Turmoil in the Hungarian Socialist Party

Yesterday I said that I wanted to avoid speculation about what happened behind closed doors in the inner sanctum of the Hungarian Socialist Party. However, today I am forced to talk about these "rumors" because one of the members of the presidium, Vice-Chairman István Ujhelyi, gave a lengthy interview in today's Népszava in which he outlined his ideas about what the party should do in the wake of its devastating showing at the polls.

First a few things about István Ujhelyi. He is thirty-four years old and has been a member of the party since the age of eighteen. He spent practically his entire life in Szeged where he graduated from high school and went on to study law. Throughout his university years he was heavily involved in politics; perhaps that was the reason he finished his studies only in 2002 when he was twenty-seven! He started his political career at the tender age of nineteen when he became a member of the Szeged City Council. After serving for four years in that body he tried to get into parliament from the city of Szeged but wasn't successful. However, four years later, in 2002, he was elected with a handsome margin. He was successful again in 2006.

In the last few years there were visible signs that Ujhelyi was not satisfied with Ferenc Gyurcsány's leadership of the party. A year ago Gyurcsány, during one of the stormy sessions of the presidium, offered his resignation as party chairman and Ujhelyi jumped at the opportunity, but as it turned out he was alone. In the last year or so I've heard a couple of interviews in which he tried to explain why he has not been so active in party affairs of late. So in a way I'm not surprised that the leader of the Young Turks at the moment is none other than István Ujhelyi. Here is a picture of him.Ujhelyi The Hungarian media labelled the rift within the party's leading body as "the revolt of the generations" because all five people who wanted to convene a full-fledged party congress at which the current leadership should call for a vote of no-confidence against itself are relatively young. There were four members of the presidium who supported Ujhelyi: Attila Mesterházy (35), László Varga (30), Gergely Bárándy (33), and Ágnes Vadai (35). The older, more seasoned politicians in the group eventually triumphed. The Young Turks lost that round. The final tally was 9 to 5.

However, it seems that Ujhelyi remains undaunted and now is trying to achieve his goals with the help of the media. After reading the long interview in Népszava and hearing him this morning in a live interview on Hetes Stúdió (a Saturday afternoon political program in KlubRádió), I'm very much hoping that Ujhelyi will fail. My reasons for saying this are twofold. First, I don't think that his preferred strategy is the right one. Second, I don't think that Ujhelyi is a talented politician.

Let's start with his preferred strategy. Although he tries to act as if he had no personal ambitions and is acting only for the good of the party, self-interest seems central to his call for "renewal"–that is, a change in leadership. Moreover, if the party got bogged down in personnel changes even less time could be devoted to the formulation and execution of an urgently needed strategy to recapture its former supporters. The problem is not that the MSZP voters don't like Ildikó Lendvai or Péter Kiss but that they are dissatisfied with the austerity program the government and the party were forced to adopt. Unfortunately this economic strategy cannot be drastically changed but the "package" can be sugar coated somehow. I think this is what some people within the party are trying to do. See yesterday's blog. Wasting time with "who will be what" within the party is outright counterproductive. I guess that's why János Veres, whose political instincts are most likely a great deal better than those of Ujhelyi, apparently criticized Ujhelyi and his supporters.

In the newspaper interview he amply demonstrated why he should not vault to the top of the party. He said that the national elections are a lost cause for his party. Not only will MSZP lose the elections but, as he put it, "I'm not afraid to say: The leading power will be Fidesz and Viktor Orbán after 2010." Well, if a so-called politician says something that stupid a Hungarian can only say that "this man is a political antitalentum." Not just that he lacks political talent but that he is the antithesis of it. He has already conceded to Fidesz. He has announced defeat months before the elections. No politician worthy of the name would ever say something that self-defeating. But that's nothing. He goes on. He pretty well outlines the happy future for the party. Local elections will be held in October 2010 and the socialist party should concentrate all its efforts on those elections. He figures that the new Orbán government will have to continue the economic policy that the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments introduced. The Fidesz true believers will then see the light and will vote overwhelmingly for socialist candidates. This is not only a naive proposition but also a dangerous one. What if Fidesz gets such an overwhelming majority that the government can easily and unilaterally change the constitution and the laws governing local elections? What if an Orbán government with the help of a new president and a new chief justice begins arresting former socialist politicians whom they accuse of crimes against the nation?

If Ujhelyi is the best that the younger generation within the socialist party can come up with, perhaps it would be better if they waited a few years. Quite a few years. But unfortunately in the interim they can do a great deal of harm.

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How serious is your what if game?
It is pretty scary one. Fidesz and right-wing lunatics putting socialists behand the bars for treason and corruption? What is next? Socialist Garda to defend them? And clash with the Magyar one? Low intensity civil war?
I hope this stays in the realm of pure speculations. Stings too much of the inter-war days in Central Europe.


Did you notice how this guy not only sounds like, but also looks like Almassy Kornel, the MDF “stalwart?”

“What if Fidesz gets such an overwhelming majority that the government can easily and unilaterally change the constitution and the laws governing local elections?” Interesting suggestion, but the changes need to be inside any relevant frame of European Democracy, like changing the sizes of the different election districts. This is a rather normal method in many countries calling themselves Democratic. They can hardly inhibit the Local Elections, but they could move the election date to a later date, but that is hardly to their benefit. Also, it will be hard to make any real anti-MSZP modifications that would not hurt some Fidesz-district also, so it will not be so easy to get all Fidesz MPs behind these changes automatically. ——— “What if an Orbán government with the help of a new president and a new chief justice begins arresting former socialist politicians whom they accuse of crimes against the nation?” Could be a more likely scenario, but there are 2 problems here: 1) Charges need to stick and must be proven. It cannot be crimes that were policy decisions made by a previous Government, which ultimately were approved by the majority of the Parliament of that time. Then all MPs… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Mr Viking no state of the USA can secede from the Union the Civil War made that clear. You say *** “One can always argue, but if Hungary leaves the EU? Good question, then there are no such mechanisms at all defined in the EU, so in a sense it cannot happen.” *** I am not certain about that either. It could ‘de facto’ leave. It could be ordered by the European Court to liberate prisoners and could ignore that order. It would then be fined by the Court and not pay. All Europe could do is to stop subsidies etc. Fidesz would mealy close the borders, expel all non-Hungarians, sequester all property owned by foreigners etc. No one could move against it because of NATO. If Hungary were expelled from NATO, Putin would love that as it would allow Russia to outflank the Ukraine. So all in all Hungary could quite easily ignore Europe just as the French sometimes do. Just as in the case of mutton from the U.K. where the French ban it’s import or transport through France. OK Hungary would become externally bankrupt but internally Fidesz could still feed the people.
Pál Marosy

I agree with the article. Újhelyi is not a ‘true’ politician. He does more harm then good with his continuous attempts to get a higher position. Add to this that he will have to testify at the Zuschlag trial.
One of the witnesses has revealed that Újhelyi was aware of the money diversion scheme used by Zuschlag and his gang members.

Pál Marosy

Indeed there is turmoil in the socialist party.
Szanyi harshly criticizes Gyurcsány and labels his politics as “liberalanarchist”: