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Chances for Local Elections in Budapest

Dénes Sályi 2019.02.13.

Recently, interesting developments have begun to take shape in the Hungarian political scene. Fidesz has claimed a two-thirds majority for three consecutive terms, effectively dominating the political spectrum and hindering any party on the right or left. The opposition has been left divided and fragmented as a result. Though Fidesz’s election results are convincing (53% in 2010, 45% in 2014 and 49.6% in 2018), locally, the party often wins seats with fewer votes than the left and right combined. Theoretically, if all the opposition forces had united, they could have triumphed in 2014 and won by a narrow margin in 2018.

Theory and practice, of course, are two different things, especially in politics. Still, as a consequence of repeated failure, the opposition seems to be trying to put the two together by changing tactics. The radicals unsatisfied with Jobbik’s new direction have created a new party called Mi Hazánk (Our Homeland). Jobbik and the Leftist parties have grown more and more open with one another over the last half year. The local elections in autumn may show promise for the opposition, despite the fact that no survey has indicated any sign of Fidesz’s influence weakening.

A major shift in the political spectrum should not be expected, and there is very little chance that PM Orbán’s power will lessen. Yet, the whole opposition may gain ground in some provincial capitals and, most importantly, in Budapest. The Hungarian metropolis is traditionally a stronghold for leftist-liberal forces similarly to other big cities in Europe and North-America. At the same time, István Tarlós, the current Fidesz-backed mayor, is popular in Budapest. Drawing profit from the corruption cases of the capital’s previous Socialist-Liberal leadership, Tarlós won both in 2010 and 2014 with a clear majority. Even so, Budapest has remained the strongest bastion for leftist and liberal political actors.

Learning from earlier mistakes, the opposition in the capital looks more disciplined and composed than ever, now producing fewer inner conflicts and scandalous leaks than before. Green mini party candidate Gergely Karácsony won the primary and will likely challenge Tarlós in the autumn.

Karácsony Wins Left-wing Mayoral Preselection

Four years ago, there was a 10% difference between Tarlós and opposition candidate Bokros. However, Karácsony is definitely more popular as Bokros’ name is associated with a restrictive neoliberal economic policy from the nineties.

Karácsony began his political career in a green political formation called Politics Can Be Different (LMP) in 2008. Along with several other members, he left the party in 2012 and formed a new one called Párbeszéd (Dialogue). They joined the leftist cooperation in 2014, and in 2004, formed an alliance with MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party). He was the joint prime minister candidate that year. Karácsony hasn’t proven to be a very charismatic politician thus far. But, the fact that his political formation with just one percent popularity has remained present in Hungarian politics means he must be somewhat skilled in the field. Not to mention, he has managed to manoeuvre himself into a far better position than that of his own party. According to gossip, his goal is to take over MSZP and use it as a springboard to challenge Orbán in 2022. However, he may run into trouble with his reputation. Karácsony was deemed ’Gergely the backstabber’ following accusations that he backstabbed LMP’s András Schiffer and betrayed the liberal party Együtt (Together) led by Gordon Bajnai in 2014.

Mayor Candidate Karácsony Seeks ‘more Creative, Greener’ Budapest

Fidesz’s centralization policy has considerably weakened self-governments. As a result, there is now less at stake in the local elections in autumn than before. Nevertheless, an important victory in Budapest for the opposition would serve as vital motivation going into the 2022 general elections. However, a win of that magnitude will require further hard work and cooperation on the opposition’s part.

On the featured photo István Tarlós and Gergely Karácsony
Photo by Noémi Bruzák/MTI