Gergely Karacsony, a unity candidate for a wide range of opposition groups, beat the ruling Fidesz candiate in the Hungarian capital.
Hungary’s political landscape has changed following municipal elections which saw members of the right-wing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban unseated and an opposition ready to challenge their authority in Budapest.
The elections, which took place on October 13, saw the Fidesz mayor of Budapest lose his office, along with municipal mayors in the seventh and eighth districts – popular tourist destinations –among other locales.
Budapest residents elected Gergely Karacsony, the candidate for a wide-ranging joint opposition group, to be its new mayor.
Karacsony won 50 percent of the vote, besting Fidesz’s Istvan Tarlos’s 44 percent.
“This victory was about how the power of the people is stronger than people in power, love and cooperation always overcomes hatred, and reality, in the end, trumps lies,” Karacsony said after votes were tallied.
The opposition included almost every major liberal and left-wing party in Hungary, who joined following repeated and resounding defeats by Fidesz in local and national elections.
For Viktor Mihaly, a resident of Budapest’s eighth district, the news is welcome. “Budapest feels lighter,” Mihaly told TRT World. “The future looks bright for the first time in years, but only time will tell if things can change.”
Orban and Fidesz have made anti-migration, anti-liberal rhetoric a central theme of their rule over the past four years.
Members of Fidesz have alleged that Hungarian-American billionaire financier George Soros – a champion of liberal causes – is conspiring with the EU to encourage migration to dilute Hungary’s “Christian” character, a talking point that became a major far-right conspiracy theory throughout the West in recent years.
The government, which holds a constitutional majority in parliament after winning a national election in 2018 with roughly 49 percent of the vote, passed laws that have criminalised homelessness, aid to migrants and “forced” the Hungarian-American Central European University (CEU), founded by Soros, to relocate its US-accredited courses to Vienna.
On the municipal level, Fidesz politicians have been accused of harassing a local community centre, Aurora, which is known locally as one of the last bastions of alternative culture and civil society organisations.
Aurora, found in the part of Budapest where Mihaly lives, has been repeatedly shut down by authorities, prompting US lawmakers to visit and voice their support for the community centre.
Now, the eighth district’s newly elected mayor from the same opposition alliance as Karacsony, Andras Piko, has stated that Aurora is welcome and there will be “no witch hunts” under his leadership.
Mihaly, who said he sees music performances at Aurora periodically, said the news was welcome: “There aren’t a lot of spots for locals [in Budapest] as most places are trying to attract [others]. Aurora is good for locals, but not just Hungarians. Everyone is welcome.”
The seventh district, known as Budapest’s “party district”, also saw its Fidesz mayor unseated by Peter Niedermuller.
Niedermuller has opened the door to limiting Airbnb rentals, public alcohol consumption, noise levels and even a midnight closing time for raucous bars enjoyed by foreign tourists.
The seventh district has seen a growing local opposition to nightlife, with many activists saying the tourism industry makes the area unlivable.
While it seems likely that municipal mayors can work with regulations on the local level, it remains to be seen how much power Karacsony can wield in Budapest.
The new mayor has asked CEU to keep as many courses as possible in Budapest, promised to freeze construction projects critics say benefit Fidesz allies and focus on sustainable development to create a “transparent” capital.
But Fidesz wields a constitutional majority, giving it the ability to shape Hungary’s legal system nearly at will. Karacsony can ask CEU to remain, but the law that made it move US-accredited courses to Vienna still stands.
The friction between Karacsony’s policies and those of Fidesz prompted concerns that Budapest would be cut off from development funds and other benefits.
A government spokesperson pointed TRT World to comments made by Orban, who said it is “in the interests of the country and the people who live in Budapest, we are ready to work together.”
Orban has also appeared to confirm that funding agreements made with previous mayor Tarlos, would still be valid.
Orban also stressed that while Budapest chose the opposition, the majority of votes throughout the country were for his party.
“As a result, I would like to see the bold and self-confident governance of the past nine years continue”, Orban said.