The fate of Budapest may hinge on István Tarlós

If István Tarlós, the 70 year old mayor of Budapest, decides not to run for a third term in the 2019 municipal elections, Fidesz is likely to eliminate the position of lord mayor (főpolgármester) altogether, rather than face the risk of losing the Budapest mayoralty to an opposition candidate. According to sources quoted by the HVG weekly, Fidesz believes that Mr. Tarlós is still the best “guarantee” that after nine years in power in the Hungarian capital, Fidesz will retain the office of lord mayor. For his part, Mr. Tarlós has not yet decided whether to run again or to retire, and his relationship with national Fidesz leaders has at times been rocky, particularly due to the national government’s centralizing tendencies and its attacks on local self-government. It is as a result of this that many in Fidesz reportedly find Mr. Tarlós to be “cumbersome,” “tired” and apparently not cooperative enough when it comes to allowing public funds to land in the pockets Fidesz-friendly oligarchs and business interests.

Yet Fidesz seems to believe that Mr. Tarlós, despite his crusty personality, acerbic speech and occasional tendency not to be cooperative, is still the winning ticket in Budapest. There have been no public polls on Mr. Tarlós so far in 2018, but a poll from 2017 conducted by Závecz Research found that 54% of Budapest residents had a favourable opinion of him. (By comparison, the same poll showed that only 37% of Budapest residents had a favourable opinion of Viktor Orbán, while 29% viewed former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány positively.) In late May, Mr. Tarlós told Index that he had not yet decided whether or not to run, but insinuated that at age 70 it would be very tempting to retire and that he would need certain guarantees from the national government if he were, indeed, to contest another election. One of the guarantees would involve more funding for city projects and the other would be assurance that the government would not engage in further centralization to the detriment of self-government in the capital.

Lord Mayor István Tarlós. Photo: 24.hu

But it would appear that Fidesz is testing the waters of some very radical measures, including turning the position of lord mayor into one that is appointed directly by the national government, rather than elected by the residents of Budapest. The 24.hu website has learned that a pro-government polling firm recently conducted an in-depth survey in Budapest, including some 15 to 20 questions, to test whether locals would tolerate the idea of having the national government directly appoint the mayor. The Orbán government would appoint a lord mayor from among district mayors for a two year term. Index in late July suggested that with this poll, Fidesz is either already preparing for a post-Tarlós Budapest (and stripping residents of the right to elect their own mayor) or is giving the mayor a slap in the face. Mere days later, at the beginning of August, Mr. Tarlós had the following the say to Népszava:

“I’ll have another conversation with the prime minister about 2019, but at age 70, I will most likely not take on another five year term.”

It was Viktor Orbán himself who asked Mr. Tarlós to run for a third term in office, but the prime minister and his circle seem to have contingency plans in place in case the mayor chooses to retire. Balázs Fürjes, the state secretary for development in Budapest, wields growing power and the national government’s ability to punish the capital financially is significant. For instance, the city is reconstructing the M3 (blue) metro line and work is presently underway on the line’s northern section. The precise amount of financial support for the project from the national government has been in limbo for some time. And now, it appears likely that rather than running the risk of losing the office of lord mayor to the opposition, without Tarlós Fidesz may simply eliminate the office as an elected position altogether and appoint one of several Fidesz district mayors to oversee the capital.

One Comment

  1. As the author describes the situation there is NO municipal self-government. Do not they have a so called Alaptorveny ?mWould that not describe the details how it all suppose to function ? Is that so called self-government of the capital city has no authority at all ? Then just how the hell could all that be as stated in the article ? They are all just stooges !

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