September 26, 2019 / 2:02 PM / in a month

Budapest mayor challenger sees intimidation attempt behind leaked audio

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - A leftist’s bid to wrest the political leadership in Hungary’s capital from the ruling Fidesz party suffered a blow on Thursday with the leak of a taped conversation in which the opposition candidate for Budapest mayor discusses infighting within the left.

FILE PHOTO: Opposition Socialist candidate Gergely Karacsony speaks during a campaign closing rally in Budapest, Hungary, April 6, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

Opposition factional feuding has been a significant factor in the seven consecutive landslide election wins since 2010 achieved by right-wing Prime Minister and Fidesz leader Viktor Orban at national, municipal and European parliament level.

The extent of the damage done by the audio to the campaign of mayoral hopeful Gergely Karacsony was not immediately clear, although another leak in 2006 of a speech by the then socialist prime minister in which he admitted lying about the economy to get elected eventually forced him out of power.

The incumbent in the Budapest mayoral race, Fidesz-backed Istvan Tarlos, appears to be the front-runner based on the latest surveys.

But an upset by Karacsony, the mayor of one of the capital’s districts, would represent the first major election triumph for Hungary’s fragmented opposition since Fidesz swept to power at the start of the decade.

In a 3-1/2-minute recording posted on website 444.hu, which has been edited several times over the course of the conversation, Karacsony is heard discussing power struggles and corruption plots in the socialist camp and the limits to his bargaining power in Budapest.

His voice is also heard saying that there is no return for him to his Budapest district as he “would be buried”.

In a Facebook post, Karacsony said the audio of a private conversation was made with what he called secret service methods in what he described as an attempt by Fidesz to intimidate him. Karacsony also says the recording was manipulated.

“We are batting back every attack with a joint effort. Every attack strengthens this alliance and me personally,” wrote Karacsony, who is backed by five leftist parties, including the Socialists and former PM Ferenc Gyurcsany’s Democratic Coalition.

A poll by think tank Zavecz Research published by local news website 24.hu earlier this month put support for Karacsony at 33% of Budapest voters, while the incumbent Fidesz-backed Tarlos had 38% support ahead of the October 13 election.

The Nezopont think tank put support for 71-year-old Tarlos, Budapest Mayor since 2010, at 43% versus 29% for 44-year-old Karacsony, the mayor of a Budapest district and co-chairman of the Parbeszed Magyarorszagert (Dialogue for Hungary) party.

Asked at a Thursday news conference whether the recording served Fidesz’s interests ahead of the election, Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, said the leak was probably the result of leftist infighting.

“There are mafia-like conditions on the left,” Gulyas said. “Gergely Karacsony is a part of these.”

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than, Editing by William Maclean

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