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New Budapest mayor says his win is blueprint to challenge Orban

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By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The newly elected mayor of Budapest on Wednesday said his victory in municipal elections on Sunday is a blueprint for beating Hungarian premier Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party, which has ruled in an increasingly autocratic way for a decade.

Orban, who has clashed with Western allies over the rule of law and cozied up to autocrats while stifling dissent, has stayed in power against a weak and fragmented opposition.

But after a string of nine landslide election losses dating back to 2006, the opposition amalgamated this year and handed the premier’s party its first major setback, wrestling back control of the capital and other big cities.

Orban’s rule, bouyed by economic success, is as strong as ever and he faces no election challenge until 2022.

The opposition must stay united until then and present an alternative, said Gergely Karacsony, a 44-year-old liberal sociologist who takes office as the capital’s lord mayor on Thursday.

“Cooperation has no alternative,” he told a press briefing. “Everyone in the opposition considers this a one-way street. No opposition voter would appreciate the unity falling apart.”

With at least a half-dozen parties still in the opposition mix, Karacsony acknowledged his alliance will have to walk a political tightrope but said his win showed the blueprint: unite, work a lot, and channel voter frustration.

The ruling party has also grappled with the implications of a single strong opponent, and it has recognised a need for correcting its own path, the news web site Index reported from a pro-Fidesz political conference on Tuesday.

“Today we see something we have never seen in the history of Hungarian democracy,” Index quoted Gergely Gulyas, Orban’s chief of staff, as saying. “In terms of party coalitions, a two-party system has formed.”

Karacsony said it took a long time for the opposition to adapt to the new electoral reality that penalised smaller parties and rewarded larger ones, but it has made the necessary adjustments.

Although he plans to stay a central opposition figure, as mayor Karacsony said he would focus on city issues first and cooperate with the national government of Orban, who also struck a conciliatory tone after the elections.

“Opposition municipalities cannot be used as bastions in the political fight between opposition parties and the government,” he said, saying that more than 3 million of Hungary’s 10 million people now live in opposition-run communities.

“If these municipalities display a new type of governance and that wins voter approval, that can contribute to a successful showing at subsequent elections.”

(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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