The Hungarian Socialist Party after the local elections

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.

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Mark
Guest
“The Hungarian media simply cannot decide whether “the socialists suffered catastrophic defeat” yesterday or after all the situation is not that grim.” To some extent both these positions are correct. The MSZP are still way below their level of support in 1994 and have a lot of re-building to do before they are ready to contend for power. The memories of Bajnai and Gyurcsány and what really was four years of complete disaster are still very fresh among the population. They will take a long time and a lot of political work and humility to overcome. The party needs to effect a complete change of generation, and needs to build itself and its base from the bottom. It needs to repair its credibility in districts and cities in lost by large margins that it should be winning – places like Újpest and Kőbánya in the capital, or Salgótárján, and Tatabánya outside (all of which were areas where they lost). However, on the other side I calculate that had this been a general election they would have 25% of the vote countrywide – a very significant increase on their April score. They took a small number of votes from the LMP… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mark: “I calculate that had this been a general election they would have 25% of the vote countrywide – a very significant increase on their April score.”
We agree. I think so too.

Mark
Guest

“Talking about Csaba Horváth. He wasn’t a good candidate”
I don’t agree. Budapest mayoral elections have rarely favoured the MSZP – even though I accept this was due to circumstances I think you will find Horváth is the highest polling MSZP candidate for Budapest mayor since 1990. I spent most of the last two weeks in Budapest, and he fought a campaign that was defensive, low key and astute – and got a result that actually would have surprised me a week ago. In early summer the anger over BKV and Hagyó was considerable and I would have expected on that basis the MSZP to poll less than their April score creating more opportunities for LMP. Horváth managed to defuse that, rally the MSZP base and snatch some LMP votes.

Paul Haynes
Guest
The other day, Mark described MSZP as a “coalition”, which made me stop and think. All parties are coalitions of some form or other, usually a right-left split, but I think the situation within MSZP is worse than that because or their origins. They don’t actually know what they are or what they are for. In a way, Szilárd is right (not something I ever expected to write!) in his wish that the old Communist party hadn’t been allowed to turn itself into a new party. Had the old Communist party ceased to exist, and a wholly new Socialist or Social Democratic party had been created, the creators of the new party would have had to define exactly what they stood for. Members would then have joined because they agreed with the stated aim, not simply drifted from the old party to the ‘new’ one. The result of the way the MSZP came into being is that, not only are the MSZP politicians confused as to who or what they are, but the electorate is utterly bewildered. Older people see the party as the continuation of the old regime, and vote for it, in an entirely apolitical way, in the… Read more »
Pásztor Szilárd
Guest
@Eva: “Talking about Csaba Horváth. He wasn’t a good candidate but his television ad was superb! Upbeat, young, modern” It was superb only for those who do not live in Hungary and do not share the feelings of the average Hungarian, let alone an average Budapest dweller. Horváth’s imitation of modernity was completely out of context, a 100% contrast of how people feel here – for any reason -, so this ad was obviously doomed from the start. Budapest is nowhere near such a city when everyone is and was talking about how all large scale projects turned out to be failures in Budapest, how the socialists and their racist friends SZDSZ pushed public money out with barrows, how BKV vehicles are rotting while the firm serves as a faucet of money for the socialists, how the once magnificent Budapest how far behind Prague lags now, and I could go on. And all this while this very Csaba Horváth was a vice mayor! People pine exactly for what Tarlós was promising: cleaning up, coming back to Earth, putting emphasis on operating the city and, above all, keeping order. When pedestrians in Budapest are regularly falling over homeless people laying on… Read more »
Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

One note on Katalin Szili: she was the most popular member of the party. She was an integrating personality, sometimes even following her own sanity and voting against her party and she was relatively popular with all voters, irrespectible of party sympathies. She was a confident winner in Pécs (Baranya county) until things went irreversible with the fall of Gyurcsány who unfortunately tugged the country down with his plummet.
I’m sure her leaving was already planned a long time ago but she wanted to wait until the elections to not harm the party. Now MSZP acts furiously and unforgiving with her, and this time it’s the only thing they can do: they must deter possible followers. I don’t think they can succeed, this new catastrophic loss left too many casualties among their ranks. (Remember, their sole purpose for being in this party is the loot; once their chances for the loot are gone, they follow.)

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

@Paul: it’s nice to see that my message went through, to some extent at least. Hadn’t it been for the past 20 years, a new social-DEMOCRAT party (note the capitalization) could have easily emerged and set its feet during this time. We are instead standing with a post-communist party in ruins. In this party democratic attitude has to some extent been learned by force but never integrated and absorbed in their behavior. This party has very few young members but one can’t be thankful for them anyway as they are even worse than the old “ancient buffalos.”
For these buffalos the party was their life, without it they are nothing (not mentioning those who are on their way into jail, and there are plenty), so they won’t give up. But there’s no return for them. This is a catch-22 and, for this party, I don’t see promises.
Not that they deserve anyway.

An
Guest

@Pasztor Szilard: The only clean-up I would like to see on Budapest’s streets is the cleaning-up of dog sh*t. Is Tarlos going to do that?

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

@Paul: while your fears of Fidesz ruining the democracy they fought for 20 years before is only an unfounded delirium, you may consider that, for a new party to emerge, they must have valid messages to voters and these messages must not be the same as Fidesz’s (of course).
But there is no room for such messages in sight.

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

@An: then too bad for you, things won’t be going your way. Accept it, the majority wants order.

Longstreet
Guest

I wish similar great successes to the Socialist party. Being better than Jobbik – wow, quite an achievement. Besides, in Szeged the MSZP is in minority: 14 Fidesz, 1 Jobbik, 1 LMP and only 12 MSZP.
:-DDD

Alias3T
Guest

“It was superb only for those who do not live in Hungary and do not share the feelings of the average Hungarian, let alone an average Budapest dweller.”
Oh, Szilard. You do seem a bit a miserable. Has Fidesz’s landslide victory not cheered you up as much as you hoped?
Many people, many Hungarian people, love Budapest. Many people like living here because it offers a freedom, a creativity, a dynamism that they’re not going to find in Urom or Sarospatak. Most people would prefer fewer potholes to more potholes, but not all of them let it ruin their day, as you seem to.
I know a lot of Budapest dwellers. I am one. We all seem happier than you.

Longstreet
Guest

“No one on the left and liberal wings of Hungarian politics”
This must be a joke – a “liberal wing” in Hungary? You mean, some gathering of self-appointed intellectuals in a throw-stone radius somewhere in inner Pest, moaning about Nazis and stuff? SZDSZ has been enough once and for all of experiencing the “liberal” wonders here. A “liberal” party which did not elect a party chairman (Pető) before the 1994 election because of his “Jewish and Communist” parentage. Right, some “liberals”.

Paul Haynes
Guest
The interesting thing about this election, as it came so soon after the Fidesz landslide earlier in the year, is not that Fidesz won convincingly or that MSZP lost, but that MSZP didn’t lose more. After all the self-inflicted wounds of the last few years and 8 years of concentrated propaganda from Fidesz – and a huge Fidesz victory just months ago – MSZP still managed to poll the equivalent of a 25% national result. By all logic, and most expectations, they should have gone the same way as MDF, SZDSZ, and the Smallholders – ruthlessly crushed by the Fidesz propaganda machine. But it would appear that, despite everything, there is a core 25% of the electors, that, even after everything AND the kitchen sink has been thrown at it, still stubbornly votes MSZP. I wonder, in the innermost sanctums of Fidesz, just how much celebration was going on as they looked at the figures and pondered the fact that they had not, even in these most favourable circumstances, managed to destroy the Socialists. Longstreet and our friend Szilárd will never see it this way, but I credit Orbán with more intelligence and perception, and I suspect he looked at… Read more »
Mark
Guest
Paul Haynes: “All parties are coalitions of some form or other, usually a right-left split, but I think the situation within MSZP is worse than that because or their origins. They don’t actually know what they are or what they are for.” Indeed, but there is something here that the right nor the liberals have ever recognized or wanted to recognize. What produced the MSZP and the Communist regime before was not just the Red Army, but it was a part of a tradition that was and is an integral part of Hungarian society. It goes back to social democracy and to the idnsutrialization of the urban centres in the 1890s, and to the agrarian unrest in the south-east that was a reaction to the pressures that in turn produced the major waves of emigration to the United States before the First World War. Communism too was a product of the many thousands of Hungarian prisoners of war in Russia – among them one Imre Nagy – who witnessed the Russian Revolution, and some of whom brought their experiences back to Hungary, albeit generating the disaster of the 133 day Soviet Republic. After World War II the Communists and Social… Read more »
Longstreet
Guest

“Despite everything you’ve done, Victor, a quarter of the voters don’t believe in you and don’t want you.”
Yep, those 25% will either die out pretty soon or find their candidates in prison cells. And if those 25% are still around, who cares – may it stay that way.

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

“But it would appear that, despite everything, there is a core 25% of the electors, that, even after everything AND the kitchen sink has been thrown at it, still stubbornly votes MSZP.”
This is right, the OPNI (National Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology) has been closed and it shows.
These “stubborn” (I’d say psychotic) voters of MSZP will only die out, slowly but certainly as their vast majority are pensioners still holding on to the “good old times” which they’ll never get back. There are simply absolutely no rational arguments in favor of MSZP, so all of their voters are “institutionalized”, and vote on a socialization basis.
Among the youth, the popularity of MSZP is below 5%. Paul, if the future is not so rosy, it is for MSZP. They simply have none.
Why wouldn’t Orbán be happy? He conquered Budapest, something which they haven’t done in the past 20 years, let alone the era before. The significance of this is historic. Now there’s a never returning opportunity for Fidesz to strengthen their positions in the capital, making sure that such a malevolent yet incapable horde as MSZP never climbs back to power.

Passing Stranger
Guest

“Though most people will tell you the MKP score in 1945 – 16.95% – was incredibly low, what they neglect to say is that it was the fourth best score for a Communist Party in postwar Europe”
Hey – and it is just about Jobbik’s score at the last elections, which sent the international press into such a panic! I wonder if they are in any way related.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Longstreet: “”Despite everything you’ve done, Victor, a quarter of the voters don’t believe in you and don’t want you.” Yep, those 25% will either die out pretty soon or find their candidates in prison cells. And if those 25% are still around, who cares – may it stay that way.”
It will be a unique society. It will be no longer democracy, but it seems that this is exactly what you’re yearning for.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Szilard: “”But it would appear that, despite everything, there is a core 25% of the electors, that, even after everything AND the kitchen sink has been thrown at it, still stubbornly votes MSZP.” This is right, the OPNI (National Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology) has been closed and it shows.”
So, Szilard, all those people who don’t agree with you are from the looney bin? Interesting conception.

Mark
Guest

Paul Haynes: “Despite everything you’ve done, Victor, a quarter of the voters don’t believe in you and don’t want you.”
Actually if you calculated an estimated national vote share for FIDESZ it would have been around 52-53% – which means that it isn’t a quarter, but just under half that voted against them.

Paul Haynes
Guest

If the embers are still buurning, no matter how feebly, you have failed to put out the fire.

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

Putting out the fire takes time.
And if not, so what? I wish a lifelong result of 30% for the MSZMP, provided the sane political force, whichever it may be, gets over 50%.

Longstreet
Guest

“It will be no longer democracy”
Surely, you must hold the monopoly of defining what “democracy” is.

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

@Eva: no, it’s not about “agreeing” or not, it’s about being institutionalized and a casualty of the Stockholm syndrome. I’ve been actively through many campaigns over many years and spoken to several hundreds, but I’d even go for thousand voters: these supporters are completely out of contact with reality.
If I may loosely cite Churchill here (from my memories): “if you want arguments against democracy, go speak for ten minutes with the average voter.” Now, in Budapest, the situation is much more serious, even pathologic: that after these living beings of post-communist leadership who turned everything they touched into poop and stole everything that was anchored with anything weaker than welding and they still get 30%, it shows that there are serious problems in this city.

Paul Haynes
Guest

An interesting parallel with the UK has just occurred to me.
In 1997 Labour won a landslide on a par with the near mythical victory of 1945. But the important point of that election was not that Labour had won (the Tories were in such a state that a rabid, one-legged, blind dog could have beaten them), but that the Tory vote had collapsed so completely, and, after all the infighting and back stabbing of the previous 3 or 4 years, the Tory party looked like it could never be electable again.
The counter argument to this was the same as mine re MSZP – despite everything, the Tories’ core vote had held up. Labour, and even the Tories’ own years of madness, had not managed to destroy the party.
But, others argued, the Tory party is notorious for having an elderly support base. Just check out the audience at the annual conference – the twin-set and blue rinse brigade in force. We needn’t worry, they’d all die out pretty soon. The Tory party was doomed, the millennium of the Left had dawned.
So, how come, just 13 years later, we have a rabid right-wing Tory government again?

Mark
Guest

Paul Haynes: “The interesting thing about this election, as it came so soon after the Fidesz landslide earlier in the year, is not that Fidesz won convincingly or that MSZP lost, but that MSZP didn’t lose more.”
The closest parallel is with 1994 when the MSZP and SZDSZ won the lion’s share of mayoralities, but the right were able to rally when compared with their disastrous performance in the spring election.
For some of us who have watching Hungarian politics since the system change this was not a surprise. It was clear that the opinion polls overstated FIDESZ support (as they did in 2009 and in April). It was also clear that although – due to their unpopularity they would win few new voters, but their core voters would have a greater incentive to turn out than those of FIDESZ. Thus the dynamic of differential turnout would favour them.

Longstreet
Guest

Can’t remember, do either the Tories or the Labour have such a spotty history as the MSZP and its predecessors, including dictatorship, treason, justizmord, mass-murder and such (surely, for the “right” principle but with some questionable means)?

Mark
Guest

The thing that is more significant than the MSZP, however, is the allure of the “new” parties is fading. LMP’s support base is limited and Jobbik had a very bad night.

Paul Haynes
Guest

Mark – your mentioning the Fidesz vote reminds me of something that annoyed me back in the Spring.
OV has always made a point of being a man of ethics and honesty, as compared to the Commie scum, etc, etc. And yet, when the Hungarian ‘proportional’ voting system failed because of the Fidesz landslide and gave them a disproportionate number of seats – enough to change the constitution, despite having a lot less than two-thirds of the votes – did he object?
Did he say “we may technically have enough seats to change the constitution, due to failures in the electorial system, but we do not have a mandate from the electorate to do this, therefore we do not have the moral authority to tamper with the constitution”?
Oddly, no.

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