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Budapest Mayor Aims Higher

Viktor Orban’s most serious rival jumps into the race for the premiership

Gergely Karacsony • Autor: REUTERS
Gergely Karacsony • Autor: REUTERS

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony has announced he wants to be Hungary’s next prime minister. To be more precise, he has announced his candidacy for the candidacy for the premiership. Hungary’s united opposition will choose its candidate in the September primaries.

The news had been anticipated, mostly because many Hungarian opposition voters consider Karacsony, 45, the most promising contender to run against the powerful Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party-state. The mayor is not the only candidate seeking the top job, but he is the only one without any visible political flaws. His competitors for the united opposition candidacy are either too young (such as 32-year-old Andras Fekete-Gyor, head of the Momentum movement), or backed by a party with an all but fascist past (like Peter Jakab, leader of Jobbik), or married to the hated, unpopular former prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany – which is the case of the center-left candidate, Klara Dobrev.

Karacsony, a green liberal, has no such obvious downside. He was elected mayor of the Pest municipal department and then surprisingly won election as mayor for all of Budapest in 2019 against an Orban-backed candidate. He smiles during public appearances while clashing sharply with Orban’s administration in both his politics and his rhetoric. To launch his campaign for the country’s top job, he went back to the small northeastern town of Nyirtass where he grew up.  It was a logical move, as the Hungarian opposition already enjoys relative success in the bigger cities, while the countryside and small towns unequivocally belong to Fidesz – for the time being.

The proof that Karacsony has disturbed those in power is the harsh reaction to his candidacy in the pro-government media outlets. They are portraying him as a puppet not just of the American billionaire George Soros, but also of former premier Gyurcsany. That politician governed the country 15 years ago and earned people’s hatred (somewhat paradoxically) after a recording was leaked to the media of him infamously admitting about the government, during a closed party meeting, that “we stole by day, we stole by night, and we fucked up everywhere possible.” Karacsony has also had to deal with the fact that, unlike Orban, he does not speak fluent English or any other foreign language, a truth the mayor acknowledges. Pro-government media are also paying a great deal of attention to the faux pas committed when Karacsony referred to Orban as a “fat little man,” an insult for which he quickly apologized.

The decision as to who will lead the opposition into the next election will be made after the summer holidays. The first trustworthy polls on the popularity of each opposition candidate for the premiership will come out in the weeks to come. Parliamentary elections, which Orban will try to win for the fourth time in a row while the opposition tries to end his time in office, will be held in less than a year. Independent polls currently show a tie between Fidesz and the united opposition. Some even give the opposition a slight lead.

Translated by Gwendolyn Albert. Vychází ve spolupráci s TransitionsOnline

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