A new opposition candidate for mayor of Budapest, a rift in MSZP

It was about a week ago that I wrote about the Budapest municipal election. At that time there were seven candidates running against the incumbent István Tarlós, Fidesz’s choice in both 2006 and 2010. At that junction Ferenc Falus, the candidate of the joint democratic opposition, was trailing behind Lajos Bokros, former finance minister (1995-1996) and EU member of parliament (2009-2014), a man who calls himself liberal conservative. Együtt-PM, the party whose nominee Falus was, tried to convince Bokros to withdraw in Falus’s favor, but Bokros refused, saying that he was ahead of Falus in the polls. If anyone should withdraw it is Falus. At this point it looked that neither man would budge, and therefore I predicted that Bokros would be the scapegoat of the united opposition if István Tarlós wins the election by a large margin. Well, I was wrong. Yesterday Falus withdrew in favor of Bokros. György Magyar, an independent, followed suit.

So, what happened? Well, that’s not exactly clear. Here is Lajos Bokros’s side of the story. He received a telephone call from Viktor Szigetvári, co-chair of Együtt-PM, allegedly speaking in the name of all four parties–MSZP, DK, Együtt and PM–who informed him that they were ready to support him and drop Falus’s candidacy. A meeting was arranged, to be attended by representatives of all four parties, but to Bokros’s dismay only Szigetvári of Együtt and Ferenc Gyurcsány of DK showed up. Szigetvári was again asked about his authority to speak in the name of those who were absent. Szigetvári assured him that he had the authority. Falus later joined the meeting, and the participants decided to make the announcement yesterday at noon.

It turned out that Szigetvári did not in fact have the authority to speak in the name of MSZP and PM. MSZP’s Budapest executive board got together in a hurriedly called meeting as did the national executive board at a separate gathering to decide the matter. After a lengthy discussion Ágnes Kunhalmi, chair of MSZP’s Budapest board, announced last night that they support Bokros’s candidacy. A few minutes later József Tóbiás, chairman of MSZP, made a short statement. Although he did not say that the party is not endorsing Bokros, he stressed that for them it is not enough that somebody is a democrat, as Bokros surely is; he must be “a social democrat.” He expressed his great sorrow that voters of socialist convictions cannot vote for a leftist candidate. It is a shame. They had a good candidate in Csaba Horváth, who in 2010 received 35% of the votes, but on the insistence of the other three parties they sacrificed him for the sake of Együtt’s candidate, Ferenc Falus. PM earlier announced its refusal to support a liberal conservative candidate because the party can’t expect him to fully represent their green-socialist agenda.

Ágnes Kunhalmi, chairperson of the Budapest MSZP

Ágnes Kunhalmi, chairperson of the Budapest MSZP

With less than three weeks to the municipal elections at least we have two fewer candidates vying to unseat István Tarlós. It was always clear that András Schiffer’s LMP would have nothing to do with any of the other democratic parties because he is convinced that within a few years his party will be able to unseat Viktor Orbán and Fidesz singlehandedly. As far as Jobbik is concerned, the democratic opposition wants nothing to do with an anti-Semitic and racist party. That leaves only the candidate of the Magyar Liberális Párt (MLP). This is the party, if you can call it that, of Gábor Fodor, who in the last hours of SZDSZ served as its chairman. Although he makes a very good impression in interviews, people who know him say that his main concern is his own advancement.

Gábor Fodor’s behavior in the last year and a half supports his critics’ contentions about his character. In April 2013 he established his own liberal party and a year later, thanks to the intervention of Ferenc Gyurcsány, he received the #4 place on the party ticket of the united opposition. I assume Gyurcsány thought that after the election Fodor would join the DK parliamentary caucus out of gratitude. Indeed, if Fodor had done this, DK today would have a separate delegation. But once Fodor was safely ensconced in parliament representing practically nobody except himself, he had no intention of joining anyone. He decided to remain independent.

Fodor’s second move was to present his own candidate for the mayoralty of Budapest, Zoltán Bodnár, a former deputy governor of Hungary’s central bank. Considering that the party is not supposed to have any money, Bodnár’s campaign seems to be extraordinarily well financed. His posters are all over town, which has made the other democratic parties suspicious. It is widely believed by opposition politicians as well as voters that it is Fidesz who stands behind the lavish liberal campaign. This suspicion was reinforced yesterday when Zoltán Bodnár announced that he has no intention of withdrawing because he is “the only serious candidate.” At the same time, with no support for his contention, he accused Ferenc Gyurcsány of orchestrating Falus’s removal from the campaign. In his version it was Gyurcsány who “forced Falus’s withdrawal.”

In any case, at the moment it looks as if Bokros will have four opponents: István Tarlós (Fidesz-KDNP), Gábor Staudt (Jobbik), Antal Csárdi (LMP), and Zoltán Bodnár (MLP). According to Nézőpont Intézet’s poll, Csárdi and Staudt will each receive 3% of the votes. Bodnár’s name did not appear on Nézőpont’s list, but “Other” polled at 2%.

I consider the most important political development of the last couple of days to be the open split of the socialists. We have always known that within the party there is a left and a right wing. The right wing has been more open to cooperation with non-socialist but democratic parties and groups. In the Budapest MSZP these people seem to be in the majority. They think that getting rid of Tarlós in Budapest is more important than any party consideration. They feel comfortable with people in DK, among whom there are a number of former SZDSZ politicians as well as people from the moderate conservative MDF.

As far as I can recall, this is the first time that the MSZP leadership has split so openly and unequivocally. This rift may have serious repercussions–in the most dire scenario leading to the eventual breakup and possible demise of MSZP. If that happens, the hard-liners will have nowhere to go. The moderates, by contrast, have already established networks that may lead to some kind of association or even merger with other parties. The next couple of years might be more exciting than we think right now.

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28 comments

  1. “green-socialist agenda”

    There are too many in the MSZP who wouldn’t know what such an agenda is if it were to hit them over their head. And from a purely pragmatic, administrative point of view, how that party ever managed to ignore their own navels long enough to govern this country, I will never know.

    The MSZP is to all intents and purposes dead in every conceivable way except in their own imagination.

  2. @tappanch:

    Merkel will come and all but issue the stamp of approval just like Imre Kertész did. After all if a holocaust survivor jew thinks Orban and his pals are good people, what could be the problem?

    Now that Merkel was in Hungary, Orban can go to Hollande or Renzi or Cameron again, after that he can go to DC and plead, look Merkel likes us, Hollande likes us, Imre Kertész likes us, we need that photo op with potus.

    These meetings are intended only for the Hungarian opposition, however. Orban otherwise doesn’t give a s**t about Merkel or Obama. She can pay (ie. Germany) and finance Hungary, and she will, no matter what. Otherwise she can get lost. Luckily for Orban that’s what she anyway does.

    These meetings, quasi-endorsements with lots fun and laughter only intend for internal purposes, to show the strength of Orban and make the fact evident that the opposition (or rather the non-fidesz loyal voters, because there’s no real opposition) is being abandoned by supposedly picky, morally upright politicians.

    But if Tony Blair or Sarko were both great friends with colonel Gadaffi or Mubarak, why wouldn’t they quasi-endorse Orban? They will.

    Move on, there’s nothing to see here.

  3. @Tappanch, re Merkel’s visit. I remember when Martonyi in the summer of 2010 said that it is most likely that Orbán is going to visit the White House in October. Well, it did not work out.

  4. Eva made the story of all the complex maneuvering comprehensible, reading Népszabadság made me somewhat confused about all of this. Eva’s summary is better than anything else I have read. Your summary indicates that the MSZP is split into primarily a left and more conservative wing and the more conservative wing has a majority in Budapest.

    Where does the left wing have a majority of the party if anywhere? Also is there a summary of the basis for these two wings or is the primarily based followers of leading MSZP members following their lead.

  5. @István re MSZP. I don’t know whether I would call the “right wing” conservative. Rather they are more liberal, less old-fashioned socialists. They are more like social democrats in Germany. As for the hard-liners, I doubt that their message has an audience in Hungary today.

  6. I think Martonyi’s case from 2010 is a good example. From it seems clear that there was a visit planned to improve the Hungary-US relations. It seems clear that ever since 2010 many people have been working tirelessly on trying to hurt the Hungary-US relationship. Trying to worsen it, harm it.

    They thought if they do this they will win the 2014 elections for themselves. Well, it did not work out.

  7. Producing the divisive report on the opposition’s break up, helps only the regime.

    All efforts of the blog should be a chronological analysis of the machiavellian plots of the regime.

    Is there not enough material on the regime’s anti-EU/NATO/human-rights drives?

    Please explain the corner stone events of the history of the minority ultra illiberal coalition of the old reactionary patrotic political elite with the nuovoriche Kadarist elements, which can oppress the starving and poor majority.

  8. “Fodor’s second move was to present his own candidate for the mayoralty of Budapest, Zoltán Bodnár, a former deputy governor of Hungary’s central bank. Considering that the party is not supposed to have any money, Bodnár’s campaign seems to be extraordinarily well financed. His posters are all over town, which has made the other democratic parties suspicious.”

    Why so much libel and defamation? On what evidence do you libel the Liberal Party with financial misonduct?

    Attempting defamation by claiming “the party is not supposed to have any money”? This is a parliamentary party which receives funding from state yearly. The liberal party did not run in the european election and saved all the funds that the other parties spent on that campaign. The liberal party took out a loan which they will repay from next year’s alotted official state funding. This is all publicly available information. So what use it is to try to defame them and why?

    Furthermore Zoltan Bodnar is a former high level banker who has significant personal wealth.

  9. @carrot

    What are you implying? That Zoltan Bodnar burns his ‘hard-earned’ cash (when he hasn’t held a good paying job for years) on his own hopeless campaign? Why would he do that?

    It is inconceivable that Fodor has access to independent donors to whom other opposition politicians do not. There are no rich donors running around with money to burn on hopeless campaigns — that’s by the way a fundamental problem of the Hungarian campaign finance scene. Only oligarchs and Fidesz-loyal state-owend corporations are willing to pay. This is a very inconsequential election, why would anybody invest in Fodor now?

  10. Pantheon: “Producing the divisive report on the opposition’s break up, helps only the regime.
    All efforts of the blog should be a chronological analysis of the machiavellian plots of the regime.”

    I couldn’t agree less.
    HS should remain true to its ingenious name.

  11. MSZP’s division is only a symptom. Look, MSZP was all but finished outside of Budapest in rural areas in April — when in fact the entire election system is now geared towards the rural regions.

    Several countryside MSZP politicians told in various interviews that there are no activists, the older activists died out and no voters actually like MSZP or dare to come out as a supporter.

    The new generation is represented by moles and collaborators like Zsolt Molnár or Mesterházy or Csaba Horvath — all from Budapest by the way.

    These latest events of idiocy are only signs of the disintegration of the party. The situation of the party cannot possibly be better than it was in April. Among others there has been no leadership whatsoever since Mesterhazy, and Mesterhazy wasn’t a very charismatic leader either to say the least.

    MSZP will live on though because it will be a great vehicle for political adventurers, like MSZMP has been for the IMO-graduate Gyula Thürmer. MSZP will be very useful to own in order to divide the leftists, to syphon off party subsidies and suchlike. It is already in that stage, if we want to be honest.

  12. What I don’t understand:

    In Germany the “Left” party might be called the “equivalent” to MSZP – it contains a lot of former members and functionaries of the old Communist Party in Eastern Germany.

    And it is very strong and getting stronger in Eastern Germany especially – we might even get a local Prime Minister from their ranks (shudder …) though they still think fondly of the good old days in the GDR. They didn’t really distance themselves from the old SED, while MSZP did a cut off from MSZMP afaik. So the question for me is:

    Why is the left so weak and getting weaker in Hungary? What is the real reason for this?

    PS:

    I’m so happy to live in Baden-Württemberg where we now have a Green-Social Democrat coalition and Green Mayors in many of the important cities …

  13. wolfi:

    Cmon, this is not a big secret. In Germany no neo nazi party is considered politically acceptable.

    There is no such inhibition in Hungarian voters or politicians.

    As a result Jobbik (aka the Hungarian national socialist party) which is very leftist (but also nationalist/anti-semitic/anti-roma) took over the potential voter base of MSZP. The entire working class now votes for Jobbik or Fidesz.

    In addition, die Linke is a really a leftist party, whereas MSZP is much more conformist when it comes to economic policy. In fact there is not much leftist ideology (or any ideology if one wants to be honest) left in it.

    As a result people who need protection (obviosly a lot of people) from the system don’t trust MSZP at all any more.

    MSZP’s image is not plebeian enough.

    Paradoxically, despite all the ostentatiousness of Szijjarto, Habony, Rogan etc. Fidesz is still thought of as a party of the average joes.

    Fidesz cut utilities, force the banks to pay and give back money to poor debtors etc. whereas MSZP “wants to unleash the market, rationality, competition onto poor Hungarians”.

    MSZP is finished for all practical purposes.

  14. rántotthús your comment on the Jobbik taking over the space held by the MSZP rings correct from my own time with my extended family this year. Two younger cousins whose parents as far as I know consistently vote MSZP are clearly now in the Jobbik camp. From our discussions this spring the primary motivation seems to be corruption in MSZP, Fidesz, etc. When I asked in my weak Hungarian: Tehát a Jobbik nem romlottságot? The aswer was effectively really very pragmatic: Minden politikus Magyarországon a csaló, de a Jobbik ellopja a legkevésbé. (Translation So the Jobbik has no corruption? Every Hungarian politician is a crook, but the Jobbik steal the least.)

  15. Caller to Klubradio:

    In district 23 of Budapest, there is a motel with 40 rooms. There are 1200 voters registered at the address of this motel.

    The Election Commission is not willing to investigate.

  16. While Eva’s comments on Bodnar certainly does not even resemble anything close to libel, I believe the talk about Orban cooperating with Fodor is nothing more than conspiracy theorizing. This happens every time a small party threatens to suck votes away from a big party: Oh, the small party must be financed by the big party’s enemies!!!

    So Gyurcsany financed the Centrum Party, Orban financed the LMP, and now Orban is financing Fodor. For what it’s worth, I find it inconceivable that Orban and Fodor would cooperate on anything after 20 years of bad blood.

  17. Seal Driver: while you might be right, in the last couple of years Fodor has been actually very diplomatic, understanding, even friendly when he talked about Orban, his former roommate. Fodor might criticize Orban for being an anti-liberal, but he feels a genuine connection to the great man. Since it is in the interest of Orban to subsidize anybody who divides his opponents’ ranks (not that this would take great effort), it’s actually logical to assume the connection. Of course we’ll never know.

    As regards LMP, LMP’s was helped by Fidesz when the kopogtato cedulak had to be amassed in 2010. I don’t know about their finances, but there was a help in this regard. Moreover Schiffer admires Orban who is the genuine anti-capitalist in Schiffer’s world.

    The problem with party finance is that there are no real independent donors as it was mentioned earlier. Only a few people have millions to burn and most of them are aligned with power. The very few independent ones just don’t want to get involved with opposition people because they don’t want to risk a tax investigation or the prosecution or the bear hug of a fidesznik entrepreneur who would suddenly like to acquire the donor’s business. Moreover, the financing and controlling of your ‘opponents’ is a time-honored method of the Russians who nowadays act as the role model for Orban and his posse. So the cooperation would be very tacit: a rich donor, not quite an oligarch but with backchannel access to Orban would finance Fodor with the tacit approval of the central committe (Orban, Lazar, Rogan, Szijjarto, Kosa). Fodor would not know it officially, and the donor (should it become public) would have a plausible deniability too. Never underestimate the sophistication of Orban and co and their willingness to corrupt the system.

  18. OTT

    Victor’s poodle in Brussels, Navracsis is presently getting a hard time>

    Summary of his answers so far:

    1) I’m a great European. (Ha!)
    2) My views are “more liberal” than the Orban government
    3) No problems with democracy in HU. (Ha!)

    Point 2 was interesting, although as has been pointed out by MEPs attending, when a candidate is having to spend most of his time defending his party as opposed to outlining his vision for his portfolio…something is not quite right.

    Watch it live here:
    http://www.elections2014.eu/en/news-room/content/20140926STO71306/html/Hearings-today-Cre%C8%9BuThyssen-Hill-Jourov%C3%A1-Ca%C3%B1ete-and-Navracsics

  19. Wolfi, the support for the so called Left Party, which has never declined succession to the SED, in particular because of the money probably still sitting in Moscow and elsewhere, is indeed a very telling indicator of the “transformation” of East Germany. The unfortunate fact that some of its politicians with links to the Stasi are considered “funny” or “bright” also in the West, and that the “West” has not wished to attend internal confllicts between East Germans about their past, has made this party more acceptable than what would be decent (or desirable, for me in any case). Supporters of their party can march on any occasion and feel insufficiently recognised, while people who were imprisoned in Hohenschönhausen can be happy to get the lowest social support due to insufficient payment into social security systems. Hungarians were too long lenient towards MSzP, out of reasons we have debated here a number of times I guess, but the current disillusionment is comprehensible. It is incomprehensible why the “more attractive” alternatives are not only not better but probably even worse.

  20. Not too much OT:

    Yes, I also have problems/reservations with those “former Communists” – I think I’ve written about this before …

    Like those guys (in West Germany even!) who told me in 1987 that the GDR would soon overtake West Germany – probably based on that (in)famous book by one of Honecker’s friends …
    And they really might have believed all that crap …

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