Pécs: Portrait of a Hungarian election

Next Sunday is an important day for MSZP. A mayoral election is being held in an important, traditionally socialist stronghold in Hungary. I'm talking about Pécs, my hometown, a city that hasn't had much luck with its socialist mayors. László Toller survived a horrific car accident in the summer of 2006 only to remain in a coma ever since. When it became clear that Toller was unlikely to recuperate, the socialists put forth Péter Tasnádi, who was apparently Katalin Szili's man and about whom the voters of Pécs knew very little. As far as I could ascertain he wasn't much of a mayor. Under his stewardship preparations for the Cultural Capital of Europe project went nowhere. And the poor man also died of cancer at the worst possible time as far as the socialist party's chances in Pécs were concerned. MSZP had to pull out all the stops because the party, already battered, would be hard pressed to withstand the loss of Pécs, one of the very few socialist bastions in the country. Of course, a victory in Pécs is equally important to Fidesz. It would be a fantastic boost if Pécs fell.

The MSZP candidate is Katalin Szili, speaker of the house and the parliamentary representative of one of Pécs's electoral districts. She is very popular in the city: ever since 1994 she has managed to win in her district with an impressive majority. After some hesitation Katalin Szili decided to run. To leave her important position and elegant residence in Budapest and move back to Pécs. That is, if the socialists manage to hang onto the city. Szili can offer a lot to Pécs because of her connections with the government. She also has the solid backing of the party. Just the other day Gordon Bajnai, István Hiller, and the new minister of transportation, Péter Hónig, all campaigned on her behalf. She also managed to get the support of SZDSZ and MDF. Szili promised by-monthly discussions with the prime minister on behalf of the city. She immediately announced that over her dead body will the government build a radar station in the Mecsek Mountains right above the city (something the Bush administration wanted and the environmentalists, led by the president of the Republic, opposed). Without that promise she would have had no chance against the Fidesz candidate, Zsolt Páva.

The campaign got off to a sluggish start, but lately it has revved up and become downright nasty. Overnight someone smashed the windows of the MSZP headquarters. And Páva is suing MSZP because, according to him, MSZP is guilty of printing leaflets that contain false accusations against him personally. The incident is of questionable legitimacy. Páva himself "apprehended" the two men who were distributing the leaflets on the street. And how did he apprehend the alleged villains? By inviting them for a cup of coffee. In short order the police arrived and confiscated thousands of the scurrilous leaflets. MSZP claims they have nothing to do with the leaflets. On the other hand, Szili's billboard was defaced in what seems to be a deliberateSzili Pécs endeavor. All the red stickers are pre-printed. Under her chin one can read: "Budapest politician," over the logo it says "MSZP logo discretely hidden," and over the flower arrangement it says: "folk motifs." Fidesz attacked her campaign slogan as well. The billboard claims that Katalin Szili is "the candidate of collaboration." In fact they took the case to court because there is a civic organization named "Collaboration for Pécs" that is supports Páva. Fidesz claimed that Szili is trying to give the false impression that this organization supports her. Apparently the question was whether "összefogás" was with written with a capital "Ö,"the initial of the Hungarian word, or not. The court agreed with Páva, and MSZP even prior to the verdict decided to use all capital letters as can be seen on the billboard here: "ÖSSZEFOGÁS." Then MSZP fought back: the party demanded Páva's removal from the party because on Monday morning Páva in a television interview said something objectionable when asked what he would do with the MSZP-SZDSZ politicians who, according to him, ruined the city. He responded: "Of course, I don't want to hold public hangings or executions. I don't even have the power to do so … what I'm talking about is that the persons should be named because of the wrong decisions for which they are responsible." István Nyakó, the spokesman of MSZP, recalled Sándor Arnóth, the Fidesz parliamentary representative who yelled to one of the undersecretaries in parliament: "You will hang!" Fidesz immediately demanded Arnóth's resignation from his seat. Of course, Nyakó most likely knows that the two statements are not of equal weight, but he tried anyway.

Otherwise, Fidesz naturally tries to make a local election a national issue. Therefore their billboard says: "They ruined the country, let's defend Pécs! Vote for Fidesz."  Fidesz PécsMeanwhile Szili has another rational argument on her side. MSZP and SZDSZ has a two-person majority in the local legislature. If the mayor comes from a party that with SZDSZ's help has a majority, the decision-making will be a great deal easier than with Páva, a member of Fidesz with a legislature that will not support him. Szili, in fact, managed to get promises from the local MSZP-SZDSZ members to support her.

It is hard to tell how the campaign is going for either Szili or Páva. If Nyakó wants Páva to be removed from the party, Fidesz claims that Szili insulted the citizens of Pécs when in an interview she referred to Pécs as "down there." In Pécs, south of almost everything else in the country, it is customary to say "to go up to Budapest" and from Budapest "to go down to Pécs." In my humble opinion this is not insulting, but politicians try to exploit every opportunity.

I must admit that I haven't got the foggiest idea what will happen on Sunday. My relatives are certain that not even Szili can win because of the mistakes of the MSZP leadership in the last three years. Another factor is the incredible lead of Fidesz nationwide. However, I don't normally tack in the direction of my relatives' political windsock.  For one thing, they live downtown where no MSZP politician has ever managed to win.

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I know nothing about FIDESZ’s candidate. However,if the truth be told, while Szili has always been popular, she is not particularly intelligent and has been consistently a force on the left wing of the MSZP (whose policies predilections are really responsible for much of the mess the Country now faces).
Moreover, one need not spend to much time in Pecs to realize that whatever money has been allocated to the City for its turn as EU Cultural Capital made its way into everything else other than the actually the City.


“Szili can offer a lot to Pécs because of her connections with the government.”
That’s the root of the problems in Hungary.
Independent candidates don’t have a chance, it’s either one corrupt party or another.
Connections to the government is nothing to be proud of, but who cares if she can bring in the cash, some of it may end up to benefit the city. (just kidding, it will all be stolen as usual).