Hungary's opposition plans joint primary in bid to unseat PM Orban in 2022

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban walks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's opposition will hold the country's first ever primary elections this year to pick joint candidates to contest the 2022 national election, six parties said on Wednesday, a move that could threaten Prime Minister Viktor Orban's grip on power.

Hardline nationalist Orban and his Fidesz party have scored three successive landslides since 2010 largely due to an election system that favours large parties as the opposition has been fragmented and unable to cooperate until now.

But a patchwork of parties that includes the former far-right Jobbik, which has redefined itself as a centre-right grouping, as well as the Socialists, liberals and greens, upset Fidesz in municipal elections in 2019.

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony, who as the candidate of a small green liberal party unseated the Fidesz incumbent in the biggest upset of those local polls, said the opposition cooperation may serve as a blueprint to unseat Orban.

A first primary round on September 18-26 will select a single opposition candidate in each of Hungary's 106 electoral districts. Each district will also pick its preferred candidate for prime minister from a small selection of joint candidates.

There will be a runoff in the vote for the prime ministerial candidate on Oct. 4-10.

Opinion polls put Fidesz and the opposition coalition neck-and-neck and show Orban's party losing ground especially in large cities, foreshadowing the tightest election race since 2006.

Orban put the economy back on track after the 2008 financial crisis but has also curbed the judiciary, media and cultural freedoms, drawing criticism from the European Union. He has also built cordial relations with Russia and China.

The election campaign is likely to be centred around the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Hungary has suffered the highest COVID-19 death toll per capita in the world, Worldometer data shows, but it now also boasts one of the EU's fastest vaccination campaigns that has allowed it to reopen the economy quickly.

(Reporting by Marton Dunai @mdunai; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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