The opposition unifies behind mayoral candidate in key Budapest election

On Monday we learned that the opposition finally did what it should have done before April’s national election: it is rallying behind a single mayoral candidate in the central Budapest district of Józsefváros, in the hope of reclaiming it from Fidesz in a local election to be held on 8 July. With outgoing Józsefváros mayor Máté Kocsis moving to national politics, as a Member of Parliament for Fidesz, the left-centre and liberal opposition parties are all uniting behind the candidacy of 63 year old Péter Győri.

Péter Győri. Photo: Balázs Mohai / MTI.

Mr. Győri, running as an independent, is a credible candidate locally and this undoubtedly made it easier for opposition parties to unite behind him. As the founder of Menhely Alapítvány (Shelter Foundation), Mr. Győri has been involved in helping the homeless in Budapest since 1990. The Shelter Foundation offers those on the margins day programming, run by professional social workers and it publishes a newspaper, entitled Fedél Nélkül. Homeless men and women are often seen selling copies of this publication in public squares and in metro stations. The Foundation also provides mobile outreach to people living on the streets. Mr. Győri is the author of several research papers on slums in Budapest and on the problems surrounding Hungarian subsidized housing policy. From 1990 to 2002, he chaired the Budapest City Council’s committee on housing and poverty issues and he was directly involved in developing municipal programs that restored and renovated buildings throughout the city.

Suffice it to say that Mr. Győri brings with him decades of experience working with the poor and some of the work that his Foundation has done was truly pioneering and unique in Hungary. We have already seen before, that the opposition stands the best chance of taking back towns and districts from Fidesz when it fields locally credible candidates–people who have put the time in to contributing to the life of their local community.

The Hungarian Socialist Party, Párbeszéd, the Democratic Coalition, Momentum, Politics Can Be Different (LMP), the Liberal Party and Együtt are all supporting Mr. Győri’s candidacy. The candidate himself confirmed as much when speaking with reporters on Monday.

Mr. Győri noted that his candidacy was a symbol that even in a time when Fidesz enjoys a surplus of power, people must work together to restore “a true multiparty system once again.” If Mr. Győri captures Józsefváros from Fidesz on 8 July, his priority will be to put to use vacant apartments, shops and other spaces in the district–real estate that the district owns, but that has sat empty for some time. He also wants to strengthen a program aimed at restoring decrepit apartment buildings. He made a point of noting that his administration would be more careful and accountable with taxpayer funds than the current Kocsis mayoralty.

Józsefváros, also known as the 8th District, may now be in play for the opposition. In the April election, Mr. Kocsis of Fidesz garnered just under 41% of the vote. The left-wing parties together received 46% (of which the main candidate, Attila Ara-Kovács of DK brought in 32%). Mr. Ara-Kovács has national name recognition, but Mr. Győri is a stronger candidate at the grassroots level–and this matters most in a local mayoral election.

But as a word of caution for the opposition: at the national level, Józsefváros and neighbouring Ferencváros together form a single riding. At the local level, however, they are separate districts. While Józsefváros’s demographics would still make it lean left (though this is changing, due to extensive gentrification in the area known as Corvin negyed), it is notoriously difficult to convince locals, including the large Roma population, to cast their ballot on voting day.

Perhaps Mr. Győri’s candidacy will make this more likely.

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