By-elections are often null and void because of very low voter turnout. You may remember this year's fiasco in Pécs where it was necessary to hold three elections and there is still no declared winner. János Kővágó (Fidesz-KDNP) won the most votes, but every time the election was repeated fewer and fewer people turned out to vote.
Tomorrow there will be by-elections in Budapest's eighth district, Józsefváros (Josephstadt), and Fidesz is putting a lot of effort into the campaign. Józsefváros is a fairly large district that is home both to the highest percentage of university graduates in the capital and to a substantial underclass, mostly Roma, that lives in abject poverty. For sixteen years the district has had the same SZDSZ mayor: the very popular Béla Csécsei. The citizens of Józsefváros voted him in repeatedly although by now the council is Fidesz dominated. After the last election Csécsei took a sick leave for a whole year. From what I understand he had a leg injury that needed repeated surgical intervention. A few months ago he returned to take over business from one of his deputies, Gábor Takács (SZDSZ). Three weeks after his return, however, he suddenly announced his retirement.
A few days ago, on November 16, Zoltán Szabó, who is responsible within the socialist party for collecting and making public all alleged Fidesz corruption cases, came up with something which he himself called "speculation." According to the suspicious socialists Csécsei's early retirement wasn't entirely voluntary. Why would he resign only about a month and a half before he was eligible to receive a fairly sizable pension at the age of fifty-seven as a package deal for incumbent mayors? He could have received a nice monthly check over and above his salary from October 12 on for five extra years. (He was born on October 12, 1952.) Surely, they argued, there had to be a reason. Their suspicion grew when a contract between the district council, signed most likely by the SZDSZ deputy mayor, and Csécsei came to light. It provided for a position of consultant with a monthly remuneration of 750,000 Ft. Although the contract was signed and sealed on September 2, it was not made public, which apparently is against the law. The contract was for five years, the same number of years Csécsei was deprived of his pension by resigning. The suspicious socialists figure that the contract was compensation for lost income.
Why was Csécsei forced to resign (if he actually was)? It is known that the district council's Fidesz majority sought a change. They wanted to take advantage of Fidesz enthusiasm in the country and elect a new Fidesz mayor, building momentum in the national campaign with another big win in an important Budapest district. Apparently the Fidesz legislators suggested to members of other parties in the council that the council dissolve itself, thus precipitating by-elections in the district. But, the socialists argue, that was not the best solution from the Fidesz point of view because Csécsei could run again and might win. The deadline for forcing the dissolution of the council was October 1. Thus, Szabó argues, they were in a hurry to get rid of Csécsei. Most likely, he contends, the ruse was concocted through the joint effort of Fidesz and SZDSZ.
The deputy mayor Gábor Takács (SZDSZ), who is running for the post of mayor tomorrow, naturally denies this allegation, but the MSZP candidate Ákos Komássy claims that he noticed Fidesz-SZDSZ cooperation behind the scenes.
Meanwhile the campaign is intense. According to one estimate by a Hungarian blog Fidesz must have spent at least 17-20 million Ft to campaign in this one district. The people who publish the blog apparently asked all parties to make public their expenses. Not surprisingly only one new party LMP (Lehet Más a Politika = Politics Can Be Different) answered their request. They spent 347,650 Ft: 238,000 for leaflets and 75,000 for posters. The busy bloggers counted at least 200 Fidesz posters and about 50 oversized ones. According to their estimates these by themselves must have cost more than 10 million Ft. In addition of course they must have spent a fair amount on leaflets, various campaign publications, advertisements on cars, ads in newspapers, and campaign headquarters rental, just to list the most obvious expenses. "An informer" claimed that an additional 200 ads were received free from an ad company.
Finally, another blogger found an even more interesting piece of information. The young Máté Kocsis (29), who is one of the deputy mayors and who is supposed to be the winner of this election, was earlier a card carrying member of the far-right, anti-Semitic MIÉP. Although his political past might not be an obstacle in this race, it is somewhat troubling that the young lawyer seems to have lied about his MIÉP membership. He unequivocally denied that he had ever been a member of the party; he was, he contended, only a member of the party's youth organization and even in that group he spent only two or three months. Moreover, it was twelve years ago during the campaign and he joined only to help his father, who was a MIÉP candidate in the district.
These clever investigative bloggers managed to find Kocsis's application for membership in the youth section of MIÉP. A facsimile of the document can be found on the blog, "Fidesz Figyelő" (Fidesz Watch), linked above. According to the document he asked for membership on December 21, 1999, and by that time he was a full-fledged member of MIÉP, which he joined in 1998. So it wasn't twelve years ago and it wasn't just during the 1998 campaign. The blogger notes that Kocsis at the time was only eighteen years old and therefore one might be charitable about his joining a far-right organization but, he adds, he is a liar now at the age of 29.
His socialist opponent naturally demands his withdrawal from the race, but this is not going to happen. Meanwhile almost everybody is taking it for granted that Kocsis will win big. That is, if there are enough people who bother to vote. In 2006 there were almost 60,000 people eligible to vote at the municipal elections but only 27,000 actually cast their votes. It will interesting to see how many people show up tomorrow.