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Hungary Opposition Tries Primary Polls in Bid to Oust Orban

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A cyclist rides past a campaign poster featuring Budapest Mayor and candidate for prime minister Gergely Karacsony of opposition party Parbeszed Magyarorszagert with the lettering reading 'I will defeat (Hungarian Prime Minister) Orban!' in Budapest on Sept. 15, 2021.

Hungary's first-ever primary elections to find a candidate to challenge right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban got off to a rocky start Saturday, with voting suspended because of what organizers said was a suspected cyberattack.

After years of bickering and a string of landslide losses, the once-factious opposition has come together with one common goal: to push the long-serving leader from power in elections next year.

Its six-party alliance, set up last year, is made up of a diverse cast of political parties: leftist, liberal and formerly far-right.

They accuse Orban, 58 — who came to power in 2010 and regularly clashes with Brussels over migration and rule-of-law issues — of endemic corruption and creeping authoritarianism.

Now, they hope the new primary system will be their path to defeating his Fidesz party, Hungary's largest.

"The opposition can only compete with Fidesz if they are in a single bloc, too. We've learned that the hard way," Antal Csardi, a candidate for the green LMP party, told AFP.

The winner-takes-all system brought in under Orban in 2012 handed Fidesz powerful parliamentary supermajorities in 2014 and 2018, despite winning less than half of the vote.

The primaries allow opposition voters to select single candidates to take on both Orban himself, as well as Fidesz rivals, in each of Hungary's 106 electoral districts.

'Masses of voters'

More than 250 candidates nationwide are standing in the primaries that will run through Sept. 26, with voting taking place online and in-person. If required, a runoff for the prime ministerial candidacy will be held in early October.

Voting started at 8 a.m. (1000 GMT) Saturday but was soon suspended because of a system crash and will resume Monday. Organizers suspected a cyberattack.

"In addition to the masses of voters seeking change, someone else was interested in the primary: a mass load of currently unknown origin hit the background system of the primary election," the national primary election committee said in a statement.

Csardi called the primary elections "an innovation that was forced on us" by the election system and the only hope of seeing an anti-Fidesz candidate win.

"There are ideological differences between all the opposition parties, so primaries are the best way of deciding who becomes the common candidate," he said in a televised debate with Ferenc Gelencser of the centrist Momentum Movement this week.

Polls so far indicate an unpredictable parliamentary election next April for the first time since Orban came to power.

"Despite the ideological cleavages between the opposition parties, for most of their voters, next year's election is simply about whether Viktor Orban goes or not, nothing else," Daniel Mikecz, an analyst with the Republikon think tank, told AFP.

Cracks in the alliance?

Despite their differences, the five prime ministerial candidates at Sunday's prime-time debate — the first of three — were mostly on the same anti-Orban page.

But some cracks in the alliance have appeared. In June, former far-right party Jobbik broke ranks by voting for a controversial anti-LGBTQ law proposed by Fidesz.

Still, the parties hope to build on their success at municipal elections in 2019, when they first applied the strategy of uniting against Fidesz.

That delivered the alliance surprise wins in Budapest and several regional cities in what was seen as the first blow to Orban's self-styled "illiberal" system.

Gergely Karacsony, a liberal who won the Budapest mayoralty thanks to cross-party support, said he "expects to win" the race to take on Orban.

"I can best integrate and hold together this diverse opposition."

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