Katalin Szili and her beloved Pécs

Katalin Szili (prounced as "silly"), speaker of the house, is in a difficult situation: she has to decide whether to run for mayor of the city of Pécs where the MSZP mayor, Péter Tasnádi, died recently. Tasnádi became mayor upon the near fatal car accident of the earlier, very popular mayor, László Toller (also MSZP). Toller was an important man within the party and a very good friend of the speaker of the house, a native of Pécs. Toller fell into a coma sometime in June 2006, shortly before the municipal elections, and when it became clear that his recovery was unlikely Szili, a parliamentary member representing one of the Pécs electoral districts, helped to handpick Toller's successor, Péter Tasnádi. As far as I can see, Tasnádi was a bad choice.

MSZP barely managed to hang on to Pécs in 2006. If I recall, in the city council they have a one-man majority. I also remember that Tasnádi's lead was so narrow that a recount was necessary. Unfortunately Tasnádi was not a good administrator. Perhaps the greatest fiasco was the cultural capital of Europe project. Toller managed to win the competition among Hungarian cities for this title, but under Tasnádi at least two or three years were completely wasted. One project manager after the other resigned; nothing, as far as I know, has even been started. There is only one year left and Pécs is simply not ready to welcome those thousands who would visit one of the three 2010 cultural capitals of Europe. (The other two are Essen and Istanbul.) 

The popularity of Tasnádi and MSZP, shaky in the fall of 2006, has been falling off a cliff. My relatives tell me there is no way that MSZP can win the interim elections. Except, the socialist party leadership strategizes, if they manage to convince Katalin Szili to run. But, understandably, Szili is dragging her heels. It would be a huge self-imposed demotion. As speaker of the house she has prestige as one of the top three politicians (the other two being, of course, the president and the prime minister). She has creature comforts becoming her status, including a spacious house. She is the most popular socialist politician and has a sizable following within the party apparatus: the left wing of the party especially loves Szili, I think because she has been a fairly severe critic of the liberal Ferenc Gyurcsány at the other end of the spectrum.

Initially Szili promised an answer for tomorrow but now I hear that the final decision has been postponed till Tuesday. Although there is certainly no comparison between her present position and that of mayor of Pécs as well as an ordinary member of parliament, a risk manager might recommend the move. After all, at the moment it looks probable that Fidesz will win in 2010. In that case, Szili would no longer be speaker of the house, just an ordinary member of parliament. So from her point of view it might be advantageous to try to become the mayor of Pécs as well.

Can Szili win in Pécs? Opinions vary. Some people think that the socialist leadership since 2006 has been so bad and the cultural capital project such a failure that not even the very popular Szili can prevail. Others are more optimistic. In any case, almost everybody thinks that MSZP's only hope in Pécs is Katalin Szili. If she can't win in Pécs, MSZP will be in real trouble in 2010.