Hungarian democratic deficits have been raging unchecked for the last decade, with Viktor Orbán's authoritarian regime growing bolder in its violations of human rights and the Rule of Law. Ahead of the next Hungarian elections in April/May 2022, a broad coalition of parties have united to get behind one opposition candidate and electoral manifesto.
Gergely Karácsony, the 46-year-old Mayor of Budapest who has introduced participatory democracy in the capital city, and the only candidate to have defeated Orbán's party in an election, is running to be the Prime Minister candidate for the united opposition in the current Hungarian opposition primaries.
A broad coalition is uniting to ensure that Democracy prevails over Autocracy
Viktor Orbán has been called 'Europe's most unscrupulous autocratic political chief' by his own allies in the Fidesz party. In the last 10 years, Orbán and his party worked to undermine democracy, tilt the electoral system in his favour and warp the labour code, media regulations and the constitution. Although this has happened gradually, the impact today is that the country is suffering from a democratic breakdown – some might even call Hungary a 'de facto dictatorship', a hybrid regime functioning under the veil of EU democracy.
Since Orbán took power in 2010, he has redrawn parliamentary boundaries and introduced a new initiative that grants the winning party extra votes. In the latest 2018 elections, electoral fraud raised serious concern from NGOs and human rights groups. The incidents that were reported included 'bribery, intimidation, tampering with postal votes, missing ballots and election software malfunctions'.
Other democratic checks such as judicial and media independence have been dismantled over the last decade. The Fidesz party has weakened independent institutions, harassed critical civil society organizations and taken control of the media as well as much of education and the arts. On the 2018 elections, the OSCE remarked that 'intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing constricted the space for genuine political debate, hindering voters' ability to make a fully-informed choice."
This decline in democracy correlates with a clear increase in systemic corruption. Hungary has had the sharpest drop of all countries in the EU in the annual corruption index by the NGO Transparency International (TI). It also found that the coronavirus pandemic is being used as an opportunity to further consolidate power and funnel public monies to line the pockets of oligarchs, while the government fails to tackle the crisis.
The opposition had been fragmented since Orbán's return to power in 2010, but Karácsony's victory in municipal elections as well as wins across 12 other cities have galvanised opposition parties to work together. Finally, six parties agreed on cooperating for the upcoming elections.
Mayor of Budapest Gergely Karácsony is running as candidate for Prime Minister
Gergely Karácsony is gearing up to fight for democracy and tackle corruption in his run for candidate in the Hungarian primaries. He intends to bring a divided country back together after 10 years of divisive politics. The 99% Movement, founded by Karácsony, calls on Hungarian citizens to come together to overthrow the political elite governing in the favour of the top 1% and renew democracy in the country for the benefit of the 99% majority.
Karácsony is the only candidate who has defeated a Fidesz candidate. In his run for Mayor in 2019, he represented a united opposition set on challenging Orbán's party and was victorious despite tight media control from the ruling party. Since the electoral breakthrough, he has governed the Municipality of Budapest in coalition with other parties, and consistently found solutions that served the public. The election has been hailed as potentially representing 'the beginning of the end for Orbán'.
As the Mayor of Budapest, he has been improving people's lives through democratic engagement, emissions reductions, as well as infrastructural and social investment. In the capital, he has introduced successful initiatives that have enhanced participatory democracy and inclusive decision-making, such as a participatory budget, and climate ambition citizen assemblies. And when Orbán's government continued to blunder through healthcare failures, Karácsony provided citizens with COVID-19 services. Today, he is pushing to expand unemployment benefits from 3 to 9 months, and to provide housing infrastructure for students across the country rather than building private universities.
Karácsony is the only green candidate in the race that steps up climate ambition holistically – as part of a just and sustainable transition for all. As Green MEP Thomas Waitz states, he is 'able to link the needed ecological transition with questions of energy poverty and creating local Green jobs'. At this year's Progressive Governance Summit, Karácsony highlighted that:
"The fight against climate change (...) can only be sustainable if the costs of adaptation are not paid by the more underprivileged sectors of society."
Karácsony has also collaborated with other mayors transnationally in order to achieve progressive change and accelerate the transformation towards climate neutrality. He is known for his role in the political alliance between mayors of the capital cities of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia: the Visegrád Four or V4. He also founded the Pact of Free Cities Network which has recently expanded to include Amsterdam, Florence, Barcelona, Frankfurt, London, Gdańsk, and Los Angeles.
Gergely Karácsony is the perfect response to Orbán's autocratic rule: his pro-democracy, green and anti-corruption stances, as well as his experience leading diverse coalitions, make him the best candidate to lead Hungary!
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Photo: Gergely Karácsony's Facebook Page