The Hungarian media simply cannot decide whether "the socialists suffered catastrophic defeat" yesterday or after all the situation is not that grim. These two mutually exclusive opinions appeared in the same article in HVG, which reflects a certain confusion on the part of the author who is the Political Capital's "expert on elections." Apparently the reason for this discrepancy is that "the socialists' expectations were very low."
Well, I have a little problem with this whole train of thought. Under the circumstances, when month after month the public opinion polls came out with disastrously low figures for MSZP, why would anyone demand "high expectations" from the socialists? I'll bet that if they set their goals high, today the "experts" would condemn them for a lack of realism. They would say that the socialists made themselves ridiculous. In fact, Péter Szijjártó, Viktor Orbán's spokesman, went even further yesterday. When a reporter told him that Csaba Horváth, MSZP candidate for the the position of mayor of Budapest, after the results were known announced that he did better than expected (close to 30% of the votes) Szijjártó shot back: in that case Horváth was lying when he talked about winning the elections. But, of course, no candidate will say before the actual voting: "I will be very happy with 10% of the votes." Naturally, he will say that he is planning to win. (Talking about Csaba Horváth. He wasn't a good candidate but his television ad was superb! Upbeat, young, modern as opposed to Tarlós's stodgy ad.)
MSZP had modest expectations which they didn't share openly with the public. They wanted to beat Jobbik. They very much wanted to keep Szeged and perhaps Miskolc and they were hoping for at least one Budapest district. They lost Miskolc, but Szeged remained socialist and out of the twenty-three districts they managed to win not one but three. Moreover, the gap between Tarlós and Horváth wasn't as huge as everybody predicted. As for doing better than Jobbik, MSZP can be pleased with the results. In April Jobbik did better than MSZP in eight counties, this time MSZP "recaptured" five of them.
And what may cheer up the MSZP leadership is that while in April not quite 20% of the voters cast their votes for the socialists, this time it seems that about 25% of the electorate voted for MSZP when the voters cast their votes for parties only. And if one considers that the voter turnout was low and it is assumed that MSZP and former SZDSZ voters were the ones who most likely stayed at home, then MSZP seems to have survived four rather tough months and perhaps even regained a few former voters.
The Political Capital expert seems to be absolutely certain MSZP will fall apart, but after these relatively good results "the erosion and collapse of the party is postponed." Further, "for the time being the socialists may even think that they didn't lose their position as an alternative'' to Fidesz at some future elections. When I read such nonsense I can't help thinking that something is very wrong with Hungarian "political scientists." At the moment there is one mammoth party, Fidesz. In addition there is a far-right, neo-Nazi party, Jobbik. Surely, the expert of Political Capital doesn't think that Jobbik might be "an alternative" to Fidesz as a serious contender for the position of a government party. Because if it is, Hungary is in big trouble. Then, there is a brand new small party, LNP, that is really a regional party, that is the party of Budapest, but even there it did less well yesterday than in April. Although before the elections LMP leaders were really sanguine. They mentioned 20% of the votes in Budapest and talked about their hopes of being the king makers in the city council. None of these hopes materialized. Péter Szijjártó would say: "they lied."
So, in this political constellation why wouldn't the MSZP leaders think their party is an alternative to Fidesz? After all, as opposed to the other two parties, not long ago they had a huge voter base which, if they play their cards right and if Fidesz can't make good on its promises, they may get back.
As for the latest development in MSZP. Katalin Szili, an important person in the party, announced this morning that she is leaving the parliamentary caucus and will sit as an independent member of parliament. Moreover, because she is starting a new party called Szociális Unió (Social Union), she resigned from the party because MSZP by-laws forbid dual party memberships. The party is enraged because Katalin Szili didn't win her seat on her own. The party placed her high enough on the party list that even in the currently very small parliamentary delegation she received a seat. Indeed, the only decent thing would be to resign as a member of parliament, which would allow the party to name the runner-up from the Baranya County list.
One could write a whole book about Katalin Szili; I've talked about her innumerable times in this blog. First in November 2007 when I borrowed József Debreczeni's title of an article about her ("Katalin Szili: the Hungarian Tess of the d'Urbervilles") and many times since. I simply don't understand how this woman managed to have such a career in MSZP because basically she is not very smart and is an even worse politician. She has done an incredible amount of damage to the party in the last few years; a party leadership with an eye toward self-preservation would have gotten rid of her a long time ago. But the MSZP leadership lets such problems within the party fester with terrible consequences at the end. For example, they didn't move fast enough in the case of Miklós Hagyó. In Hagyó's case it was alleged corruption while in Szili's, going against the party's main thrust time and time again. She insisted on being a candidate for the presidency in 2005 when the coalition partner, SZDSZ, wasn't going to vote for her. But her ambition got the better of her and Ferenc Gyurcsány was not strong enough to stop her. Result: the opposition's candidate, László Sólyom, became president. That was a first and most likely the last in the history of the Third Republic. Then came the referendum on dual citizenship which the party opposed. Szili voted for it and bragged about it. Then she began writing rather banal articles on what she considered to be true socialism as opposed to the "neo-liberalism" of the party's leadership which, in her opinion, caused the downfall of the party. In her farewell letter today she also accused the party of turning away from true socialism. But when she tried to explain what she meant by true socialism, she was unable to give a coherent account.
I heard MSZP supporters this morning express their opinions of Katalin Szili. I hope she wasn't listening. Most of the people who phoned in are certain that Szili was in large measure responsible for the troubles of MSZP in the last five years. There is something in that. But this is what happens when a party is too cowardly to act and thus helps to dig its own grave.