By JUSTIN SPIKE, Associated Press
HODMEZOVASARHELY, Hungary (AP) – Hungary’s opposition leader wants to restore his country’s frayed ties to the West – and also has a message for American fans of right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
“Let me say very firmly to all Americans that being part of Putin’s fan club does not make you a conservative,” said Peter Marki-Zay, a self-proclaimed conservative Christian who is running against Orban in the election. next year, in an interview. with the Associated Press.
“Orban betrays Europe, Orban betrays NATO, Orban betrays the United States,” he said.
Marki-Zay, the 49-year-old mayor of the small town of Hodmezovasarhely, leads a diverse coalition of six opposition parties aimed at defeating the hard-line Hungarian leader and his ruling party Fidesz in parliamentary elections scheduled for April.
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If elected, says Marki-Zay, he will reverse Orban’s closer ties with autocracies in Russia and China, and improve his country’s relations with the European Union and other Western allies.
“I still defend Western values, and we cannot accept a corrupt thug (…) who betrays Western values and who is now a servant of Communist China and Russia,” he said.
Ruling Hungary with a two-thirds majority in parliament since 2010, right-wing populist Orban and his anti-immigration party have dominated the fractured opposition in all subsequent elections and consolidated their power by changing election laws, stacking institutions with loyalists and dominating much of the Hungarian media.
While Orban’s critics in Europe have warned of an alarming erosion of democracy in Hungary as its relations with the EU unravel, some of its policies – like its outright rejection of refugees and generous financial support to families with children – drew rave reviews from the right. American commentators from the wing.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson broadcast from Budapest for a week this summer and praised Orban’s migration policy and his rejection of the liberal mainstream of the EU. Rod Dreher, editor-in-chief of the American publication The American Conservative, spent several months in Budapest this year on a scholarship funded by a right-wing think tank close to the Orban government.
But Marki-Zay, a devout Catholic with seven children and a former Fidesz voter himself, says that despite Orban’s proclamations to build an illiberal “Christian democracy” in the central European country, he considers the leader neither as a Christian, nor as a conservative, nor as one even a democrat.
“True conservatives see Christianity as something very (the) opposite” to Orban’s policies, he said.
Orban’s party accused Marki-Zay of being a leftist candidate posing as a conservative, a charge stemming from his cooperation with several center-left parties in the opposition coalition.
Last week, Marki-Zay traveled to Brussels where he met with key EU figures, sparking new accusations that he aims to undermine Hungary’s sovereignty in favor of upholding EU diktats .
A fierce critic of the 27-member bloc Hungary joined in 2004, Orban compared EU membership to the Soviet rule Hungary endured for 40 years and maintained close diplomatic and economic ties with China and Russia.
But deals with these countries on major investment projects have both weakened Hungary’s geopolitical position and come at the expense of Hungarian taxpayers, Marki-Zay said.
He cites as an example a Chinese project of about $ 2.3 billion to modernize the railway between the capitals of Hungary and Serbia, as part of China’s “Belt and Road” world trade initiative. Route “financed by the Hungarian state mainly from a loan from a Chinese state. Bank.
Another project – a non-competitive contract awarded to the Russian state nuclear power company Rosatom to expand a Hungarian nuclear power plant at an estimated cost of over $ 11 billion – is “against the national interests of the United Nations. Hungary, ”he said.
Sitting in his office at Hodmezovasarhely town hall, the candidate wears a blue ribbon on the lapel of his jacket, which he says represents an “anti-corruption fight” against the type of governance that has been rife in Hungary since. its democratic transition from communism in 1990.
Hungary has become a “country without consequences”, he said, where corruption “has been completely centralized and is absolutely part of the system. It is now organized by the government itself”.
If elected, Marki-Zay says he will immediately join the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, an independent EU anti-fraud and corruption body, and set up a national anti-corruption office in Hungary.
“Most people in Hungary recognize that there is a problem with corruption,” he said. “I really hope that over the past four years I have already proven here in Hodmezovasarhely that not all politicians are corrupt.”
Presenting himself as an independent outsider with no past ties to Hungarian liberal opposition parties, Marki-Zay is committed to fighting corruption impartially, whether committed by those currently in government or by those in government. previous socialist governments which are now in opposition. Two of the parties in his own coalition have been linked to past corruption cases.
Recent polls show the six-party coalition is in a close race with Orban and his party, suggesting the race will be the closest since Fidesz took power 11 years ago.
Nonetheless, Marki-Zay argues that a media environment that favors the ruling party and an imbalance of financial resources will mean that next year’s elections will not be free and fair.
In an effort to save next year’s poll, the opposition coalition has launched a campaign to recruit 20,000 civilian tellers who will be present at every polling station across the country.
While Marki-Zay expects a highly competitive campaign, he believes his conservative good faith and status as a political outsider can mobilize both disgruntled Fidesz supporters and undecided voters who are put off by corruption.
“We have to get the truth to the last house in the last village,” he said. “We have to give them true and credible information that they were stolen.”
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