Mayoral election in Hódmezővásárhely, a Fidesz stronghold
It was more than a year ago that I wrote about János Lázár who was then the leader of the huge Fidesz parliamentary delegation. He performed his job admirably. The most successful “majority whip” could have been envious of him, although admittedly the members of the Fidesz delegation are an easier lot than their British or especially their American counterparts.
So, it is difficult to fathom why Viktor Orbán decided to remove him and make him his chief-of-staff. Was he dissatisfied with the performance of his office under the leadership of Mihály Varga? Or perhaps Varga was needed to attend the negotiations with the IMF? We don’t know. Little is known about the everyday functioning of Viktor Orbán’s inner circle. Only one thing is sure: the most important decisions are made in the Office of the Prime Minister.
In any case, Orbán felt that his office needed Lázár in spite of the fact that this move also involved Lázár’s resignation from his post as mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, a Fidesz stronghold. Just to give you an idea of the strength of Fidesz in the city, out of the fourteen members of the city council ten came from the Fidesz ticket, winning their districts outright. In the council there is only one MSZP member. In the 2010 local elections Lázár himself received 66.69% of the votes while Andrea Kis, the current candidate of MSZP, received only 8.27%. She finished dead last in a four-person race. Even Jobbik did better than MSZP’s candidate. So, the by-election in Hódmezővásárhely is not exactly a risky undertaking from Fidesz’s point of view.
Hódmezővásárhely is no metropolis, but in the past couple of decades the city developed by leaps and bounds–as it turned out, mostly from borrowed money. Under Lázár’s stewardship the city managed to be the most indebted town in the entire country. The city has an outstanding debt of 30 billion forints which, given a population of less than 48,000, is quite a feat. So, whoever is taking over Lázár’s job will not have an easy time of it. Moreover, in the last twenty years the city lost about 20% of its population and economic development slowed considerably.
Lázár resigned from his post in Hódmezővásárhely on June 2, 2012, and his job was taken over temporarily by István Almási, deputy mayor for the last twelve years and a member of the council for eighteen years. Two months later, on August 3, the local electoral commission announced that four people had declared their intention to run for the post of mayor: István Almási (Fidesz), Andrea Kis (MSZP), Sándor Kovács (Jobbik), and László Nagy (independent). Judging from earlier results, if Andrea Kis manages to get more than 10% of the votes, MSZP can consider it a respectable showing. If she manages to get 20% of the votes the party leaders can celebrate. The election will take place on Sunday, September 2.
What Fidesz is doing in Hódmezővásárhely is what a party normally does at national elections. Almási made sure that he got as many endorsements as he could possibly lay his hands on. According to Magyar Nemzet he got 8,000 endorsements when 760 would have been more than enough. Getting that many endorsements has a psychological effect on the electorate, something that cannot be underestimated. However, Andrea Kis also claims to have collected a great deal more endorsements than necessary, and MSZP says that support for the party has never been greater in Hódmezővásárhely than now.
In order to have a respectable showing MSZP made Zsolt Molnár, an important MSZP politician in Budapest, Andrea Kis’s campaign manager. The local Fidesz politicians objected: outsiders shouldn’t poke their noses into local politics. Of course, such an argument is ridiculous. Moreover, when Molnár in an interview said something critical about the Fidesz leadership in Hódmezővásárhely, the town’s “notary” threatened Molnár with a civil suit. A notary is actually a kind of town manager responsible for the smooth running of the local administration.
Soon enough local Fidesz politicians complained that “several dozen MSZP activists aggressively [emphasis mine] represented the interests of MSZP and they bother people.” Oh my, in a campaign someone dares to approach people and ask them for their vote! Now that we in Connecticut are nearing primary elections I have been inundated with leaflets, from candidates for the U.S. Senate to candidates for probate judge. This is what a campaign is all about.
Local Fidesz leaders also couldn’t get over the fact that high-level MSZP leaders (they called them “pártkatonák, party soldiers) had the gall to go to Hódmezővásárhely to campaign on behalf of Andrea Kis. Can anyone imagine a Republican hopeful for the Senate protesting because the president is campaigning on behalf of the Democratic candidate? They have strange ideas in Hódmezővásárhely about what campaigning is all about.
One thing is sure, the socialists are pulling out all the stops. In addition to Molnár, Gábor Simon from the top leadership, Szeged’s socialist mayor László Botka, and Tibor Szanyi, the only MSZP candidate who won in his district, also visited the town. Szanyi, who likes strong language, compared Hódmezővásárhely “to a patient with cancer who needs very serious treatment.” The town is so indebted that every inhabitant of Hódmezővásárhely owes 450,000 forints. If all goes well perhaps by 2037 the city will be able to “come up for air,” he claimed.
The outspoken Szanyi didn’t receive any better reception from the local Fidesz supporters than the others before him. A group of them waited for him on the main square of the town with placards saying “Pesten okoskodj!” which can be loosely translated as “Give your smart advice in Pest!” and “Vásárhely nem kér belőletek!” (Vásárhely doesn’t want you here!).
You may have noticed that there is no LMP candidate in the mayoral race. I wrote a post on July 26 entitled “The future of LMP: An interview with Benedek Jávor” in which I more or less predicted that LMP would not have the resources to come up with a suitable candidate. Jávor tried to cover up the weakness of the party by emphasizing the impossibility of winning against Fidesz in this city. So, I guess, why try?
Yesterday Péter Oláh, another LMP functionary, went even further when he claimed that “given the solid Fidesz majority in the city council even if an opposition candidate could win in Hódmezővásárhely the situation would resemble that of Esztergom. And that wouldn’t be a favorable outcome.” So, why win?
But perhaps the most outrageous announcement of LMP was that the party is not even going to support any of the opposition candidates because they don’t consider any of them fit for the post. Why not? Oláh mentioned only Andrea Kis specifically and in her case the objection was that she is a high school teacher in a public school maintained by the city of Hódmezővásárhely. Therefore, Oláh continued, one cannot expect serious criticism on her part against the city administration. Don’t even try to find logic in that particular accusation since if by some miracle Andrea Kis won she herself would be running the show in city hall. But I guess if one must explain the inexplicable one gets confused.
Another charge leveled against Kis was that in the last two years, although she was a member of the city council, “she just sat there without any criticism.” Considering that out of the fourteen council members ten are from Fidesz and two are from Jobbik, I really wonder how much influence she could possibly have on the running of the affairs of the city. None, naturally.
Gábor Filippov of Magyar Progresszív Intézet found LMP’s decision not to enter the race foolhardy. Even if the party’s candidate wouldn’t have a chance, the race would give the party an opportunity to spread its message in a race that has nationwide interest. By not entering the race LMP strengthens the general impression that it has already given up certain parts of the country and that it has no substantial following outside of Budapest. And the party’s decision not even to support the opposition candidates only fortifies the belief in certain circles that LMP is actually a fifth column of Fidesz.