Budapest on April 6, 2022. ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images