Hungary's main party faces lively challenge in local votes

  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of the governing Fidesz party prepares to cast his ballot at the nationwide local elections in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP)

    Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of the governing Fidesz party prepares to cast his ballot at the nationwide local elections in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP) Associated Press

  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of the governing Fidesz party delivers a statement after he cast his ballot at the nationwide local elections in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP)

    Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of the governing Fidesz party delivers a statement after he cast his ballot at the nationwide local elections in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP) Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/13/2019 12:53 PM

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Prime Minister Viktor Orban's dominant right-wing Fidesz party was facing a challenge Sunday from opposition parties who are backing joint candidates in many cities in Hungary's nationwide local election.

Voter turnout was projected to be near 50%, high for a local election, but it was unclear which side would benefit more. Turnout was even higher in Budapest, the capital, a key mayoral contest pitting the experienced Fidesz-backed incumbent against a younger rival representing five parties across the political spectrum.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Officials started counting ballots after voting stations closed at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT). Earlier this week, the main opposition parties said they would compile their own tally of votes to compare their figures with the official results.

Fidesz has been easily winning local, national and European Parliament elections since 2010, but a more unified opposition and the release of a video showing one of the party's best-known mayors, former Olympic champion gymnast Zsolt Borkai, participating in an orgy on a yacht shook up the last days of the campaign.

The sex scandal has visibly flustered Orban's party, whose officials initially called it a private matter. The conservative Fidesz, which since 2015 has made its reputation on anti-migration policies, also casts itself as a defender of Christian and family values.

In Hungary's most closely-watched vote, Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos, who is not a member of Fidesz but is backed by Orban's party, was running against Gergely Karacsony, a district leader in Budapest who is supported by left-wing, Green and liberal parties.

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More than 8 million people were eligible to vote for over 3,000 mayors and 17,200 local council members elected for five-year terms.

Despite the scandal-ridden campaign - a secret sex video was also released about an opposition mayor and plenty of other shenanigans took place - the Hungarian government's dominant influence over large sectors of the media and its blatant warnings about dwindling financial support for cities that don't elect Fidesz mayors meant that opposition candidates were fighting mostly uphill battles.

On Sunday, Tarlos urged Borkai to step down, concerned about the fallout from the scandal.

Borkai's actions were "insupportable, brazen, indefensible, vulgar and unworthy," Tarlos said on state radio. "The truth is that Borkai should resign, because it questions the achievements of others."

Orban said he would wait until Monday to declare his position on Borkai, who has also been criticized for his business connections and alleged corruption.

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