It's not official yet, but it is almost 100% certain that MSZP will campaign before the 2010 elections with Attila Mesterházy (age 35) as their candidate for prime minister. Most people think that by nominating Mesterházy MSZP has pretty well admitted that the party has no chance whatsoever at the next elections. Naturally, this is the stated opinion of Fidesz. But Fidesz was joined by the former socialist prime minister Péter Medgyessy who, completely forgetting his own substantial role in causing the downfall of his party, gleefully announced that MSZP is finished and that Mesterházy is a bad choice. Szabolcs Szerető, who writes opinion pieces for Magyar Nemzet, was outright condescending. The title of his piece in today's paper was: "Encouragement," meaning that he would like to give some encouragement to the young man who has no chance. According to Szerető, Ferenc Gyurcsány is not at all thrilled with the choice. I read elsewhere about a week ago that Gyurcsány and Mesterházy didn't get along. According to rumors there were times when the two men wouldn't talk to each other and communicated only through intermediaries. And this when Gyurcsány headed the ministry dealing with youth and sports and Mesterházy was his undersecretary. Nézőpont Institute, a think tank close to Fidesz, conducted a poll showing that only 5% of the voting-age population would vote for Mesterházy while even Lajos Bokros would garner at least 16%. Mind you, Nézőpont's results are almost always off. Moreover, one must keep in mind that in Hungary people don't vote for the prime minister directly.
Apparently Gyurcsány thought that László Kovács, the seasoned politician and diplomat, a real old timer and one of the founders of MSZP, would be a better candidate. Kovács was foreign minister between 1994 and 1998 and again between 2002 and 2004. He also served as chairman of MSZP between 1998 and 2004. Between 2004 and 2009 he was European commissioner in charge of taxation. Although Kovács will be soon "unemployed," it is not at all clear whether he would have accepted the nomination. Those who supported Kovács's nomination thought that perhaps a senior citizen (he was born in 1939) would appeal to the older and more faithful voters of MSZP. Perhaps through him the party could mobilize its base. A young candidate like Mesterházy might appeal more to the younger crowd, but the trouble with young Hungarians is at least twofold: they are overwhelmingly Fidesz and Jobbik supporters and one cannot rely on them at the polls. In large numbers they don't even bother to vote.
I wrote about Attila Mesterházy in my April 3, 2009 blog ("MSZP has put its house in order") where I described him as impressive on paper. Indeed, his scholarly achievements are quite remarkable. He graduated summa cum laude from Corvinus University, received all sorts of scholarships to study abroad, and is able to speak a couple of foreign languages. Former classmates described him as "diligent, conscientious, and a teacher's pet." He was liked by his fellow students although he didn't take part in student activities. He lived off campus with his girlfriend and therefore wasn't in the center of things. His acquaintances were surprised to hear about his rise within MSZP. They imagined him in the "middle management" category.
Interestingly enough Hírszerző, an online paper whose owners are close to MDF, is less damning. The journalists at Hírszerző think that with the choice of Mesterházy "the leadership of MSZP at last might be rejuvenated." According to socialist politicians Mesterházy will not come out of this political struggle as a "political nonentity." He will be able, given his age, to lead the party, even if in opposition for a while, to eventual victory. For his part, Mesterházy promises to be a tough opponent of the "moderate right" and a "merciless enemy" of the far right. He is hoping to be the spokesman not only of socialist voters but of everybody who takes democracy seriously. He also mentioned that MSZP was planning to nominate younger candidates for parliamentary seats in preparation for the campaign.
For the time being the Fidesz leadership hasn't responded to the unofficial news. The only information on the Fidesz website is Szabolcs Szerető's opinion piece from Magyar Nemzet. But it might provide Fidesz with an opening salvo since in it Szerető resurrects the old charge that Mesterházy is tainted as a result of the Zuschlag corruption case. János Zuschlag, a young socialist, received grants for youth projects from the sports ministry headed by Ferenc Gyurcsány when his undersecretary was Attila Mesterházy. Young Zuschlag and his friends apparently misused the monies received. Either they pocketed about 50-70 million forints for themselves or perhaps they used some of the money for purposes of the party, always strapped for funds. In either case, both Gyurcsány and Mesterházy testified as witnesses and told the judge what they knew. Practically nothing. Gyurcsány as minister handled only cases where a lot of money was involved while Mesterházy's work had nothing to do with grants.
Another possible line of attack against Mesterházy is that since Ildikó Lendvai became chairman of the party and Mesterházy became head of the MSZP parliamentary delegation, the MSZP members of parliament have been singularly disciplined: they have voted unanimously for all the proposals of the Bajnai government. So Fidesz might call attention to Mesterházy's connection to Bajnai and his austerity program.