Budapest Mayor to Challenge Orban for Hungarian Premiership

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Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony will run for prime minister in Hungary’s elections next year, in what’s shaping up to be the biggest challenge for Premier Viktor Orban since his return to power in 2010.

Karacsony, who announced his candidacy on Saturday, will first have to win a primary contest opposition parties are holding later this year. He’s the front-runner in a crowded field, according to several recent polls.

Budapest Mayor to Challenge Orban for Hungarian Premiership

Hungary’s main opposition parties have united for the first time to unseat Orban, who has consolidated power to an unprecedented degree in the European Union and spawned copy-cat movements in Poland and, increasingly, Slovenia. Steps included extending his influence over the media, courts and education, in moves that have triggered clashes with the EU and a probe over the erosion of the rule of law.

Recent polls put the united opposition and Orban’s Fidesz neck-and-neck ahead of the parliamentary ballot, which is expected to be held in March or April next year.

Read more: Orban’s Party Retakes Hungarian Poll Lead on Pandemic Record

Karacsony, a 45-year-old political scientist, became one of the most recognizable faces of the opposition after he wrested control of the Hungarian capital from Fidesz in 2019 in what was the biggest electoral blow to Orban in more than a decade.

Family Wealth

He framed his candidacy as a bid to unite a country against a ruling elite dogged by corruption allegations, with those close to Orban, including his family, amassing vast wealth. Hungary’s ranking has plunged in Transparency International’s annual corruption perceptions index and is currently tied with Bulgaria and Romania as the nation with the biggest graft challenge in the EU.

“I’m not running for the privileged 1%, but for the 99% of Hungarians with various party sympathies who are living day to day and struggling to make ends meet,” Karacsony said in a Facebook post.

Underscoring the seriousness of the challenge, the government has started taking steps to decentralize power away from Orban’s direct control. These include setting up autonomous foundations -- staffed by the premier’s allies -- that will be in charge of areas normally overseen by the government, including the running of state universities.

The nuclear regulatory agency will also be decoupled from the government after Orban names a new chief for nine years. The moves are widely seen as Orban’s attempts to lock in his influence regardless of the election’s outcome.

Whoever is tapped to lead the opposition, though, will face an uphill battle against Orban, who has at his disposal Europe’s largest media propaganda machine, government resources and control of key state institutions. He’s gunning for a fifth overall and fourth consecutive term.

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