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Candidates in Budapest municipal election present ideas in TV debate

Candidates of five political parties in the Budapest municipal election set for June 9 participated in a debate hosted by commercial television channel ATV late on Sunday and presented their proposals for the capital's development.

The debate was attended by Krisztina Baranyi, incumbent mayor of District 9 and the Budapest list leader of the satirical Two-Tailed Dog party, Andras Grundtner, list leader of radical nationalist Mi Hazank, incumbent Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony, list leader of the Parbeszed-Greens-DK-Socialists alliance, Tamas Soproni, mayor of District 6 and second on the list of Momentum, as well as David Vitezy, list leader of the With David Vitezy Association for Budapest and a politician backed by the LMP party.

Alexandra Szentkiralyi, list leader of the ruling Fidesz-Christian Democrat alliance and Peter Magyar of the Tisza Party had declined to attend, ATV said.

In the debate, focusing on traffic developments, making Budapest a more resident-friendly city, and cooperation between the government and the city’s leadership, Baranyi said in local affairs local leaders were need “who will build a community”, adding that “everybody is bored with Hungarian politics” and suggested that her party sought the votes of those people. Concerning traffic developments, she noted the high rate of carcinogenic particles in the air, and called for reducing vehicular traffic. She said she did not agree with centralising parking fee collection in Budapest, as she said it was “a hotbed for corruption”. She noted a “housing crisis” in Budapest and said the government should be “forced” to finance plans to build accommodation for students. She also suggested the introduction of subsidies for people facing homelessness, and giving more focus to such vulnerable groups as the victims of domestic violence.

Grundtner said that “though there is no Hungary without Budapest and there is no Budapest without the country … Budapest has become separated from the body of the nation, like a city state … people flee Hungary while foreigners keep settling in” adding that Mi Hazank would prevent “the formation of unliveable ghettos”. Concerning housing, he said his party would scrap taxes on private rental revenues, while universities would not be allowed to increase the number of their students unless they could provide enough capacity in student hostels. He said the city’s leadership should always strive for good relations with the central government to ensure access to subsidies. He also suggested the establishment of a municipal police and noted the importance of action against animal cruelty.

Vitezy stressed that he did not want to be “a party politician … using Budapest as a springboard”. He said his focus was Budapest’s development. He said public transport services between central Budapest and its greater area must be improved, and called for a “fight” for government support to an upgrade of suburban train services and railway developments, developing the tram network and speeding up road renovations. He also argued for centralising the parking fee collection system. Concerning the city’s relationship with the government, Vitezy said “continuous fussing” with the government “led nowhere” and criticised Karacsony for “getting involving in national politics rather than promoting the interests of Budapest residents”. On the subject of the environment, he called for “preparing Budapest for climate change” through enlarging its parks. He also called for developing the animal protection system. He called for efforts to make the city and its transport cleaner, and said that in the city’s “rust belt” areas 10,000 housing units could be constructed using private investments.

Karacsony said “those that have not turned up at the debate have sent the clear message of having nothing to say for the people of Budapest”. The mayor said he would work for “an even greener Budapest with more solidarity for needy residents”. He said the city called for cleaner air and affordable rental housing. In the next cycle, he said, the city would spend a total 56 billion forints in EU funding for increasing green areas under his leadership. He said the municipal leadership “must work to ensure a longer, more complete and healthier life for residents”. Karacsony noted that life expectancy in Budapest was 5 years lower than in other capitals of Europe. He insisted that in the past five years Budapest had seen “the largest outpatient service development” in its history, and said he wanted to continue in that spirit. He also stressed that health institutions should be kept under the control of district governments rather than centralised. Budapest is a “free, loyal and diverse European city … while the government represents the opposite of all that, which does not make cooperation easy.” He added, however, that he was willing to cooperate “with anyone” but he would not give up his principles.

Soproni said his party represented progressive and liberal values and was working to ensure transparency, while it was “free of even the shadow of corruption, which cannot be said of all opposition parties.” Concerning transport, he said vehicular traffic should be reduced, and pledged an introduction of all-night metro services. He slammed the government for cutting funds for the city and curbing the rights of districts. Momentum “offers and extended hand” to the government, and will “always promote the interests of residents” in the municipal assembly, he said. He added that his party would support introduction of a traffic jam fee. Soproni also offered his party’s support to Karacsony “in efforts to jointly develop Budapest.”

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