Although I have some difficulty tearing myself away from the juicy stories arising seemingly every minute regarding Viktor Orbán’s shady deal with the Azeri dictator, I guess we should take a breather from the topic. I’m sure we’ll have ample cause to return to it soon enough.
So, for a change of pace, let’s take a quick look at the mayoral election in Hódmezővásárhely, a middle-sized city on the Great Plains–that is, on the left bank of the Danube. Most of the towns in this part of the country began as large villages. They were called “mezőváros.” “Város” means city; “mező,” field. The main occupations of the inhabitants were connected in one way or another to agricultural activities.
Hódmezővásárhely began as a typical “mezőváros” and it remained so until the 1960s when the state began an industrialization campaign. Nonetheless, in 1973 there were still ten collective farms within the city limits. It was a town whose population didn’t change all that much from the 1930s.
One of the most startling facts about Hódmezővásárhely is that since 1990, the year of the first free election after the regime change, the inhabitants of the town always elected right-wing politicians. And usually with an absolute majority. Therefore, when it was announced that János Lázár (Fidesz), who had been mayor of the town since 2002, would have to relinquish his job in order to accept the the post of chief-of-staff of the prime minister’s office, everybody predicted that regardless of how unpopular Fidesz might be nationwide the deputy mayor, István Almási (Fidesz), will sail into office. MSZP did so miserably two years ago that Andrea Kis (MSZP), who was running again at the by-election last Sunday, received only 8.27% of the votes in 2010. The same István Almási got 67%.
But obviously the political atmosphere in this town has shifted in the last two years, even if not radically. Andrea Kis, a high school teacher, reported that it was easy to collect the necessary number of endorsements. And this despite the fact that Almási, following the Fidesz practice of collecting an inordinate number of endorsements in order to make the opponent’s task more difficult, received ten times the necessary number of endorsements. As it turned out, he got more endorsements than actual votes. Kis also reported that she experienced a much friendlier reception than was customary for an MSZP candidate.
One reason for the changed atmosphere, beside the disappointment with the Orbán government’s performance in general, was the recognition that János Lázár had engaged in fiscally irresponsible policies. He managed to make Hódmezővásárhely the most indebted town in the country. And, believe me, that’s quite a feat.
No, of course, Kis didn’t become mayor. István Almási won, but with only 52.31% of the votes, a considerable drop from the 2010 returns. Andrea Kis got 22.72%, a decided improvement over her meager 8.27% two years ago. Her performance is especially respectable if we take a quick look at past election returns in Hódmezővásárhely, national and local.
In 1990 the candidate of the most right-wing party of the time, the Smallholders party, received 61.5% of the votes. Came the local elections in the fall and, while practically everywhere else the government parties experienced significant losses, in Hódmezővásárhely everything remained the same. The Smallholders won and together with MDF and the Christian Democrats they had a large majority on the city council.
At the 1994 national elections where the right received an almost fatal blow, a Christian Democratic candidate, András Rapcsák, won the election with 48% of the votes against MSZP’s 33%. That was at the time that nationwide MSZP had an absolute majority in parliament. The local election of the same year also ended with an overwhelming majority for the Christian Democratic candidate, András Rapcsák. He received 76.3% of the votes. In 1998 at the national elections the Fidesz candidate triumphed again. Rapcsák, now a parliamentary candidate of Fidesz, received more than 50% in the electoral district and in Hódmezővásárhely 53.65%. Rapcsák’s success continued in the fall local elections: he received 60% of the votes.
In 2000 there was a by-election held in the electoral district as well as in Hódmezővásárhely and it seems that the town was actually moving further to the right. Rapcsák, supported by Fidesz, won the election but he was almost beaten by the Smallholders’ candidate.
In 2002 Rapcsák died suddenly and the young János Lázár, who was Rapcsák’s right-hand man in city hall, ran to succeed him in parliament. Lázár was elected with 56.5% of the votes. He was equally successful in the local election that year. In 2006, after Ferenc Gyurcsány’s fateful speech at Balatonőszöd, Lázár won again with 72.1% of the votes to be reelected as mayor of Hódmezővásárhely. Meanwhile MSZP became weaker and weaker, and by the 2010 national elections MSZP received only 13.13% of the votes.
Although Fidesz talked about a great win after the election last Sunday, the results in fact showed a considerable weakening of the party’s position in Hódmezővásárhely, a town that Magyar Nemzet described as “a Fidesz citadel.” Especially since MSZP’s campaign efforts were apparently meager. MSZP politicians, I think rightly, said that the election results “were a step in the right direction.” After all, 22.7% is a great deal better than 8.2% However, the results also indicate that given a fairly strong Jobbik showing (14%) and an independent candidate who won 10% of the votes, MSZP will need allies. Currently neither LMP nor DK has a strong enough organization in Hódmezővásárhely to compete in the mayoral race. And this doesn’t bode well for the future of the democratic opposition at the next national election.