News & Analysis

Opposition makes big gains in Hungarian local elections

Hungary’s opposition parties have made important gains the country’s local elections, with joint opposition candidate Gergely Karácsony scoring a surprise victory in Budapest.

Mr Karácsony, a green-socialist challenger received 50.9 per cent of the vote in the Hungarian capital while Budapest’s incumbent pro-government mayor István Tarlós got 44.1 per cent despite all major Hungarian pollsters predicted him to score a slight victory. Independent candidate and opposition journalist Róbert Puzsér, whose decision to run was often predicted to block Mr Karácsony from winning, eventually got 4.5 per cent. Final turnout stood at 51.5 per cent.

Karácsony said his first task would be to make a wide-ranging agreement about cooperation with Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán, a deal Mr Tarlós also struck to ensure the capital’s financing.

“Budapest will be green and free, we will bring it back to Europe,” the mayor-elect said after the results came in, adding that “love will always overcome hate.”

“The opposition parties have now come to understand that they can be successful only if they seek an alliance with each other and those voters who want change,” he continued, pointing to the strategy of Hungary’s five main and ideologically diverse opposition parties to run on a joint ticket for the first time.

He is also the first mayoral candidate to become the city’s leader after a series of primary elections within the opposition.

The ruling Fidesz party also suffered a decisive blow in Budapest’s 23 districts out of which 14 were won by opposition candidates, including four out of the five Buda districts that are considered rather conservative.

The candidates of the alliance of the Hungarian Socialist Party, the left-liberal Democratic Coalition, the liberal Momentum party, the far-right-turned-conservative Jobbik party and the Hungarian Greens also won big in 10 Hungary’s largest cities, including Szeged, Eger and Miskolc.

While Fidesz remained by far the strongest party in the Hungarian countryside, winning the party list vote in all 19 Hungarian county governments, it lost critical political strongholds such as the cities of Szombathely or Hódmezővásárhely.

“We acknowledge this decision in Budapest, and stand ready to cooperate,” Mr Orbán told an audience of Fidesz supporters, stressing that Budapest would now be in huge debt if it not had been for the capital’s outgoing mayor.

The Hungarian PM continued to stress that despite losing Budapest, Fidesz is still the strongest party of the country.