Hungary’s ruling right-wing nationalist party Fidesz suffered an unexpected setback at the weekend when its candidate for mayor in the southern city of Hodmezovasarhely was defeated in a closely watched contest. The liberal opposition-backed independent candidate, Peter Marki-Zay, had 57.5% of the vote over Fidesz’ Zoltan Hegedus, who captured 41.6% of the electorate. Election officials said turnout was significantly higher than last round of parliamentary elections in 2014, with 62.4% of eligible voters in Hodmezovasarhely having cast a ballot.
Located in Hungary’s south-east, near the country’s borders with Romania and Serbia, Hodmezovasarhely is traditionally a stronghold of nationalist sentiment in the Hungarian heartland. Fidesz – the party of firebrand far-right populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban – has been in power of the small city of 45,000 for over two decades. Up until the close of the polls on February 25, Orban had been confident that Hegedus would easily secure a victory for Fidesz.
Marki-Zay’s victory came as a shock not only to the Fidesz’ leadership, who had expected to cruise to an easy victory but also to the Hungarian electorate as the nation heads to the polls on April 8 for parliamentary elections.