The new mayor of Budapest - Gergely Karacsony talks about the changes in Hungary’s political scene

The new mayor of Budapest - Gergely Karacsony talks about the changes in Hungary’s political scene
By Judith Prescott
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Gergely Karacsony is the new mayor of Budapest beating the Fidesz-backed incumbent in recent elections

In a surprise win, opposition candidate Gergely Karacsony scored a victory over the Fidesz-backed incumbent in recent mayoral elections. It was the first electoral defeat for Prime Minister Viktor Orban's party in nine years.

Global Conversation spoke to the new mayor of Budapest to find out his plans for the capital and his own political future.

To watch the full interview please click on the player above.

Attila Magyar, Euronews: What’s behind this success? What has happened in Hungary over the last couple of weeks?

We have known for a long time that there are a majority of citizens who don’t agree with the politics of the government. Fidesz was able to win elections in the past by taking advantage of a divided opposition. These were the first elections in nearly 15 years when there was real competition, and the opposition won this contest in Budapest and several other big cities.

Attila Magyar, Euronews: Your victory is due to a more colourful coalition than Romani Prodi’s former Olive Tree coalition. You describe yourself as a Green Party politician, but you are supported by the successor of the former communist party (MSZP), by the party of one of Hungary’s most divisive politicians, former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány (DK), even the far-right Jobbik did not run a candidate against you. This is the party (Jobbik) which is opposed to Gyurcsány.

The common opposition candidate for the mayor of the capital was decided not by the parties - but by the people of Budapest. A two round, pre-election process resulted in a joint opposition candidate who was elected directly by the people of Budapest. Since this was decided by the votes of the people, I emphasized during the campaign that I am not the opposition candidate I said that I was the candidate of the people of Budapest against the people of the power. The politics of the last nearly 10 years have all been about Fidesz. Having a two-thirds majority, meant any counterbalance of power was eliminated - from the Constitutional Court to the free press - which narrowed the municipalities scope for action. Over the past nine years, this meant Budapest was the big loser. My campaign was about representing the will of the people of Budapest against the government. We believed our main political stance was representing the power of the people instead of the people of the power.

Attila Magyar, Euronews: The Budapest result can be compared to local elections in Istanbul. You met the mayor of Istanbul before the elections, did he have any advice for you?

I was given important advice from the mayor of Istanbul. His main message was that my politics should be built on the people, not based on party politics and rivalry for power. He emphasized in his campaign and also after his election as mayor, that his strength in the face of a very strong power is invincible because it is not his strength, it is the strength of the city. I wanted to represent this politics in my campaign and I think I have succeeded. My success, which was surprising for many, was not due to my excellent campaign or my personality, nor due to the opposition parties. This victory was due to a policy of trying to involve people more in decision-making. I think nowadays representative democracy is facing a very serious challenge globally. Some people say if representative democracy is in trouble, you should choose heavy-handed leaders who tell you what you need and protect you from danger. You can see this in the politics of the Hungarian government, and in many other places where politics has started to move away from European core values. This can be seen in the Brexit phenomenon as well as American politics. I don’t think this is the right answer. The correct answer is to strengthen representative democracy, complement this with the institutions which are part of the participative democracy and involve people more in decision-making.

Attila Magyar, Euronews: How can you work together with the prime minister? What kind of opportunities do you have in the capital of a non-liberal state?

I can negotiate with the government more efficiently than anyone else because when I negotiate with the government I represent the people of Budapest. I sit at the table knowing their opinions. This power is much stronger than politicians think.

Attila Magyar, Euronews: You are the first high representative in Hungary coming from a Green party. What kind of green measures do you have in mind?

Budapest is, or can be, a big loser in the fight against climate change. That’s why we have to start a process so that Budapest can take part in the battle to tackle climate change. We would like to achieve a carbon-free capital by 2030.

Attila Magyar, Euronews: Green measures also have serious economic impacts. How do you plan to carry out this while there is no Green party, no Green politician behind you?

I think the opposition parties are equally determined to implement these policies. It is also very important to see that this green conversion, this green turn in the life of the city does not mean necessarily economic problems. Of course, investments must be financed, but we should not forget that the whole ‘green new deal’ is about making the whole European economic and social system sustainable. This creates lot of jobs and opens the possibility of economic growth, especially at a time when we are having to prepare ourselves for an economic recession in Europe. I am very happy to see that the new European Commission wants to represent this climate adaptation policy. I am also very happy there is a possibility for big European cities to be directly funded from Brussels to implement measures which are important with a view to fighting climate change.

Attila Magyar, Euronews: You promised to stop certain types of investments in Budapest - for instance, stadium construction. How can you achieve this faced with a prime minister who has a formidable political force (Fidesz) behind him?

I am not against investments. I just want to re-establish priorities by asking the government to also invest in health care. Once this has been carried out then we can discuss other things. I don’t want to act against these investments, but I would like to draw the attention to the fact that these investments are not the most important ones. The ranking is low now. The development of health care, public transport and green areas must come first - sports' investments will be made only after this.

Attila Magyar, Euronews: Actually you are the most successful opposition politician. Will you run for prime minister, will you challenge Viktor Orbán in 2022?

In my position, my priority now is to have a normal partnership with the government. Nevertheless, I don’t want to ignore my roots in Hungarian politics. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the opposition will find an excellent candidate, but I think now I have other jobs to do.

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