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4th Dec 2021

Hungarian opposition wins Budapest in blow to Orban

  • New Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony (here meeting with regional policy commissioner Corina Cretu in 2018) (Photo: European Commission)

In a surprise win, the Hungarian opposition challenger defeated prime minister Viktor Orban's candidate in the Budapest mayoral race on Sunday (13 October), in a major blow for the nationalistic premier and his ruling Fidesz party.

Gergely Karacsony beat the incumbent Istvan Tarlos with 50.1 percent of the votes to 44.8 percent in a race that also saw opposition candidates win several provincial towns in the country dominated by Orban's Fidesz.

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The result, which Karacsony called "historic", is an upset for Orban's party, which has not suffered a major electoral defeat since it came to power in 2010.

"We will wake up in another country, one that has started taking back its freedom," Karacsony told a cheering crowd on Sunday evening.

"Love and cooperation always defeats hate. Lies are always defeated by reality in which people live their lives. Budapest will be green and free," the 44-year-old Karacsony said, who himself hails from a green party, Dialogue, and has been supported by four other opposition parties.

"This is the first step to change Hungary," the former political scientist said in his victory speech, adding "we will take Budapest back to Europe".

Opposition parties gained a majority in the Budapest assembly as well, and won mayoral seats in 10 major cities, while Fidesz won in 13 others. Fidesz also lost several districts in Budapest.

"We accept the decision of the voters in Budapest and we will cooperate with the new mayor," Orban said after the results came in.

"Fidesz is still the strongest party in Hungary," he added.

New chapter?

Budapest follows Istanbul and Warsaw in a line of capitals where opposition parties came to power while the countries are run by nationalist strongmen.

Opposition candidates won despite Fidesz opponents enjoying the support of the public and Fidesz-dominated media and government backing.

The campaign has been the nastiest in the country's recent democratic history, with leaked videos and audio recordings, and with Fidesz accusing opposition candidates of wanting to bring in migrants to Hungary.

In one leaked video, the Fidesz mayor of a western town, Gyor, who was seen at an orgy on a yacht. Although he maintained his seat, the sex scandal likely galvanised voters.

The election results are likely to give a boost to opposition parties. Throughout the country civil society groups, political parties on the left and the far-right have joined forces against Fidesz candidates.

"Hungary's poll elections prove that cooperation works, the opposition reached its best result in 13 years with this strategy," Andras Biro-Nagy, an analyst with Policy Solutions tweeted.

Fidesz has a two-thirds majority in parliament and could still curb municipal rights, making it difficult for opposition mayors to achieve concrete results.

"A new chapter is starting in Hungary! Change is happening tonight all over the country, the local Hungarian elections are serving as a demonstration that people believe in democracy," MEP Anna Donath from the liberal Momentum party, also backing Karacsony, tweeted.

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