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UPDATED: Pro-EU Dobrev leads in opposition primary to take on Hungary’s Orban

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BUDAPEST, Sept 30 (Reuters) – Klara Dobrev, a 49-year-old lawyer who favours closer ties with the European Union, looked poised to win the first leg of an opposition primary contest to pick Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s challenger at a 2022 national election, results from most constituencies showed on Thursday.

Dobrev, who would be Hungary’s first female prime minister, is in a close race with Budapest’s leftist mayor Gergely Karacsony, 46, who beat the ruling Fidesz party incumbent in a major upset for nationalist Orban in the 2019 Budapest mayoral election.

Preliminary results from the first round of the primary election are expected later on Thursday, while Dobrev plans to hold a news conference at 1800 GMT.

Based on results from 90 out of 106 constituencies, Dobrev, the leftist Democratic Coalition’s candidate for prime minister, was ahead with 34.4% of the votes and Karacsony second at 27.6%, with Dobrev slightly extending her lead from the previous tally.

“We have to dismantle Viktor Orban’s regime … which they had built up very systematically, this illiberal state,” Dobrev, who with her cropped hair and decisive style has appealed to many opposition voters, told Reuters on Tuesday as she met voters at a polling station in Budapest.

Conservative Peter Marki-Zay, mayor of a southern Hungarian city, was in third place with 20%.

There will be a runoff next month.

Dobrev, a vice president of the European Parliament, has promised to reduce poverty and work for the adoption of the euro. Karacsony has also campaigned on a pro-European agenda. He has promised a more just tax system and to heal political divisions.

A patchwork of six parties that includes the Socialists, the Democratic Coalition party, liberals, and the formerly far-right Jobbik, which has redefined itself on the centre-right, has formed a united front against Orban for the 2022 parliamentary vote for the first time since he came to power in 2010.

Orban and his Fidesz party have been in power largely due to an election system that favours big parties. The fragmented opposition had been unable to join forces in the last three national elections.

This has now changed, giving hope to opposition voters who turned out in higher-than-expected numbers for the primary, with more than 633,000 people casting votes nationwide.

Opinion polls put Fidesz and the opposition coalition neck and neck, raising the prospect of the tightest election in more than a decade.

While Dobrev leads now, she faces a challenge: she is the candidate of a party led by her husband, former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, a deeply divisive figure who in 2006 in a leaked speech admitted that he lied about the economy to win national elections.

Orban has portrayed the opposition, especially Karacsony and Dobrev, as puppets of Gyurcsany.

“Let the theatre on the left continue, but it is clear who will have the last laugh: Ferenc Gyurcsany. Again, the task will fall to us to defeat him next spring,” Fidesz parliamentary group leader Mate Kocsis said on Facebook. (Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Giles Elgood, Robert Birsel and Mark Porter)

Photo – Klara Dobrev, wife of Ferenc Gyurcsany, the chairman of the oppositional Democratic Coalition (DK) party and former Prime Minister attends the DK’s XI. Congress and the opening of the opposition pre-election campaign in the Budapest Congress Center in Budapest, Hungary, 29 August 2021. EPA-EFE/Balazs Mohai

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