Duel in the Hungarian liberal party

A few days ago I devoted a whole blog to the past and present of SZDSZ (Szabaddemokraták [Free Democrats] Szövetsége). By the way, with the exception of MSZP (Magyar Szocialista Párt) the parties formed in the late 1980s were not called parties. The most notable ones are MDF (Magyar Demokrata Fórum), Fidesz (Fiatal [Young] Demokraták Szövetsége [Alliance]) and, of course, SZDSZ. That is, they tried to avoid calling themselves by a name that would indicate they were actually establishing a political party. Not just because they feared the still one-party dictatorship but because they themselves were not sure whether they really wanted to belong to an organization that functions as a party. The internal dissension concerning the establishment of a party was especially fierce in Fidesz. Fidesz, by the way, changed its name several times; the original acronym Fidesz persevered.

Lately, SZDSZ leaders have started to talk about their own party as "the liberal party" (a liberális párt), often adding it to the official name. As a result the designation has become more widespread. Hence the title of this blog.

The Hungarian liberals are in big trouble as I have indicated many times in the past. My latest blog on the subject described the struggle over the post of leader of the parliamentary delegation. The party is split down the middle between the followers of Gábor Fodor and the followers of János Kóka. Kóka, who for a few months held the post of party chief as well as head of the delegation, refused to cede his parliamentary leadership to Gábor Fodor when Fodor became the new party chief. For a few months Fodor decided not to try to remove Kóka from this position. However, about two weeks ago Fodor got the bright idea to challenge Kóka. Many of the cooler heads in the party asked him to reconsider but Fodor refused. Wrong decision!

The election was held on Monday and the result was a draw. Nine for Fodor, nine for Kóka, and one abstention. They repeated the procedure three times. No one changed his mind. This is a terrible defeat for Fodor personally and a reaffirmation of what everybody knows: SZDSZ is hopelessly split. Fodor's latest idea is that both he and Kóka withdraw from the competition for head of the delegation and seek a third person acceptable to both factions. He is ready. Kóka said nothing. Somehow I don't think that Kóka will willingly give up the job that is his as of now.

Analysts are split on the issue of SZDSZ's immediate future. Some think that the party will formally split. Others, and they are in the majority, think that the split is not really ideological but personal. Indeed, it is difficult to see any great ideological difference between the two. Perhaps Kóka is more interested in and more knowledgeable about economic issues while Fodor is a champion of liberal social causes. According to a new Szonda Ipsos poll SZDSZ voters are equally split in their preferences for the two men.

Maybe there will be no split in the party, but even if they remain together I am not  optimistic about the party's future. I think it will be a miracle if next year they are able to garner enough votes at the European Union elections to send anyone to Brussels. (Currently, they have two members.) I am equally pessimistic about their chances in 2010 at the national elections. Both Kóka and Fodor have been leading SZDSZ erratically and, in my opinion, miserably. From day to day one couldn't figure out what the party's position was. People whom I know and who always voted for SZDSZ swore to me: never again. And there are far too many of these disaffected liberals today.