Attila Mesterházy: The Hungarian socialists’ candidate for prime minister

It's not official yet, but it is almost 100% certain that MSZP will campaign before the 2010 elections with Attila Mesterházy (age 35) as their candidate for prime minister. Most people think that by nominating Mesterházy MSZP has pretty well admitted that the party has no chance whatsoever at the next elections. Naturally, this is the stated opinion of Fidesz. But Fidesz was joined by the former socialist prime minister Péter Medgyessy who, completely forgetting his own substantial role in causing the downfall of his party, gleefully announced that MSZP is finished and that Mesterházy is a bad choice. Szabolcs Szerető, who writes opinion pieces for Magyar Nemzet, was outright condescending. The title of his piece in today's paper was: "Encouragement," meaning that he would like to give some encouragement to the young man who has no chance. According to Szerető, Ferenc Gyurcsány is not at all thrilled with the choice. I read elsewhere about a week ago that Gyurcsány and Mesterházy didn't get along. According to rumors there were times when the two men wouldn't talk to each other and communicated only through intermediaries. And this when Gyurcsány headed the ministry dealing with youth and sports and Mesterházy was his undersecretary. Nézőpont Institute, a think tank close to Fidesz, conducted a poll showing that only 5% of the voting-age population would vote for Mesterházy while even Lajos Bokros would garner at least 16%. Mind you, Nézőpont's results are almost always off. Moreover, one must keep in mind that in Hungary people don't vote for the prime minister directly.

Apparently Gyurcsány thought that László Kovács, the seasoned politician and diplomat, a real old timer and one of the founders of MSZP, would be a better candidate. Kovács was foreign minister between 1994 and 1998 and again between 2002 and 2004. He also served as chairman of MSZP between 1998 and 2004. Between 2004 and 2009 he was European commissioner in charge of taxation. Although Kovács will be soon "unemployed," it is not at all clear whether he would have accepted the nomination. Those who supported Kovács's nomination thought that perhaps a senior citizen (he was born in 1939) would appeal to the older and more faithful voters of MSZP. Perhaps through him the party could mobilize its base. A young candidate like Mesterházy might appeal more to the younger crowd, but the trouble with young Hungarians is at least twofold: they are overwhelmingly Fidesz and Jobbik supporters and one cannot rely on them at the polls. In large numbers they don't even bother to vote.

I wrote about Attila Mesterházy in my April 3, 2009 blog ("MSZP has put its house in order") where I described him as impressive on paper. Indeed, his scholarly achievements are quite remarkable. He graduated summa cum laude from Corvinus University, received all sorts of scholarships to study abroad, and is able to speak a couple of foreign languages. Former classmates described him as "diligent, conscientious, and a teacher's pet." He was liked by his fellow students although he didn't take part in student activities. He lived off campus with his girlfriend and therefore wasn't in the center of things. His acquaintances were surprised to hear about his rise within MSZP. They imagined him in the "middle management" category.

Interestingly enough Hírszerző, an online paper whose owners are close to MDF, is less damning. The journalists at Hírszerző think that with the choice of Mesterházy "the leadership of MSZP at last might be rejuvenated." According to socialist politicians Mesterházy will not come out of this political struggle as a "political nonentity." He will be able, given his age, to lead the party, even if in opposition for a while, to eventual victory. For his part, Mesterházy promises to be a tough opponent of the "moderate right" and a "merciless enemy" of the far right. He is hoping to be the spokesman not only of socialist voters but of everybody who takes democracy seriously. He also mentioned that MSZP was planning to nominate younger candidates for parliamentary seats in preparation for the campaign.

For the time being the Fidesz leadership hasn't responded to the unofficial news. The only information on the Fidesz website is Szabolcs Szerető's opinion piece from Magyar Nemzet. But it might provide Fidesz with an opening salvo since in it Szerető resurrects the old charge that Mesterházy is tainted as a result of the Zuschlag corruption case. János Zuschlag, a young socialist, received grants for youth projects from the sports ministry headed by Ferenc Gyurcsány when his undersecretary was Attila Mesterházy. Young Zuschlag and his friends apparently misused the monies received. Either they pocketed about 50-70 million forints for themselves or perhaps they used some of the money for purposes of the party, always strapped for funds. In either case, both Gyurcsány and Mesterházy testified as witnesses and told the judge what they knew. Practically nothing. Gyurcsány as minister handled only cases where a lot of money was involved while Mesterházy's work had nothing to do with grants.

Another possible line of attack against Mesterházy is that since Ildikó Lendvai became chairman of the party and Mesterházy became head of the MSZP parliamentary delegation, the MSZP members of parliament have been singularly disciplined: they have voted unanimously for all the proposals of the Bajnai government. So Fidesz might call attention to Mesterházy's connection to Bajnai and his austerity program.


  1. @esbalogh: I can think of two simpler and more damning lines of attack against :
    1. According to Nézőpont Intézet most popular potential leader is Orbán 39%, Bokros 16%, Morvai 6%, Mesterházy 5%
    2. According to Nézőpont Intézet more MSZP voters support MDF Bokros 39% than party leader candidate Mesterházy 19%.
    (ref: )
    Morvai more popular than him and more than twice the number of MSZP preferring someone from another party.
    Then add Medgyessy’s spiteful comment that ‘Mesterházy is a great candidate for a party that doesn’T have a hope’ (“Mesterházy jó jelölt, mert az MSZP-nek nincs esélye”) and the coffin is nailed tightly shut.

  2. “According to Szerető, Ferenc Gyurcsány is not at all thrilled with the choice. I read elsewhere about a week ago that Gyurcsány and Mesterházy didn’t get along. According to rumors there were times when the two men wouldn’t talk to each other and communicated only through intermediaries.”

  3. It is obvious that the MSZP needs to go in a new direction. Part of Bajnai’s success I think has been that he is relatively untainted by the past. Choosing a 35 yr old who happens to be diligent and intelligent probably is not the formula for an election night victory in 2010 but it may be for the longer term positioning of a center left party not held back by the old regime guys and girls.
    Anyway, in our household, we are celebrating Bokros’ 16% polling numbers. Just imagine, we had heretofore been thinking we were part of a group of just a couple of dozen people throughout the country.

  4. @Thrasymachus: (aka Bobscountrybunker) “…not by organizations like MORI who primarily employ actuaries and statisticians…” A bold assertion along the lines that ESBalogh has often made against Gallup also; that they are unreliable. Events have proven that Gallup have often been much closer to reality than their rivals.
    As with the political affiliation of the Nézőpont Intézet that is neither here nor there unless you can point me to the statistical or methodological flaws of their study and their results.
    A more detailed account is given on their website:
    This clearly states that the sample taken of 1000 people conducted by telephone interview between Nov 17-20 was matched to that of the general population (based on the mini census taken around 2004). This is the standard practice of all statisticians and pollsters, so how is this unreliable, or more so than that produced by other companies/organisations? More than this the express the margin of error for this sample to be +/- 3.2%.
    I’d also note that the survey in full is far more interesting that this. It shows that 73% believe Bajnai is not reducing corruption and that around 50% of people blame Gyurcsány for the property racketeering of MSZP district VII mayor Zuschlag.

  5. @All: Apologies I was just reading the interview with the former/present district VII mayor Hunvald on NOL
    This has noting to do with the Zuschlag affair.
    In which case the last sentence should have read: “around 50% of people blame Gyurcsány for the embezzlement conducted by MSZP Zuschlag.”
    So many cases of fraud, deception and embezzlement, it’s hard to keep up. Wonder what the people would have answered in response to questions about ‘radiogate’ – something about which there is an uncomfortable silence on this blog.

  6. “Professional pollsters, who do that and nothing else, unlike your good self appreciate that the burden of proof in demonstrating impartiality lies with them: not with us”

    Bob just cannot answer a question/challenge.
    A true politician.

  7. And Viking is as petulant as always. Calling a direct answer, a sneaky evasion. Gentlemen can we leave the mudslinging, name-calling, and finger pointing to the children’s playground that is
    It is not by accident that I use a different handle here from there.
    Even though Dr Balogh’s motives and intentions are ones I disagree with intensely her blog is an academically inclined, intellectual and stimulating endeavour: and I attempt to tailor my contributions accordingly. I would request that you do the same.

  8. @Bobscountrybunker/Thrasymachus: Apologies if my reference to the international Gallup polling company appeared spurious to you. It was, in fact, inspired by your general assertion regarding *all* polling in Hungary and hence I felt it was germane to the context the the discussion as you had framed it. Specifically, you stated: “But practically all polling in Hungary is flawed at inception…conducted by “think tanks” who are hardly worthy of the name…not by organizations like MORI who primarily employ actuaries and statisticians.”
    More than this, and I believe outwith your specific knowledge, I have previously commented on this blog about suggestions of bias and verisimilitude in polling results, specifically with reference to Gallup. Hence I also felt that in light of your own reference and the comment being made on this blog the points I raised were and are relevant.
    To reiterate the main point is that the source of an argument or statistical poll result, whilst the source may be a point of contention, can not logically or statistically be grounds for dismissing the poll outcome. This can only be done on the grounds of methodology or statistical analysis. The margin of error for the Nézőpont poll was as stated 3.2%. Expressed otherwise, if any other company conducted this poll on 1000 people chosen to match the profile of the population as a whole they would produce the same result 29 times out of 30. Only 1 in 30 times would the results be different. On average (mean).
    In respect of point 1 above your comment that “the burden of proof in demonstrating impartiality lies with them: not with us.” is somewhat misguided. They have stated with mathematical certainty their margin for error and their method. Beyond this they cannot ‘prove’ anything. A grounding in statistical analysis would tell you that ‘proof’ in the sense you use it is irrelevant with regards to statistical analysis and polls. The degree of certainty in the measurement techniques for the chosen population at the time measured is as given.

  9. If you are using a rigorous statistical analysis of the results of any form of public opinion poll, then your results are true. The big problem is the poll its self. The questions ask, the way in which the questions were asked, when they were asked (time of day) and the population profile of those questioned. At one company, for which I worked, we had a great need for this type of information. We needed it about colours (for use on product labels), flavours, styles or shapes etc. The replies the polling companies gave us about these very subjective matters were extremely accurate.
    In terms of all types of polls one thing to look for is the ‘do not knows’. Where this information is not included I get a little worried.

  10. I attempt to tailor my contributions accordingly. I would request that you do the same.
    Posted by: Thrasymachus | November 26, 2009 at 09:06 AM
    Stop being so naive and work it out! Can you really be so clueless about the ideological POV this blog peddles?
    Posted by: Thrasymachus | November 26, 2009 at 08:04 AM

    Of course calling someone a “True Politician” is of course much worse than calling some one “naive” and “clueless”.
    I cannot remember any naive and clueless Politician

  11. @Bobscountrybunker/Thrasymachus: I’ll state clearly that given your definition then, I am naive. Though in Hungary this epithet is generally thrown around at anyone how doesn’t agree with the conclusion of an ‘argument’. I’m being generous here, as more often than not the ‘argument’ – meaning factual reasoning – is missing, while the ‘argument’ – point of dispute – is simply asserted (In a word, ipse-dixitism).
    You assert: “…if the source MAY be a point of contention then it certainly CAN be logical grounds if not, certainly, statistical grounds”. Logically, this is simply not the case. the source of an argument, reasoning or facts, should, to the best of our ability, remain independent of the content of that argument and hence each be listened to on their own merits. To do otherwise is to assert that one of a number of logical fallacies as acceptable (circumstancial ad hominem, ad hominem tu quoque, non sequitur, argumentum ad verecundiam… the list goes on).
    You can’t logically assert that who reports, states or claims something is an important part of an argument, otherwise the argument is simply about the integrity, honesty and intelligence of the person/organisation making the statement. This would largely be an appeal to power and make all statements made by ESBalogh verging toward fact following your reasoning on the basis of argumentum ad verecundiam.
    Addressing your assertion that I would not believe a poll conducted by Jobbik, I’m afraid I would and not simply for the point of argument as you are likely to assert. If they followed standard statistical methods, balanced their polling sample to the population, stated how and when the poll was conducted, then I would take the results as meaningful in those terms.
    You can however talk about the motivations for having reasoned such, or for having conducted such research and made it public. Obviously these are by far the more important decisions. As well as the timing of making research public. What is not measured and stated as much as what is.
    As I mentioned there is the glaring omission of ‘radiogate’ which would reflect equally badly on Fidesz as on MSZP. The timing of the poll (Nov 17-20) was the time when Neo FM and Klassz/Class had just taken over their frequencies. It would have been an ideal time to measure opinion. And maybe this was, but was not for public consumption, rather for whoever paid for the research.
    To reiterate, in the simplest terms: A source MAY be a point of contention but it CANNOT be logical or statistical grounds for rejecting an argument.
    n.b. You will feel that my assertion is unreasonable, but I do follow it as much as I can. I read Kuruc next to NOL, Magyar Nemzet next to Narancs, HírTV next to MTV… I am pretty sick to death of the partisanship and degenerate level of discourse. People, it seems to me, have lost the ability to reason. Like I said, parathetically, ipse-dixitism is rife.

  12. There is much to commend this post, but for all your Latin on the subject of logical fallacies, over which needless to say I heartily approve. You in fact accomplish little more than generate a massive smokescreen that attempts to hide the fact that you moved the goal posts.
    Yes you did.
    What you in effect say is an ad hominem is not a reasonable cause, in and of itself, to question an argument. Granted. But then you go on to conflate the terms “argument” and “polling.”
    “You assert: “…if the source MAY be a point of contention then it certainly CAN be logical grounds if not, certainly, statistical grounds”. Logically, this is simply not the case. the source of an argument, reasoning or facts, should, to the best of our ability, remain independent of the content of that argument and hence each be listened to on their own merits.”
    And so on and so on. Ad nauseaum. (sorry couldn’t resist)
    But did I mean “argument” when I was talking about “polling results”? No. Do you yourself construe polling results to be arguments? Of course you don’t.
    To suggest someone is naive for believing that pollsters’ personal biases (particularly when they have paid/funded affiliation) have no effect on their polling result is not ipse-dixit. It is merely giving equal weight to the “social” component of the word “social sciences.”

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