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Election campaign in the home stretch

October 7th, 2019

A week ahead of the local elections, corruption and sex scandals dominate the campaign – and serve as leading topics for commentators.

Magyar Narancs downplays the importance of a tape recording of disparaging remarks by left wing Budapest mayoral candidate Gergely Karácsony about his allies (see BudaPost September 28). The liberal weekly suspects that when he accused local Socialist politicians of corruption, he only reiterated what most voters have long known about. The leaked tape is thus unlikely to weaken Karácsony, Magyar Narancs suggests. The weekly considers ‘defeating anti-democratic Fidesz’ as the main aim of the opposition, and in that spirit Magyar Narancs welcomes the fact that left-wing parties are keeping their coalition alive despite their internal disputes.

In Népszava, Tamás Beck accuses the government and PM Orbán personally of attempts at “character assassination”, which he also takes as proof that they genuinely fear Gergely Karácsony. The left-wing columnist writes that PM Orbán ‘lost the moral high ground and credibility long ago’, and therefore is unlikely to succeed in weakening the opposition candidate for Budapest mayor by making public private tapes obtained in ‘dirty ways’. Beck thus hopes that Budapest will vote for the opposition. Népszava’s former editor-in-chief Péter Németh also accuses the government of using unprecedented means to discredit opposition candidates.

In a sarcastic piece in the same daily, Attila Sebestyén doubts that next week’s municipal election actually serves local self-government at all. Important decisions are made by the central government rather than local councils, the left-wing commentator suggests. And as a result of corruption, voters can determine only who may steal more, Sebestyén contends.

Magyar Nemzet’s Zsolt Bayer finds it nauseating that opposition politicians defend Imre László, the Left’s candidate for Mayor in the Budapest 11th district. Earlier this week Origo accused László of sexual harassment. To support its claim, the pro-government online media outlet quoted an unnamed healthcare colleague who said that while working as her supervisor, the mayoral candidate wanted to rape her. Gergely Karácsony and the Democratic Coalition dismissed the accusations as outright lies. Bayers recalls that the same politicians were in the past quick to lambast any public figure accused of sexual misconduct. All this shows, Bayer concludes, that opposition politicians are ‘crooks’.

In the same daily, Balázs Bácskai likens another set of tapes and photos to former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány’s 2006 ‘Őszöd speech’. On Saturday, Hír TV showed a tape in which MSZP politicians from the Budapest 19th district boast of their wealth and discuss ways to invest money made through corrupt operations. Bácskai questions whether voters still want to support such corrupt politicians.

On Index, Szabolcs Dull wonders whether private life has gained more importance in politics. The liberal analyst recalls that in the past weeks, half a dozen opposition candidates in the local elections were accused of sexual misconduct, and in some cases, secret recordings about intimate relationships were also published. In Hungary, private life has so far been a taboo in politics, Dull writes.  For this reason, it is hard to guess whether voters will punish politicians involved in such scandals, he concludes.

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