The Budapest elections and politics of the democratic opposition

The appearance of Lajos Bokros as the official candidate of DK, Együtt, and MSZP of Budapest under the leadership of Ágnes Kunhalmi has redrawn the political landscape on the left, despite protestations to the contrary. Ágnes Kunhalmi can send the message to Magyar Nemzet, the paper that said she would decamp to Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció after the election, that “I love my party,” but the fact remains that she and the people around her decided to defy the central leadership of the socialist party. And that might have serious repercussions in the future.

Ágnes Kunhalmi is a relative newcomer on the political scene, having joined MSZP only in 2006. Until 2010 she served as a member of the Budapest City Council. In 2010, because of the female quota, she was chosen to be a member of the top party leadership. From there on she was the face of MSZP on matters of education. Her day arrived during the 2014 national election when, as a last-minute replacement candidate in the 15th electoral district, she lost the election by only 56 votes. This performance showed that Ágnes Kunhalmi is someone to reckon with inside the party.

Since I know next to nothing about the internal workings of the socialist party, I have no idea how this sudden fame of Ágnes Kunhalmi was received by the top leadership. I’m almost certain, however, that the Budapest MSZP leaders’ decision to endorse Lajos Bokros and thereby go against the wishes of József Tóbiás, the new party chairman, couldn’t have gone over too well. Although Tóbiás keeps repeating that local politics should be left to the local party leadership, I’m sure that this open defiance didn’t endear Kunhalmi to the more leftist leaders of MSZP.

But the real bone of contention, in my opinion, is not so much Lajos Bokros and his conservatism as it is Ferenc Gyurcsány, who allegedly masterminded the retirement of Ferenc Falus and secured the democratic parties’ support for Lajos Bokros. Thus, I suspect, in the eyes of József Tóbiás and his men Ágnes Kunhalmi is a traitor to the socialist cause not because she decided to stand behind Bokros but because she sided with Ferenc Gyurcsány. MSZP leaders suspect, not without reason, that Gyurcsány wants to gobble up MSZP. And the other smaller parties on the left are convinced that he wants to amalgamate them into one large “union party,” which would mean their disappearance.

Ferenc Gyurcsány and Ágnes Kunhalmi

Ferenc Gyurcsány and Ágnes Kunhalmi

One doesn’t have to be an eagle-eyed political scientist to come to that conclusion: Gyurcsány makes no secret of his plans. In fact, he repeats on every possible occasion that, given the political landscape and the current electoral law, there is no hope of winning an election against Viktor Orbán without one large party that includes all anti-Orbán forces. Although there are people, for example Gábor Demszky, who believe that even the formation of such a single party can’t dislodge Viktor Orbán’s mafia state, it looks as if Gyurcsány still believes that one “does not have to stage a revolution, one just has to go and vote.”

What are the chances of forming one big democratic umbrella party in Hungary? At the moment nil, but Gyurcsány is thinking long-term. If I understand him correctly, he would like to see an inclusive democratic party established well ahead of the next national election in 2018. Can it be done? At the moment there are only a handful people who think so, but I would wait until we learn the results of the upcoming municipal elections. Not that I anticipate some spectacular victory or even progress as far as the fortunes of the democratic opposition are concerned, but after the elections we will be able to weigh the relative strength of the different democratic parties. Most observers are convinced that Együtt-PM, together and separately, has a very short life expectancy. MSZP has been losing voters since the national election in April. If, however, DK repeats its outstanding performance in the European Parliament election, Gyurcsány may be able to expand his base among the democratic forces.

One of the people who believes that “Gyurcsány has a chance” is Endre Aczél, a veteran journalist and a good political analyst. He thinks that deep down the ordinary MSZP membership believes that it is only Gyurcsány who can save the party, and Gyurcsány, who understands the thinking of members of the party’s lower echelon, makes sure not to alienate them. In fact, a fair number of these people have already deserted MSZP in favor of DK. Aczél wouldn’t be surprised if some “big fish” was also caught by Gyurcsány. He wouldn’t be surprised if both Kunhalmi and Bokros eventually ended up in DK. After all, Gyurcsány’s party is already an interesting political mix: former members of MSZP, SZDSZ, MDF, and previously unaffiliated voters who are against Orbán’s mafia state.

Perhaps, but at the moment DK is still a very small party. Only the collapse of MSZP and the disappearance of the other two small parties would give Gyurcsány a chance to create the kind of party he has been envisioning ever since 2006.


  1. “Only the collapse of MSZP and the disappearance of the other two small parties would give Gyurcsány a chance to create the kind of party he has been envisioning”

    Very accurate. This is why Gyurcsany is constantly making moves to try to help the process along. The disappearence of the other parties. He is not trying to destroy Fidesz, he is trying to destroy MSZP and the others. Gyurcsany’s moves will result in a historic defeat in the municipal elections for the opposition. But his goal is not to win it is to weaken the others.

    “Aczél wouldn’t be surprised if some “big fish” was also caught by Gyurcsány. He wouldn’t be surprised if both Kunhalmi and Bokros eventually ended up in DK.”

    Spot on. Both Kunhalmi and Bokros will likely end up in DK. Kunhalmi was playing a double game for a long time now.

    “I suspect, in the eyes of József Tóbiás and his men Ágnes Kunhalmi is a traitor to the socialist cause not because she decided to stand behind Bokros but because she sided with Ferenc Gyurcsány.”

    If Kunhalmi goes over to DK they will consider her a traitor for sure. At that point MSZP will realize DK is an existential threat (to be or not to be, that is the question).

    “But I would wait until we learn the results of the upcoming municipal elections. Not that I anticipate some spectacular victory or even progress as far as the fortunes of the democratic opposition are concerned”

    Yes I agree, the opposition will not make much progress as compared to 2010. In other words it will be a historic and humiliating defeat for them just as in 2010.

  2. @KTP. I don’t think that my interpretation is the same as yours. Gy. does not have to destroy MSZP. Of course, he would like to see the end of MSZP but he doesn’t think that the time is here yet. I am sure that he believes that the demise of MSZP is inevitable but it will be an organic process. One cannot destroy a party by force.

  3. MSZP can’t fail yet purely due to it’s inertia. It’s just too big to collapse so quickly. On the other hand it is almost inevitable. I agree with Demszky’s assesment with the addition that whatever unified party comes out of the current one won’t be able to win. On the other hand it actually bring things forward. If we have a Gyurcsány led Democratic party being handed their bottom parts in 2018, that might finally trigger a new era on the left. That hopefully will end with a creation of something that can finally bring Orbán’s demise.

    I can’t say I have agreed with László Bartus too many times in the past and I could endlessly pick on this article too, but for the first time I mostly agree with his main interpretation.

  4. The trends must be seen clearly. While MSZP’s projected popularity fluctuated in the polls (though it seems to have stabilized below 15-17%, which is peanuts), the fact is that its party network is completely dead, without which any election victory is hopeless.

    Compare that nihil to Fidesz and Jobbik, whose networks have been thriving all over Hungary. Given that at the moment (though wait until Sunday) Jobbik doesn’t even have many municipalities Jobbik’s vigor is all the more respectable. The young and enthusiastic voters base is beaming with activism at Jobbik.

    MSZP has been steadily unable to recruit any young voters and any young politicians. Its perennial uncoolness has been slowly but surely killing it.

    All the while Fidesz is grooming and testing hundreds of younger council members, helpers etc. to check who can be elevated to the top echelon. The talent pool is impossibly large and the competition makes sure, reliable people can be selected.

    There is just no similar talent pool behind MSZP, there isn’t, They can’t even come up with a full list of council members in bigger rural towns, it’s crazy.

    Kunhalmi, just looking at her age (31, though she looks older), is an outlier. There are no similar people at MSZP. And those who were there, people around Mesterhazy and Zsolt Molnar were absolutely clueless at best, and cannot even be compared do, say, Mate Kocsis, the successor of Tarlos let alone to Lazar or Rogan etc. who get things done and are reelected in their respective districts year after year.

    Bottom line: MSZP is in terminal decline, there is no way to turn that process. Featherweight people like Tobias won’t change this, that’s for sure. Fidesz will need to help to prop up MSZP to keep it alive so as to divide the opposition votes, but it won’t be able to make MSZP popular in rural villages (of course Fidesz doesn’t want it, just want to keep MSZP on a ventilator). Perfect combination for Fidesz, it will rule with Jobbik for ever.

  5. Tarlos v. Csaba Horvath, I guess people should know their place, Csaba overreached a bit, but now things are back to normal.

  6. Not too much OT:

    My wife got really angry right now – I won’t repeat all the obscenities, Hungarian women really know how to swear …

    Orbán sent her (and probably a few million other Hungarians) a letter addressed to her asking for money – for convenience a “yellow slip” was already included.

    That all the local papers are full of (not so) nice pictures of overweight politicians we’ve become accustomed to – anyway we’ve decided to go to the local elections on Sunday, even if it’s not really relevant here. Zala county is irrevocably in Fidesz’ hands and our local mayor is an independent without any competition, still it’s a sign if you vote or not!

  7. OT.

    Americans love Republicans and will soon make Obama a lame duck…

    “How else to explain the confit of conventional wisdom showing that voters are poised to give Republicans control of the Senate, and increase their hold on the House, even though a majority of Americans oppose nearly everything the G.O.P. stands for? The message is: We hate you for your inaction, your partisanship, your nut-job conspiracy theories; now do more of the same. Democracy — nobody ever said it made sense.”

  8. @tappanch:

    I’m sorry, but it’s obvious that you don’t know anything about OLAF.

    OLAF is weaker, more burocratic and more corrupt than ÁSZ is.

    Forget it, those “agents” are a bunch of lazy clowns who have zero clue how Hungarian fideszniks operate, and they don’t care about bugris Eastern Europeans.

    They’ve always known well that at least 2/3s of the Italian projects are stolen and never did anything.

    That’s part of the system, which was designed exactly with this is mind. Just like in today’s manufactured products from light bulbs to smartphones obsolescence is built-in, similarly in the EU subsidies system corruption is built-in, everybody knows that. The EU secretly hopes that these local strongmen eventually get addicted to the money and will support the EU.

    Only your usual clueless szoci politicians could be caught red handed by OLAF, nobody else is that stupid…

    OLAF. Right.

  9. OT but interesting. A Finnish translator of Hungarian poetry was awarded the Janus Pannonius Prize which he turned down because of Hungary’s media an human rights abuses. Géza Szőcs who came up with the idea of the price and still is heading the foundation wrote an open letter to the translator, Hannu Launonen. The content of the letter is highly insulting. For example, he calls Launonen a man of “infirm character” (gyenge jellengű ember.” Where do these people come from?

    Here you can read the letter:

  10. @Marcel:

    Re Depardieu: That was a really good joke!

    Oh, you mean it’s true? Really abominable!

    Btw some weeks ago we saw Depardieu several times on North Korean State TV (I really have to make that joke again – their idea of news is horrible and sheer manipulation!), he was directing (?) some show (opera/operetta?) somewhere in Hungary, maybe Debrecen? The tv people and the locals were really proud to have him it seems …

  11. All the more interesting because the Janus Pannonius prize comes with 50,000 euros, which even in Europe is a nice sum.

    I guess next years Szőcs will award it again to some African, Arabic or Russian artist and they will take the money immediately. With Western artists there is always only the disappointment.

    Szőcs is ridiculous, he thinks Launonen is “infirm”, but he would’ve given him the prize.

  12. We should not let go the case of Andras Bano’s ugly racism. ATV should be boycotted until Andras Bano is fired. A weak apology is not enough, a clear message must be heard ATV will not tolerate racists and fire racists when they are detected. Racism has no place on ATV which wants to be the leading voice of the opposition.

    We should ask Eva to use her influence to organize a boycott of like-minded intellectuals. A public statement would suit this purpose well, which could be signed by party officials intellectuals and other people.

    And if you find that too radical at least dedicate a post to this topic as a warning sign to everyone who would be tempted to follow in the racist footsteps of Andras Bano.

  13. Bánó is not a racist. He didn’t think through the implications of his question about the “Roma psyche” from a member of parliament who is of Roma origin. Osztolykán’s ojection was two-fold. She is LMP’s voice on educational matters and not a sociologist whose expertise is the Roma society. Moreover, she does not believe in psyche of nations or ethnic groups. The Hungarian Roma’s problem is poverty, frustration, and undereducation.

  14. I’m afraid that Gyurcsány – Kunhalmi – Bokros and all the other like-minded are right: the old fashioned party-fanatism must abolished from the democratic side, if Hungary ever will get rid of the Felcsútian Bolshevik Feudal-Capitalist Absolutism.

    There is no other way.

    But then again there is always the possibility to adjust and adapt to be a slave or in the better case a paid servant of the Orbanian oligarchy, go to church, pray and pay your deeds, drink your “pálinka” at will and try to forget that there was a time, when you wanted to be free, in body and mind…

    You like it or not, this is the real question, and not if whether or not my party is bigger than yours, not even the name of one or other group, organisation or party – only whether or not you want to be free in your own country or let it turn to a labour camp, with you as a happy inmate.

    Yes, we can go around and elaborate on it, relativise it explain it, every which way, but the end of the day you’ll face with the very same question.

    One more thing: there is no more chance of a so called “new political left” to emerge in our lifetime, you better get used to the idea that is nothing but wishful thinking. Procrastination even: now we are too powerless/selfish/segmented/whatever that we can not make anything right, but don’t worry, only thing needed just to Gyurcsány &CO should disappear and immediately a new power will emerge..!
    Only one of the reasons that there is no longer left and/or right exist in my opinion in Hungary, but the other reason much worse: there is hardly anyone in the age past eighteen who interested.
    Wanna bet?

  15. For the first time I saw the Kutabov lists in action. A cultured-looking middle-aged citizen came around our house which is a condo with 12 apartments and specially delivered mail (in reality a folded flyer with addresses) to the select addressees. In other words only to those who are the hard core base. As far as I could tell, he only delivered one piece of mail to our house, and it was to the only apartment where genuine “working class” people live. The working class, lower class people with jobs are Fidesz and Jobbik voters, no exception. These voters are absolutely off-limits to the Hungarian left. The list looked just like they do in the US, complete with bar codes. And this in a district that is probably one of the least contested in Hungary. Never mind, the machinery is working hard and diligent fideszniks don’t leave anything to chance. That’s not their style.

  16. Re: the prize for the Finnish translator

    @Gejza: “All the more interesting because the Janus Pannonius prize comes with 50,000 euros, which even in Europe is a nice sum.”

    I think he should accept it and donate the money to Okotars 🙂

  17. Coincidentally I’ve heard on the Klubrádió when Géza Szőcs explained that the prize money in this case – as to a translator – would have been 3,000 only.

    The gesture however, priceless!

  18. Re Hannu Launonen and the Janus Pannonius prize.
    I know Launonen personally (to some extent; we have worked at the same department) and have a very high opinion of him. He is a really excellent expert of Hungarian literature and culture, with decades of experience, and he is the guy who translates the top-notch highbrow literature like Esterházy or Nádasi. Accusing him of “letting himself be manipulated” by some mysterious “informers” is simply ridiculous.

    What I found especially interesting in Szőcs’s incredible verbal flatulence (see also: ) was his wannabe-sarcastic comment: “… we respect your decision. (We cannot know what would have happened if you had come to this decision only after receiving the money.)” Insinuating that Launonen would rather take the money and run? Of course, people who dedicate their lives to translating difficult highbrow Hungarian literature into Finnish are only in it for the money…

    Of course, we could spend a lot of time discussing Szőcs’s merits: his role in the notorious reburial of Nyirő (did he really carry the Fascist author’s ashes in his bag across Transilvania?) or his excellent idea, while still secretary of state, of “having the ‘Finno-Ugric theory’ [sic] examined by way of genetic tests”. But perhaps the main question is: What happened to the Hungarian PEN club? And what is its relationship to PEN International, which is supposed to defend the freedom of speech?

  19. BTW: Hannu Launonen’s decision to refuse the Janus Pannonius prize is now all over the German-language media as well. Considering that Finland is now the official guest at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which gives Finland really unprecedented media coverage in the German-speaking world, this was excellent timing 😉 !

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