(Bloomberg) -- A video of one of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s allies participating in an orgy on a luxury yacht is giving an unexpected boost to Hungary’s opposition, which is looking to chip away at the illiberal leader’s dominance in Sunday’s nationwide municipal elections.

A strong showing by the parties, particularly in the capital Budapest, could give them momentum against Orban for the 2022 parliamentary ballot. Failure to reclaim some big cities despite joining their forces the first time would point to a likely fifth term for the premier, one of the most prominent populists in the European Union.

Opposition parties, which have lost seven nationwide elections since Orban returned to power in 2010, have generated some momentum in the campaign finish from a video published last week showing the mayor of Gyor, western Hungary’s largest city, participating in an orgy on a yacht along with his associates. The footage jarred against the conservative family values the ruling party projects across its powerful media networks and ubiquitous billboards.

Zsolt Borkai, the Gyor mayor, has issued an apology, though he denied using drugs or relying on public funds to finance his trips. Opposition parties seized on the video, with the Momentum party plastering Fidesz’s offices with posters saying “Public funds, cocaine, whores” to contrast with the ruling party’s slogan of “God, nation, family.”

“The filth that’s come to light in Gyor isn’t unique,” Gergely Karacsony, the opposition’s candidate for mayor of Budapest, told supporters on Friday evening at his finally rally. “There’s not two types of Fidesz, there’s only one and it’s rotten to the core.”

The risk for the ruling party is that fallout from the video hurts voter turnout for Fidesz across Hungary and tips close races, including the one in Budapest, where Karacsony is neck and neck with Istvan Tarlos, a two-term incumbent backed by Orban’s party. Opposition parties are deploying a new strategy of fielding joint candidates to improve their chances.

“Losing Budapest, in particular, would show that Orban is not invincible, increasing the odds that he becomes more defensive and ends up making more policy mistakes,” Naz Masraff, director for Europe at Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultant, said in an email.

The sex video surfacing so close to the election date has caused a rare short-circuiting among Hungary’s ruling elite, where one of the continent’s most powerful propaganda machines usually manages to drown out scandals involving the ruling party, leaving support for Orban’s party largely unscathed.

On Friday, Borkai called a press conference in Gyor, triggering speculation that he would quit the race and concede the economic hub of western Hungary to the opposition to improve Fidesz’s chances elsewhere. Within an hour, the briefing was called off.

Later that evening, Magyar Nemzet, the mouthpiece of the ruling party, published a scathing article calling on Borkai to stand aside, arguing that he risked bringing down others in Sunday’s election, particularly in toss-up contests like the capital. Within an hour, the article was removed from the newspaper’s website.

Uphill Battle

Even if the opposition manages to make big gains on Sunday, it’ll still face an uphill battle in the next three years until parliamentary elections.

Orban can count on the EU’s fastest economic growth, surging wages and his propaganda machine to help him maintain his dominance. The premier has also pledged to punish cities financially if they switch political allegiances. He has also flagged a new round of changes to the Constitution, which he has already rewritten since returning to power.

The changes may include further reductions to the autonomy of municipalities and the courts, the latter of which has triggered frequent clashes with the EU.

“Orban will continue to centralize political and economic power,” Masraff said, adding that she expected Fidesz to secure a “broad victory” on Sunday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zoltan Simon in Budapest at zsimon@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net, Andras Gergely, Amanda Jordan

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