Hungary’s municipal elections showed an increasing urban-rural divide, with the ruling conservative Fidesz strongest in the countryside, while a fragmented opposition managed to grab some important metropolitan centers such as Budapest and a few larger regional cities.
These were Hungary’s eighth municipal elections since the 1990 regime change and brought the third highest turnout of just under 50 percent, meaning that about four million of Hungary’s 8.02 million eligible voters cast their ballot.
Perhaps the most sensitive loss was that of Budapest and the majority of its districts. Previous 14th district mayor Gergely Karácsony backed by the majority of the country’s opposition parties beat incumbent István Tarlós, the metropolitan mayor who has served since 2010, by 50.86 percent against 44.10 percent.
Out of Budapest’s 23 districts, Fidesz mayors will remain in the two largest ones – whose combined population exceeds that of Debrecen, the largest city after Budapest – but overall had to concede eight districts, with 14 that will for the next five-year cycle be led by opposition candidates and one independent.
More relevantly for national politics – as local elections are not necessarily reflective of overall party preferences – Fidesz also kept its majority in all 19 county assemblies. It did, however, lose the Budapest assembly, which is a separate constituency outside of the county system. In it opposition parties now have 18 representatives against Fidesz’s 15.
Among the country’s ten largest regional cities, a Fidesz mayor will continue to serve in six of them, including the largest regional town of Debrecen, compared with nine out of those ten, major mayoral positions won in 2014.
Looking at all the mayoral positions nationwide, Fidesz will have 518 mayors compared with 37 opposition or independent ones.
Analysts pointed out several things when commenting on the results:
– The map of the country, colored by party results remained orange (the color of the ruling Fidesz) canvas, dotted with a few, blue opposition hotspots in major urban areas.
– The gains of the opposition will not necessarily translate into a similar result at the next parliamentary elections, as the opposition remains severely fragmented: its winning mayors had the backing of five parties, of which the three largest together have about the same popular support as the ruling Fidesz alone.
– Several scandalous revelations in the finishing stretch of the campaign have drawn attention away from reasonable debate, track record of incumbent mayors and the candidates’ actual agenda.
– The government will for the next three years have to contend with opposition-led cities which remain important because they are both the most attractive targets for foreign direct investment and international tourism, a significant revenue source for the budget and the country.
Title image: Hungary’s biggest ballot paper in the southeastern village of Kunágota, with 49 local council candidates (MTI/Tibor Rosta)