Viktor Orban’s cabinet is the only one in Europe made up of only men. For the rank and file in the Hungarian prime minister’s ruling party, there are now even fewer women waiting in the wings.

Orban’s pick to become the mayor of Budapest, former government spokeswoman Alexandra Szentkiralyi, abruptly withdrew from the race on Friday. The Fidesz member announced she would support a third-party candidate that Orban’s party believes has a better shot at unseating the popular liberal mayor of the Hungarian capital, Gergely Karacsony.

Her decision was made public less than 48 hours before voting started in nationwide local elections, where the ballot to lead Budapest is the biggest prize.

The development fits a pattern. Hungary has plummeted in gender equality indexes under Orban’s 14-year rule to last place in the 27-member European Union.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (middle) attends the Fidesz party’s election night party after the European parliament and local elections in Budapest. Hungary has plummeted in gender equality indexes under Orban’s 14-year rule to last place in the 27-member EU. Photo: EPA-EFE

Fidesz, which Orban has moved over the last decade to the anti-immigration, nationalist right, has never been a bastion of gender equality. But Szentkiralyi’s departure comes months after the two most powerful women in Fidesz’s ranks were brought down by a scandal that had threatened Orban’s political standing.

Katalin Novak, a former minister whom Orban tapped in 2022 to become Hungary’s first female president, resigned in February after her decision to grant a pardon in a child sex-abuse case triggered national outrage. Soon after, Judit Varga, who was slated to lead Fidesz’s list for Sunday’s election for European parliament, quit when it emerged that she had certified the pardon as Orban’s justice minister at the time.

Both were replaced by men. The withdrawal of Szentkiralyi, a 36-year-old lawyer who climbed the ranks since she was a member of Fidesz’s youth wing, leaves the Budapest leadership contest an all-men race.

People watch TV as Hungary’s President Katalin Novak announces her resignation in the presidential palace of Budapest, in February. Novak quit after her decision to grant a pardon in a child sex-abuse case triggered national outrage. Photo: AFP

Speculation had been rife since Szentkiralyi’s candidacy was announced that Fidesz would eventually pull its support in favour of another candidate who had previously served as a government official.

The former spokeswoman’s announcement was preceded by a poll commissioned by a government-linked think tank – splashed across the ruling-party newspaper Magyar Nemzet – showing Szentkiralyi trailing in the race.

Her political career is not over though: as the leader of the Fidesz list in the capital, she is slated to become the ruling party’s point-person in the Budapest city hall legislature.