Hungary’s democratic opposition scores major election victory

After nine years in the wilderness, Hungary’s opposition parties scored major electoral victories across the country and especially in Budapest in local elections, where a centre-left alliance of parties won the mayoral race, achieved a solid majority on the municipal council and won back nine districts from Fidesz. Moreover, support for Fidesz in the traditionally conservative and affluent Buda districts also fell sharply in this election, as voters turned to the united centre-left opposition in numbers not seen in over a decade.

Let’s take a look at the Budapest mayoral race first, where 44 year old Gergely Karácsony ended the nine year rule of Fidesz Mayor István Tarlós. Mr. Karácsony, supported by Momentum, the Democratic Coalition, the Hungarian Socialist Party, Dialogue for Hungary and the Politics Can Be Different Party, sailed to victory capturing nearly 51% of the vote. Mr. Tarlós of Fidesz fell back to a distant second with just 44%. In Hungary, being a highly centralized unitary state, the Lord Mayor of Budapest is a position bearing national significance. Mr. Karácsony, like his three democratically elected predecessors, Mr. Tarlós and Gábor Demszky, will now serve as a leader on the national stage in Hungary for the next five years.

Gergely Karácsony, Mayor-elect of Budapest.

Mr. Karácsony indicated that his first task will be to ask for a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and said that it is his duty to seek areas of cooperation with the national government. At the same time, as Lord Mayor with the support of the now majority centre-left Budapest municipal council, also known as the Grand Assembly, Mr. Karácsony plans to press forward with the following initiatives as soon as he takes office:

  • Investigate and make public all contracts signed by the city over the last five years, in an attempt to shed light on Fidesz corruption;
  • Take appropriate legal steps whenever such contracts signal the presence of criminal behaviour;
  • Declare a climate emergency in Budapest;
  • Make public transit free for the unemployed;
  • Decrease the price of public transit for children under seven years of age;
  • Prohibit Budapest city firms from taking advantage of the so-called Slave Law passed by Fidesz, which raises overtime hours from 250 to 400, and lets companies delay paying out these hours.

“The significance of this victory is that Budapest will become green and free,” declared Mayor-elect Gergely Karácsony.

On municipal council, Momentum-DK-MSZP-Párbeszéd-LMP won 18 seats, compared to 13 for Fidesz and 2 independents (who support Fidesz). At the district level, the centre-left alliance sailed to victory in every central district, except for the 5th, where Fidesz hung on to power. The left, however, took back from Fidesz the 8th District, as well as the 1st District, 2nd District and 11th District in Buda, and also won Óbuda (the 3rd District). They retained the left-wing strongholds of the 6th, 7th and 13 Districts and won in the 9th too, as well as in most Pest suburbs. Fidesz retains only seven Budapest districts, as the Orbánist colour orange is washed off the capital’s map.

The centre-left also scored important victories in Hungary’s larger cities. The left won back from Fidesz Ajka, Baja, Cegléd, Dunaújváros, Eger, Érd, Miskolc, Pécs, Szombathely and Tatabánya. The left retained, with a large majority, Szeged.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán consoled his supporters by telling them that with the defeat of Mayor István Tarlós, the national government has “gained a great adviser.” Mr. Orbán also noted that Fidesz won most of the countryside, with the exception of many of the larger cities. Fidesz has two roads it may now travel. The first is the beaten path. Drawing from its experience between 1998 and 2002, when the party first rose to power, it may choose to punish Budapest, building on the age-old narrative of the “sinful” and unpatriotic cosmopolitan city. In this case, there is a chance that the authoritarian regime, feeling threatened, takes a more aggressive approach to oppression. The second path is one of some degree of surface-level cooperation, combined with continued attempts to infiltrate the opposition parties with government agents–a tactic already used over the past several years.

Either way, Hungarian politics have been shaken up more than ever over the past decade.

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