Mayoral election in Hódmezővásárhely, a Fidesz stronghold

It was more than a year ago that I wrote about János Lázár who was then the leader of the huge Fidesz parliamentary delegation. He performed his job admirably. The most successful “majority whip” could have been envious of him, although admittedly the members of the Fidesz delegation are an easier lot than their British or especially their American counterparts.

So, it is difficult to fathom why Viktor Orbán decided to remove him and make him his chief-of-staff. Was he dissatisfied with the performance of his office under the leadership of Mihály Varga? Or perhaps Varga was needed to attend the negotiations with the IMF? We don’t know. Little is known about the everyday functioning of Viktor Orbán’s inner circle. Only one thing is sure: the most important decisions are made in the Office of the Prime Minister.

In any case, Orbán felt that his office needed Lázár in spite of the fact that this move also involved Lázár’s resignation from his post as mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, a Fidesz stronghold. Just to give you an idea of the strength of Fidesz in the city, out of the fourteen members of the city council ten came from the Fidesz ticket, winning their districts outright. In the council there is only one MSZP member. In the 2010 local elections Lázár himself received 66.69% of the votes while Andrea Kis, the current candidate of MSZP, received only 8.27%. She finished dead last in a four-person race. Even Jobbik did better than MSZP’s candidate. So, the by-election in Hódmezővásárhely is not exactly a risky undertaking from Fidesz’s point of view.

Hódmezővásárhely City Hall

Hódmezővásárhely is no metropolis, but in the past couple of decades the city developed by leaps and bounds–as it turned out, mostly from borrowed money. Under Lázár’s stewardship the city managed to be the most indebted town in the entire country. The city has an outstanding debt of 30 billion forints which, given a population of less than 48,000, is quite a feat. So, whoever is taking over Lázár’s job will not have an easy time of it. Moreover, in the last twenty years the city lost about 20% of its population and economic development slowed considerably.

Lázár resigned  from his post in Hódmezővásárhely on June 2, 2012, and his job was taken over temporarily by István Almási, deputy mayor for the last twelve years and a member of the council for eighteen years. Two months later, on August 3, the local electoral commission announced that four people had declared their intention to run for the post of mayor: István Almási (Fidesz), Andrea Kis (MSZP), Sándor Kovács (Jobbik), and László Nagy (independent). Judging from earlier results, if Andrea Kis manages to get more than 10% of the votes, MSZP can consider it a respectable showing. If she manages to get 20% of the votes the party leaders can celebrate. The election will take place on Sunday, September 2.

What Fidesz is doing in Hódmezővásárhely is what a party normally does at national elections. Almási made sure that he got as many endorsements as he could possibly lay his hands on. According to Magyar Nemzet he got 8,000 endorsements when 760 would have been more than enough. Getting that many endorsements has a psychological effect on the electorate, something that cannot be underestimated.  However, Andrea Kis also claims to have collected a great deal more endorsements than necessary, and MSZP says that support for the party has never been greater in Hódmezővásárhely than now.

In order to have a respectable showing MSZP made Zsolt Molnár, an important MSZP politician in Budapest, Andrea Kis’s campaign manager. The local Fidesz politicians objected: outsiders shouldn’t poke their noses into local politics. Of course, such an argument is ridiculous. Moreover, when Molnár in an interview said something critical about the Fidesz leadership in Hódmezővásárhely, the town’s “notary” threatened Molnár with a civil suit. A notary is actually a kind of town manager responsible for the smooth running of the local administration.

Soon enough local Fidesz politicians complained that “several dozen MSZP activists aggressively [emphasis mine] represented the interests of MSZP and they bother people.” Oh my, in a campaign someone dares to approach people and ask them for their vote! Now that we in Connecticut are nearing primary elections I have been inundated with leaflets, from candidates for the U.S. Senate to candidates for probate judge. This is what a campaign is all about.

Local Fidesz leaders also couldn’t get over the fact that high-level MSZP leaders (they called them “pártkatonák, party soldiers) had the gall to go to Hódmezővásárhely to campaign on behalf of  Andrea Kis. Can anyone imagine a Republican hopeful for the Senate protesting because the president is campaigning on behalf of the Democratic candidate? They have strange ideas in Hódmezővásárhely about what campaigning is all about.

One thing is sure, the socialists are pulling out all the stops. In addition to Molnár, Gábor Simon from the top leadership, Szeged’s socialist mayor László Botka, and Tibor Szanyi, the only MSZP candidate who won in his district, also visited the town. Szanyi, who likes strong language, compared Hódmezővásárhely “to a patient with cancer who needs very serious treatment.” The town is so indebted that every inhabitant of Hódmezővásárhely owes 450,000 forints. If all goes well perhaps by 2037 the city will be able to “come up for air,” he claimed.

The outspoken Szanyi didn’t receive any better reception from the local Fidesz supporters than the others before him. A group of them waited for him on the main square of the town with placards saying “Pesten okoskodj!” which can be loosely translated as “Give your smart advice in Pest!” and “Vásárhely nem kér belőletek!” (Vásárhely doesn’t want you here!).

You may have noticed that there is no LMP candidate in the mayoral race. I wrote a post on July 26 entitled “The future of LMP: An interview with Benedek Jávor” in which I more or less predicted that LMP would not have the resources to come up with a suitable candidate. Jávor tried to cover up the weakness of the party by emphasizing the impossibility of winning against Fidesz in this city. So, I guess, why try?

Yesterday Péter Oláh, another LMP functionary, went even further when he claimed that “given the solid Fidesz majority in the city council even if an opposition candidate could win in Hódmezővásárhely the situation would resemble that of Esztergom. And that wouldn’t be a favorable outcome.” So, why win?

But perhaps the most outrageous announcement of LMP was that the party is not even going to support any of the opposition candidates because they don’t consider any of them fit for the post. Why not? Oláh mentioned only Andrea Kis specifically and in her case the objection was that she is a high school teacher in a public school maintained by the city of Hódmezővásárhely. Therefore, Oláh continued, one cannot expect serious criticism on her part against the city administration. Don’t even try to find logic in that particular accusation since if by some miracle Andrea Kis won she herself would be running the show in city hall. But I guess if one must explain the inexplicable one gets confused.

Another charge leveled against Kis was that in the last two years, although she was a member of the city council, “she just sat there without any criticism.” Considering that out of the fourteen council members ten are from Fidesz and two are from Jobbik, I really wonder how much influence she could possibly have on the running of the affairs of the city. None, naturally.

Gábor Filippov of Magyar Progresszív Intézet found LMP’s decision not to enter the race foolhardy. Even if the party’s candidate wouldn’t have a chance, the race would give the party an opportunity to spread its message in a race that has nationwide interest. By not entering the race LMP strengthens the general impression that it has already given up certain parts of the country and that it has no substantial following outside of Budapest. And the party’s decision not even to support the opposition candidates only fortifies the belief in certain circles that LMP is actually a fifth column of Fidesz.

38 comments

  1. Some1: “Louis this blog is not about the USA. I could care less about on this blog, how the Americans will vote. You totally misunderstood what i was saying Or you flatly letting us know that you did not / would not vote for a black man?
    What you saying is that Obama is black he should be kept out as the ex-commies should be kept out n Hungary?”

    You consistently modify my postings into what you would have liked to see for your attack to fit. Or you have limited understanding of the English language. Sorry “Busy buddy”, it is very transparent that you either misread or misattack my postings.

  2. Paul :
    Kingfisher has it pretty spot on from my experience here in Hungary.
    As for this racist nonsense that petofi trots out (and which he should be deeply ashamed of), I have heard this said about every underclass in the UK over the last 50 years. As each lot of incomers adapts, prospers and moves ‘up’ – or is simply replaced in the public’s mind by a new lot of incoming strangers, so the same stories and opinions are repeated about the new group.
    And even if it were true about the two (what a meaningful sample!) he employed, in fact even if it were true about the majority of Roma, it is a perfectly understandable and inevitable reaction to being under the frog’s popsi and univerally despised – you sink, or you fight back, in whatever way you can. To fail to understand this and treat it as a racial trait is the very core of racism. The person is not a fellow human being, with good points or flaws, they are a member of a ‘race’, and therefore destined to behave in this way.
    Simple, straightforward, disgusting racscim.

    @Paul,

    I’m not racist. That’s your characterization–might I say, simplification–of what I’m saying.
    I do generalize, but these generalizations come from assimilating information from various sources. Let me say, contra the racist attack, that I do realize that there are hard-working, accomplished, achieving Roma. But a funny thing: once they move up the latter, their first
    move is to cut all ties with most other Roma.

    Back to Roma generalization about their mindset and work ethic: why is it that Roma
    villages in Serbia, Slovakia, Macedonia et. al are all massive dumps? Would you care to show me a Roma town in Europe that would serve as an exemplar for governments throughout Europe? Isn’t it odd that in all the various countries and governments of Europe, no one has come up with a working policy for Roma?

    How about our British bloggers: any stories of shining Roma communities in Britain?

  3. Kingfisher: “In my recent visit to Hungary, I noted that virtually everyone hates Fidesz and that no one supports the opposition.”

    I am not very convinced of the usefulness of Ferenc Gyurcsany in current politics either but even worse is this apathy. What LMP nurtures, is a criticism of politics as such. Politicians are evil (I only wonder why – with such approach – people can claim to be “disillusioned”. Of what?). MSzP might be unreformed, and Fidesz equally corrupt but then – why is there still enough support for this system that both Fidesz can run the country and MSzP claim to be one of the larger opposition parties? Apparently also some of the “disillusioned people” who feel to just having “retreated” in some way help keep the system running.

  4. Louis Kovach :
    Some1: “Louis this blog is not about the USA. I could care less about on this blog, how the Americans will vote. You totally misunderstood what i was saying Or you flatly letting us know that you did not / would not vote for a black man?
    What you saying is that Obama is black he should be kept out as the ex-commies should be kept out n Hungary?”
    You consistently modify my postings into what you would have liked to see for your attack to fit. Or you have limited understanding of the English language. Sorry “Busy buddy”, it is very transparent that you either misread or misattack my postings.

    No Louis I do not have limited misunderstanding of the English language, so spare your remarks to yourself, who every single time takes the blog in a different direction. It would not be a surprise if you would have a problem with Obama being a pResident because he is black. For that matter I think you probably do have a problem with it, just by looking at your posting records regarding many issues. It is you my little friend, who loves to put a twist on things. You never miss a chance to bring in a far fetched example from an other country to make a point that has little to do with the original posts. DId it hurt your feeling when it backfires? Oh too bad. Sorry big baby.

  5. Oh, I left this of from my reply to Louis. THe whole story about Louis post to me is the half truth (how Fidesz). Following my post about my surprise of how the people will reelect the same party after its questionable history, I also posted something else, and I very much believe Louis’ that as much as you want to deny it, this had to do with your reply.
    ““Two, the city that is composed very much of the likes of Louis Kovach (the blog’s very own Fidesz/Jobbik supporter) will not see anything wrong electing an other member from the same party that brought their city the honor of the largest outstanding debt in the country.”

    ” LMP’s (Politics Can Be Different) major platform is that they are different from the usual political games. They should either give up on the name and continue with their political games or go out with a full swing and put 100% to it. Who would of thought 15 years ago (even 5 years ago) that and African American has a chance to become the President in the United States?en though he tries to dent the story (again, how Fidesz1).”

    Louis answer: “Let’s just see how the US folks will vote this Fall maybe the person who borrowed more than all US Presidents before will squeek through and prove that the Hungarians of Vasarhely are not so crazy keeping the Ex-commies out.”

    Louis, Louis wake up!

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