A six-party opposition coalition has chosen a provincial mayor with no party affiliation to take on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the 2022 parliamentary elections, final results of a primary vote show.
Peter Marki-Zay, the 49-year-old conservative mayor of Hodmezovasarhely, received 56.7 percent of the vote to beat social democrat Klara Dobrev with 43.3 percent, the primary election commission reported early on October 18.
The primary was organized by a six-party opposition alliance formed last year in an effort to put forth a single candidate that could defeat Orban. Five candidates took part in the first round of the primary last month.
"Today we also changed the opposition," said Marki-Zay.
"The way out is neither right nor left, only up," he said and added that he agreed with Dobrev, who said the cohesion of the opposition could not be destroyed.
Dobrev, in congratulating Marki-Zay, vowed to do everything she could to support him in the upcoming parliamentary election campaign.
The commission said 662,016 people cast ballots in the vote, a number considered high for a primary election.
Marki-Zay made it into the second-round ballot after Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony -- who took second in the first round of voting -- withdrew from the race.
During the campaign, Marki-Zay, a practicing Catholic and father of seven, argued that only he can appeal to both leftist voters and conservatives tired of Orban's often divisive policies.
Orban has served as prime minister since 2010.
An economist and engineer who lived in the United States and Canada for five years, Marki-Zay grabbed national attention in 2018 when he won the race to become the mayor of Hodmezovasarhely.
Located almost 200 kilometers southeast of the capital Budapest, Hodmezovasarhely has a population of about 40,000.
Until he surprisingly won that mayoral vote, the southern city was considered a stronghold of Orban's party, Fidesz.
Many critics, including from fellow EU members, accuse Orban of dismantling democracy in Hungary as well as allowing corruption to become pervasive and of disregarding the rule of law.
Still, the primary winner faces a tough fight against the autocratic Orban. But analysts said Marki-Zay could appeal to many religious and conservative voters while also presenting a viable candidate to more-liberal, urban Hungarians.