From Istanbul to Budapest, cities are bucking up against authority

, by Alexis Vannier, Translated by Helena McIndoe

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From Istanbul to Budapest, cities are bucking up against authority

The weekend of the 12th of October was full of elections. New Zealand re-elected their local government and voted for a member of the nationalist party to be the new Mayor of Wellington (the country’s capital). Tunisians entrusted the role of President to a conservative legal expert. In Vorarlberg, Austria, 43% voted for the chancellor’s conservative party. Poland also renewed its relationship with their national conservative party, PiS, and Hungarians were called to vote in their local elections.

The opposition strategy that paid off...

In a previous article, I discussed the strategy of several opposition parties in Hungary, who joined forces against the current party in government, Fidesz, by supporting the same candidate. Not all cities ended up with a coalition, and the parties coming together weren’t always the same. In Budapest, those five parties ranged from the Green movement, to left-wing and socio-liberal ones. With the support of an independent candidate, as well as a slight increase in participation, they were able to win the election in 14 of Budapest’s districts, with Fidesz winning in just 7 of them. The far-right party Jobbik, which had also refused to take part in this grand coalition, lost its only seat in Budapest’s municipal council. In addition, Gergely Karácsony, a candidate of the opposing coalition, succeeded in defeating previous mayor - Fidesz party’s István Tarlós - with more than 50% of the votes.

... But Fidesz are still triumphant

The opposition were only hoping to win in two or three cities. To everyone’s surprise, they did so in 10 of Hungary’s 23 largest towns. This only proves that citizens are starting to get tired of those in power; and is a determining factor when it comes to the changing voting patterns of regions normally in favour of Orbán.

Despite this, the Fidesz party is still predominant in rural areas. Its message - that Christianity is “under attack” and that “liberal Europe”, which “threatens the quality of life” of middle-class Hungarians, is largely to blame - typically attracts those outside of the major cities, who are more inclined towards a social-conservative stance. It is largely this which explains the ease with which Fidesz have retained control over Hungary’s 19 counties.

Opinion polls show that voters traditionally place more trust in their local politicians. This is particularly the place in the capital, where the municipal opposition resonates with those who follow a moderate ‘localist’ philosophy and who wish to grant independence to the provinces.

The opposition taking Budapest, the Pearl of the Danube, seems to be a promising sign for the next parliamentary elections in 2022. Although, given that the Fidesz party has won every election for the past ten years, it is important not read too much into the results. Budapest has, nonetheless, joined the short list of capital cities ruled by opposition parties in countries with governments accused of drifting towards authoritarianism. This list includes including Polish capital Warsaw, which is run by a centre-right opposition party, but also Turkey’s economic capital Istanbul, where the victory of secular opposition figure Ekrem İmamoğlu set off alarm bells for President Erdoğan. Having himself been a major of Istanbul, he has often stated that “He who controls Istanbul, controls Turkey”. This phrase must have resonated in the heads of all of İmamoğlu’s supporters - and perhaps in those of their Polish and Hungarian counterparts.

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