Hungary's opposition is hoping to emulate the success of its counterpart in Istanbul, whose candidate in this year’s mayoral election, Ekrem İmamoğlu, was elected in the face of a bitter fight from the ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Gergely Karácsony, the liberal opposition candidate in the Budapest mayoral election on Sunday October 13th, could score the biggest political win against the government of Viktor Orbán in a decade if he manages to unseat ruling party incumbent István Tarlos. According to Reuters, the race appears to be tightening.
Whatever happens, Sunday’s vote will not affect Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's grip on power. His avowedly ‘illiberal’ government has been bolstered by a strong economy, fierce anti-immigration rhetoric and double-digit wage rises. His ruling Fidesz party commands huge popularity in rural areas.
Furthermore, Hungary is not scheduled for a general election until 2022 and Orbán, who rose to power in 2010, holds a whopping two-thirds majority in parliament.
But if the 44-year-old Karácsony, currently mayor of Budapest’s Zugló district, were to beat 71-year-old Tarlos, it would expose a crack in the right-wing leader's support in the capital.
Budapest is home to about a fifth of Hungary's population of 10 million, but it generates more than a third of the country’s economic output and plays a giant role in all aspects of national life.
In the European Parliament elections in May, Orbán's Fidesz won 52.6% of votes cast but only 41.2% in Budapest. Thousands have taken to the streets in the capital in recent years to protest some of his constitutional and judicial reforms that critics say have eroded democratic standards.
Sunday's nationwide local elections will be a key test of an opposition strategy of rallying behind a single candidate against Fidesz, the dominant party which has scored seven consecutive landslide election wins since 2010 on the national, municipal and European levels.
The election could also show whether popular demand for a mainstream opposition in Hungary is rising.
"The centre-left has been totally discredited economically, and those faces have not disappeared from the background," said Otilia Dhand, an analyst at think tank Teneo Intelligence. "They need to provide a real alternative to rule the country. They can do so if they run local things well and convince voters that their votes are not wasted."
So far, most polls put Tarlos, mayor of Budapest since 2010, ahead of the mild-mannered Karácsony, although the latest survey by think tank Median indicated that the race could be a very close call.
Defeat for the opposition, however, could call into question the viability of its strategy of fielding joint candidates, seen by many as the best way to crack Fidesz's dominance, said Andras Biro-Nagy, an analyst at think tank Policy Solutions.