By LILI BAYER – POLITICO
Liberal beats incumbent backed by Hungary’s ruling party.
BUDAPEST — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán suffered his biggest political setback in a decade on Sunday, when an opposition candidate became mayor of Budapest by defeating an incumbent backed by the ruling party.
Gergely Karácsony, a 44-year-old liberal, triumphed over István Tarlós, an Orbán ally, by 50 percent to about 44 percent, according to preliminary results. Tarlós called Karácsony to congratulate him on his victory, a campaign official said.
The opposition’s success in Budapest and in local elections elsewhere in the country came after a wide range of parties and grassroots groups — from liberals to greens, socialists to conservatives — agreed to put aside their differences and run joint candidates for mayoral and district posts in an effort to weaken the ruling Fidesz party’s hold on power.
In his second spell as prime minister, which began in 2010, Orbán has dominated Hungarian politics, championing the idea of an “illiberal democracy” and pursuing hardline anti-migration policies. The European Parliament has accused him of putting the the EU’s core values at risk and he has also clashed with other EU leaders.
Speaking to reporters and supporters at a bar following his win, Karácsony said that Budapest would now be a green and free city and would be brought “back to Europe.”
Besides Budapest, the opposition won mayoral posts in a number of other major cities and towns, including Miskolc, Szeged, and Eger.
Standing next to Orbán in front of a crowd of supporters, 71-year-old incumbent Tarlós thanked those who voted for him and the city of Budapest, adding that “there’s nothing to say” wishing “lots of luck” to the new mayor.
The prime minister told supporters that this was a “difficult election campaign” and a big political battle as it “should be” in a competitive democracy. But he pointed out that Fidesz candidates won seats in many towns outside of the capital.
Besides Budapest, the opposition won mayoral posts in a number of other major cities and towns, including Miskolc, Szeged, and Eger. Fidesz won mayorships in Debrecen, Gy?r, and Kecskemét.
“It is apparent that the majority of Hungarians are fed up with Fidesz,” said Katalin Cseh, a member of the European Parliament representing the liberal Momentum party.
The results “showed the power of the opposition against anti-European forces,” said Cseh, who also campaigned for local opposition candidates. She said Sunday’s results constitute a “very significant change in the political landscape of the country.”
A senior Fidesz official said: “I think this can be a beginning of a strained relationship between the government and Budapest.”
While Budapest is traditionally a liberal city, the prime minister’s opponents have struggled in recent years to inspire voters and overcome internal divisions. The win on Sunday, together with opposition victories in several smaller cities, is likely to embolden the opposition as it prepares to challenge Orbán at the next general election, due in 2022.
Despite a paucity of resources compared to the ruling party and limited access to mass media and advertising, the opposition was able to rely on social media and a grassroots campaign involving intense personal street campaigning.
The overall election campaign was marked by allegations of irregularities, including a police raid on an opposition campaign office, claims that an opposition party’s leadership meetings were bugged, reports of distribution of free food to voters along with Fidesz leaflets, and secret tapes of opposition politicians leaked to government-friendly outlets.
On election day, opposition activists accused the ruling party of engaging in vote-buying, as well as bussing Hungarian speakers across the border from Ukraine to vote.
While Fidesz has not publicly responded to the opposition’s specific complaints, the party over the years has always insisted that it does not engage in illegal practices.
Annex (The Guardian):
Blow for Hungary PM Orbán as opposition wins Budapest mayoral race
Gergely Karácsony’s victory is one of many defeats across Hungary for Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party
Hungary’s nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán has suffered his first electoral blow since coming to power in 2010, with an opposition candidate scoring a shock win in the Budapest mayoral race.
The victory was “historic”, said the pro-European centre-left challenger Gergely Karácsony, 44, who was backed by a wide range of opposition parties from across the political spectrum.
The mild-mannered former political scientist led by 51% of the vote ahead of the incumbent Istvan Tarlos on around 44%, with 82% of votes counted.
In office since 2010, the 71-year-old Tarlos, who is backed by Orbán’s right-wing Fidesz party, congratulated the new mayor by phone, Karácsony told cheering supporters.
“We will take the city from the 20th century to the 21st,” said the pro-EU Karacsony, who was one of the few opposition politicians to win a district in the previous election five years ago. “Budapest will be green and free, we will bring it back to Europe.”
Karácsony had compared the Budapest race to the Istanbul mayoral election in March, in which the candidate of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s party was defeated by the opposition challenger.
“Istanbul voted against an aggressive illiberal power in many ways similar to Orbán’s regime,” Karácsony said before the vote.
Since 2010, Orbán has concentrated power and media organs in his hands, and regularly clashed with Brussels over migration and rule-of-law issues. He has also cruised to consecutive landslide victories at the polls, partly due to electoral rule changes he oversaw.
Fidesz had run a highly negative campaign attacking Karácsony for an allegedly pro-migration stance and his “unsuitability” for the job, and Orbán had threatened to withhold cooperation from municipalities lost by his party.
The favourite in the run-up to the vote, Tarlos and Fidesz, which brands itself as Christian-conservatve, were damaged by a sex scandal involving a Fidesz mayor in the western city of Gyor that erupted last week.
“We acknowledge this decision in Budapest, and stand ready to cooperate,” Orbán told supporters at a rally.
The elections were seen as a rare chance for the beleaguered opposition to roll back the power of Fidesz, which also hold a supermajority in parliament, and Orbán who has boasted about building an “illiberal state”.
Parties from left to right joined forces in an effort to wrest control of Fidesz-held municipalities and prevent an electoral rout for the first time in almost a decade. In many municipalities just one opposition challenger lined up against Fidesz.
Polls had still forecast only slight gains nationwide for the opposition outside the capital, but in another surprise it won 10 of 23 of Hungary’s main cities.
The vote was seen as a litmus test for its new strategy of cooperation, which could offer a route to mount a serious challenge to Orbán at the next general election in 2022.
“The win [in Budapest] was just the first step on the road to changing Hungary,” said Karácsony.
Andras Biro-Nagy, an analyst with Policy Solutions, said: “It proves that the new strategy of opposition cooperation works, it was its best result in years. Budapest is the big prize, but the breakthrough in numerous provincial cities is at least as important.
“It is the first crack in the Orbán system, and it seems guaranteed that the strategy will continue for 2022,” he said. (Source b: AFP)