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Right makes dramatic gains in Hungary's municipal elections

 
 
 
 
 
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Hungary’s Fidesz and its Christian Democrat centre right governing partner virtually swept the board in Sunday’s local elections as expected, while radical nationalist party Jobbik made gains in the poor northeast and the Socialists confirmed their status as the main opposition force nationally.

The jewel in the crown, Budapest, saw a tighter race with Fidesz, managing just over 51 percent of the assembly vote based on preliminary results, and its candidate for mayor, Istvan Tarlos, just over 53 percent. In the capital, 19 out of 23 districts will be led by Fidesz mayors.

Fidesz is providing mayors for 22 out of 23 major cities and will control all 19 county assemblies, according to official preliminary results.

Hailing the result as equally important as the April election win in which Fidesz gained two-thirds of parliamentary seats, Orban said the local election results were a strong endorsement of the government’s work since it came to power, including its measures to foster national cohesion and cooperation.

He said Budapest, which has gone to the centre-right column for the first time since Hungary reverted to democracy 20 years ago, would no longer be at odds with the rest of the country.

“Budapest is once again the capital of the nation”, Orban said.

The new Budapest Mayor, Istvan Tarlos, said he would carry out his programme in close cooperation with the national government. He said the fact that Fidesz will hold a majority in the municipal assembly would be useful. He said that should the opposition be inclined to cooperate in the interest of the city, there will be no obstacle to cooperation.

“The spirit of the city will change,” he said after noting that Budapest has had left-wing or liberal mayors for 65 years.

Orban said that voters had chosen the politics of national cohesion, a new proportionate tax system, to draw up a new constitution and the strong representation of Hungary’s interests at home and abroad.

“Hungary has stepped from out of its own shadow,” he said.

Orban has promised far-reaching tax reforms to boost competitiveness and growth. But under pressure from the European Union he has also pledged to stick to strict budget deficit targets this year and in 2011.

The market is looking for detail in policy announcements after the election to see if Fidesz is really to implement structural reforms, which economists say are badly needed to keep the strained public finances on a sustainable footing in the future.

In a newspaper interview at the weekend Orban talked up “big changes” such as tax cuts and growth, and ruled out further austerity.

A low number of Hungarians, just over 46 percent, voted in Sunday’s local election, which analysts said indicated the apathy of opposition left-wingers and liberals in the face of a strong right wing dominated by Fidesz.

President Pal Schmitt told a news conference that every ballot cast in Sunday’s election had strengthened the ideal of democracy.

Gergely Karacsony, the green Politics Can Be Different (LMP) party’s campaign chief, told journalists that “the low turnout is always a bad sign for democracy”.

The main opposition Socialist party’s spokesman Zsolt Torok said that people had stayed away to show their disapproval of the government’s work, the governing parties’ fear-mongering and deceitful politics.

Commenting on the low turnout, Orban said that “everyone who went to the polls has given a mandate, and everyone who stayed at home gave permission to [the government to] continue the work begun.”

Hungary’s small parties, LMP and Jobbik, both of which got seats in parliament for the first time in the April general election, fared worse than expected in the local election, analysts said.

Robert Manchin, head of the European chapter of Gallup Institute, said LMP needs to widen its activist base in the provinces in order to become a professional party.

Agoston Samuel Mraz added that Jobbik had produced “rather bad results” which is due to “the end of a protest atmosphere” in the country which had accumulated before Fidesz trounced the Socialists who had governed for eight years.

Attila Mesterhazy, leader of the opposition Socialist party, said his party had done better than expected in Sunday’s local election. The results have confirmed that the Socialist party is a counterweight in Hungary’s political arena and the second strongest party, he insisted.

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