More than a year on, however, he still hasn’t grown into his new shoes.
Gergely Karácsony was elected mayor of Budapest in 2019 with a whisker over 50% of the votes cast. What seemed odd at the time to a lot of people was that his electoral success was a combination of two, odd elements. The first element, one that we have long become accustomed to in Hungary, is the whirlwind of hatred for the main government party and the prime minister. Unable to land any telling blows on either Fidesz or the person of Orbán himself, for the past few years, the opposition have concentrated on the demonisation of Orbán and his party as an alternative method of undermining their support. They’ve concentrated on barely anything else.
That tactic has brought them more in terms of electoral success than any attempt to take on the government on a level playing field. And it’s understandable why – the failures of the now-opposition when in government are well-documented. Those who now sit in opposition are responsible for the near-bankrupting of the country prior to 2010. Both the personal reputations of opposition politicians and the credit of opposition parties are justifiably stained by the historical mess that they made of Hungary whenever they were elected to power. They have failed to rid themselves of this tendency, and it continues to form a central plank of opposition policy. As such, should anyone wish to revisit the mayhem, destruction, and thievery at which left-wingers excel, it can be witnessed throughout Budapest where opposition-led local governments insist on placing the needs of their own bank accounts above the needs of the inhabitants of their districts. And yes, I am most certainly aware of the fact that the accusatory cry heard most often from the opposition of late is that of ‘kleptocracy’, but this is just the same old, sad trick that the Left have always utilised: accuse others of what you yourself are guilty of. Point at your political enemies to ensure that the populace don’t look too closely at you.
But, to the minor mayor of Budapest, a man voted in on the back of whipped up feelings of liberal outrage and resentment and, more strangely a sort of strange feeling of certain members of the voting population that this was someone who deserved their pity.
It didn’t seem to matter that the pity vote was never going to be a good idea. You might pity someone’s lack of talent, you might think it a shame that one musician ends up entertaining millions across the world while another, lacking that same level of talent, plays to anyone passing in the street.
You might think and feel all of these things, but you’re less than likely to act upon them, aren’t you? You might pity the busker for not having the talent that enables them to play to packed stadiums, but you’re not going to get behind them and push them in front of the headline act, are you? Of course not. Everyone recognises that talent is spread unevenly over humanity and some are just better than others at certain tasks.
This is hardly a tactic to be recommended in politics.
And the evidence we’ve seen to date supports the idea that electing someone because you pity them is, as was always strongly suspected, a bad idea. This is a man who is not destined for greatness. This is a man who is not on the ball. This is a man who has forty-one advisors and four deputy mayors (after just losing one to resignation). The man who is meant to be in control of a capital city is not a man who is in control of anything.
And in a recent radio interview we were presented with the most glaring comparison imaginable between Karácsony and his predecessor, István Tarlós. Tarlós was a man who always prided himself on being prepared. When meeting journalists, when appearing on television or radio, Tarlós radiated reassurance. Tarlós always came to the meetings so well-prepared to be in possession of all possible answers to all plausible questions.
Not so Karácsony. In his rambling answers which float over the airwaves, lurching and tottering from one “er…” to the next, what comes across is that this is a man wholly unprepared. Wholly unprepared for everything it appears. That, at least goes some way to explaining his need for four deputy mayors and forty-one advisors. Consider how far from succinct his answer to a wholly predictable question regarding the new contract for the refurbishment of the Chain Bridge was. The new contract will cost HUF 5 billion more, the security deposit for the work has been increased by a factor of 60, and the scope of potential contractual penalties has been reduced. Balázs Fürjes (the state secretary responsible for the development of Budapest) stated his concerns about the increased possibilities for corruption and overpricing. Karácsony the incapable’s answer went around the houses…twice! He touched on the fact that this contract is cheaper than the previous one, ignoring evidence to the contrary. The same company that were prepared to renovate the bridge for just under HUF 22 billion in the previous tender will now receive HUF 26.75 billion.
But the greatest example of his staggering ineptitude comes when asked by the interviewer whether it’s true that the security deposit has been increased manyfold, whilst the potential penalties have been reduced.
“Er…look, regarding that…if I’m being brutally honest with you, I can’t give you an exact answer. We’ve just completed a tender procedure which we wanted to finish in the quickest possible way.”
“Can’t give you an answer”? Bloody hell. What sort of incompetent man is this who seems to have signed a contract without looking at the details? This, unfortunately, is the incompetent in charge, Karácsony the incapable. Voted in because he was pitied, and about as efficient with contracts as Ursula von der Leyen.