The exit of Attila Mesterházy, chairman of the Hungarian socialists

The drama was of short duration. On Tuesday Attila Mesterházy, chairman of the Hungarian Socialist Party, seemed to be certain that he would remain the leader of MSZP and the whip of the party’s parliamentary group despite the disastrous showing at the EP election on May 25. He thought he could rely on the people who were considered to be his steadfast supporters and on whom he had depended throughout the last four or five years.

Mesterházy believed, and he was not alone in the party, that the secret to the revival of MSZP lay in the rejuvenation of the party. Here the word “rejuvenation” is used in its literal sense: getting rid of the older, more experienced leaders who were allegedly responsible for past mistakes and bringing in new faces. Preferably young ones. Closer to 30 than to 40. So, as far as the media was concerned, MSZP had a face lift. But cosmetic surgery was not enough. According to people whose opinion I trust, most of these new faces were only faces. Nothing substantive behind their countenances. These newly recruited people who were elevated to important positions gave the impression of mediocrity at best and total incompetence at worst.

Old hands in the party, especially lately, made it clear what they thought of Mesterházy’s new young crew. At first just quietly, but lately ever more loudly. Perhaps the most outspoken on the quality of the Mesterházy leadership was László Kovács, former chairman, foreign minister, and European Commissioner, who when asked in an interview on what basis these people were chosen, answered: “You ask the chairman of the party.” Or just lately another old-timer, Ildikó Lendvai, former chairman and very effective whip, said, alluding to Mesterjázy’s centralization of power, that “what we need is not a small Fidesz in a worse version.” After all, no one can achieve, even if he wanted to, the one-man rule of Viktor Orbán.

According to people familiar with the internal workings of MSZP, Mesterházy was very good at developing a structure within the party that served his personal ambitions. He was also good at playing political chess, which usually ended with his winning the game. He managed to organize a party list of the United Alliance which greatly favored MSZP at the expense of DK and E14-PM. As a result, the other two parties, each with four MPs, couldn’t form official caucuses, which would have greatly enhanced their own voices and would have strengthened the joint forces of the democratic opposition parties.

Mesterházy was accused by some of his colleagues in the party of playing games with the party’s by-laws. By not resigning himself but only offering the resignation of the whole presidium (elnökség), he was able to postpone an election of all the officials, which is a very long process in MSZP. That would have ensured the continuation of his chairmanship and the existence of the current leadership for months. It was at this junction that the important personages in the party decided to act. At least one well-known socialist politician apparently told the others that if they postpone the election process, card-carrying party members will join DK in hordes because they have had enough of the paralysis that the party leadership has exhibited for some time.

Perhaps it was the Budapest MSZP leadership that was most affected by the results of the EP election. Let’s face it, MSZP lost Budapest. Csaba Horváth’s candidacy for the lord mayoralty is dead; Zsolt Molnár, who headed the Budapest MSZP organization, has resigned; and here was Mesterházy who, in their eyes, was making it impossible for them to recoup in Budapest before the municipal elections. The first group in Budapest to revolt against the chairman was the XIIIth district where MSZP was always very strong. Csepel, once an MSZP stronghold, followed suit. Dissatisfaction spread, and very soon all twenty-three district centers expressed their misgivings and demanded Mesterházy’s resignation.

Some of the old-timers offered solutions on how to change the leadership without getting involved in a complicated and lengthy election of new officials. László Kovács suggested an interim governing body that would be made up of politicians who in the past had showed that they had the trust of the electorate. That is, they won elections on their own. He could think of 6-8 people who could take part in that body. In addition, he would ask László Botka, mayor of Szeged, who has been able to be elected and reelected even in the most difficult times. Kovács also suggested three former chairmen of the party: István Haller, Ildikó Lendvai, and he himself. Mesterházy’s defiant answer to Kovács’s suggestion was: “It is not Lendvai and Kovács who are the bearers of the message of the future.”

Yesterday the party leaders of Budapest were ready for compromise. If Mesterházy resigns as chairman he can still be the whip, a position very dear to his heart. At least he made a case for occupying that post regardless of the fate of the chairmanship in a television interview. But after seeing Mesterházy’s stubbornness, the Budapest leaders and others wanted to strip him even of his parliamentary position. Some MSZP politicians were in fact ready to expel him from the party if he doesn’t play ball. Under these circumstances he had no choice but to resign. Today at noon he held a press conference and announced his resignation both as chairman and as whip of MSZP’s parliamentary group. He added that at the next election of officials he will not seek any position in the party leadership.

Photo: MTI

Photo: MTI

There was a sigh of relief, I’m sure, in the inner circles of the party. However, as one party official said, “this is not the end of the road but its beginning.” The party leadership, he added, “has to eliminate the heritage of the Mesterházy era.” And that will not be easy. For example, the MSZP parliamentary delegation is “Mesterházy’s caucus.” Some people within the party leadership think that each MP who gained a mandate from the party list should offer his resignation. This is not a realistic scenario. These people cannot be forced to offer their resignation and they would be unlikely to resign willingly. The pro-Mesterházy MPs, however, might not be a genuine problem because, according to the latest rumors, even his hand-picked MPs have abandoned him.

As for a successor, many names are circulating at the moment: László Botka, József Tóbiás, István Haller, to mention just a few. I have the feeling that what most people have in mind is an interim “collective leadership” until the party can have a full-fledged congress that would officially elect a new chairman and fill the other top positions.

I think that time is of the essence if MSZP hopes to recoup for the municipal election, although I myself doubt that they will be able to substantially increase their support either in Budapest or elsewhere. On the other hand, I see a good possibility that DK and E14-PM will be able to attract new followers. Success breeds success. I heard, for instance, that DK is getting a lot of membership applications. Yet, just as Ferenc Gyurcsány emphasizes, the three parties must cooperate in the municipal elections. Otherwise, they have no chance of capturing Budapest where at the moment Fidesz is leading in spite of the relatively good showing of DK, E14-PM, MSZP, and LMP. Although the media close to Fidesz intimate that DK is out to capture former MSZP voters while E14-PM is trying to lure former LMP voters, both parties claim to stand by MSZP in its present crisis. In fact, DK politicians keep emphasizing that their interest lies in a strong MSZP. I’m sure that at the moment this is the case. Eventually, however, it is inevitable that these parties will be pitted against one another for the future leadership of the left-of-center forces in Hungary.

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tappanch
Guest

“The first group in Budapest to revolt against the chairman was the XIIIth district where MSZP was always very strong. Csepel, once an MSZP stronghold, followed suit. ”

“Red Csepel, let your voice toll,
Vaci street [district 13.], answer to it.”

Hungary Must Embrace Their Socialist Parties
Guest
Hungary Must Embrace Their Socialist Parties

Now, it is the main question, should our good friend gyurcsany stay with DK, return to MSZP, or retire completely?

I think, retirement is the best course. Be an elder leader, like the confused Carter.

Lantos
Guest

Don’t forget Fidesz is still king, even in Budapest.

More importantly, the left wing could never cross over from its traditional areas (Budapest and some provincial towns) to any of the traditionally more ‘polgári’ or right-wing/conservative areas such as Western Hungary, Bács-Kiskun, Csingrád, Hajdú-Bihar.

While the right-wing did exactly that: it is now extremely strong in Pécs, Miskolc, and Budapest too, as well as in poor rural areas which, prior to the emergence of Jobbik, were MSZP’s.

In April, in most Western-Hungarian districts the entire left wing combined had about 15%. In a mostly first past the post system.

There is no way ‘Pista Hiller’ or ‘Laci Kovács’ or ‘Pista Újhelyi’ can turn this around. Success breeds success and failure breeds failure in politics.

Just a reminder.

petofi
Guest

“Success breeds success”–this must’ve been a typo. For Hungary, ‘corruption breeds success’.

tappanch
Guest

@Lantos

Your note sounds like a pep talk at the next Fidesz MLM meeting…

tappanch
Guest

Here is the list of NGOs whose Norwegian support the Orban government wants to ban.

(Transparency International, etc…)

http://444.hu/2014/05/30/itt-a-kormany-listaja-a-szervezetekrol-akik-miatt-nekimentek-a-norveg-alapnak/

HiBoM
Guest

What a mess. I think the best thing that could happen is for MSZP to disappear in the same way the SZDSZ did as they are essentially a toxic brand and however unjust that might be, given the toxic nature of those currently running the country, it is clear that will never change.

What is not tenable is the idea that the DK is going to take over. What does the DK stand for other than as a vehicle for keeping Gyurcsány in public life? But Gyurcsány himself is a toxic brand and that also is not going to change. So that is another dead end. The only hope is that Banjai might somehow be successful but I think he is keen to abandon public life and has no political skills (which is actually a compliment!

Lantos
Guest

@tappanch

Well, it may be, but it is true.

Western Hungary is resisting the left-wing (still seriously referred to as the “communists” as all over Hungary) like the plague.

In Rogán’s village 90-2 was the ratio of Fidesz vs. MSZP at the EU elections, in the smallest village (also in Zala county) 10 out of 11 voted for Fidesz as one of the locals said the “communists have died out”.

Whatever the left does, does not have much relevance (especially in the current election system) any more in Hungary, they just cannot influence the game of the big boys in Fidesz.

Hungary is like Texas, or California, a one party state.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Lantos, Fidesz lost – despite gerrymandering and other laws – 600.000 votes and Hungarians will one day awake and see their postcommunist maffiastate has become a failed state

Guest

Lantos: “Hungary is like Texas, or California, a one party state.”

You are absolutely rigth in calling Hungary a one party state, but your comaprison with Texas and California is not valid. Just because one party has governed for ages doesn’t make a one party state. It also takes unrestrained suppression and corruption.

lábos
Guest
@Karl and Jean: They will not ‘awake’. The people under 45 who have been all socialized in the last 25 years so that they have to lough out the ‘kommers’, ‘commies’, the procrastinating left field represented by icons such as Imre Szekeres, Zsolt Molnár or Csaba Horváth who ‘due to some time warp are still here’, they will not suddenly find out that they are leftists, after all, just as a man one doesn’t realize (apart from a tiny fraction of the population) at age 50 that one is a women. People by and large are OK with the system. Just as in the village where Antal Rogan hails from people say to the reporter that they don’t care if Anti has eight Rolex watches (and vote for Fidesz 90-2 on Sunday), they will still love him and vote for Fidesz, most people do not care about Simicska or Orbán’s corruption. Simicska and Orban are white, non-Jewish, real Hungarian people, one of us, who like pálinka and football, they can steal, as the powerful people always do anyway, they are forgiven, because they deliver: they created a system the rules of which are very clear. Support Fidesz loyally and you’ll… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Fidesz announced today that they will change the way people can elect local government in Budapest, 3 months before the election!!

The 21 thousand voters of the Fidesz-leaning district 1 will equal the 91 thousand voters of district 13.

http://valasztas.hu/dyn/ep14/vertaj/hu/M01/v2t.html

This makes the elections farcical.

http://index.hu/belfold/2014/05/30/most_mar_biztos_atalakitja_a_fidesz_a_bp-i_valasztasi_rendszert/

http://magyarinfo.blog.hu/2014/05/30/a_fidesz_eddigi_legnagyobb_valasztasi_csalasara_keszul_budapesten

tappanch
Guest

Fidesz announced today that they will change the way people can elect local government in Budapest, 3 months before the election!!

The 21 thousand voters of the Fidesz-leaning district 1 will equal the 91 thousand voters of district 13.

http://valasztas.hu/dyn/ep14/vertaj/hu/M01/v2t.html

This makes the elections farcical.

http://index.hu/belfold/2014/05/30/most_mar_biztos_atalakitja_a_fidesz_a_bp-i_valasztasi_rendszert/

http://magyarinfo.blog.hu/2014/05/30/a_fidesz_eddigi_legnagyobb_valasztasi_csalasara_keszul_budapesten

petofi
Guest

What is all this ‘Gyurcsany-hating’ all about? I wish someone would explain, in concrete terms,
what he has done…

HiBoM
Guest
Gyurcsány is a very intelligent man and a good speaker. But he was prime minister for four years and achieved nothing. He did nothing to suggest he has any abilities for running a country although he can certain talk the talk. When the Öszöd speech was leaked, he made a huge tactical mistake in not resigning which I think any politician West of Hungary would have felt compelled to do. And by soldiering on, people were unimpressed that someone who admitted to having run the country poorly for reasons of political expediency should present himself as the man fit for repairing the damage. It was a fatal miscalculation and Orbán’s two thirds majority is largely Gyurcsány’s responsibility. So lots of reasons to regard him negatively. He is also a very rich man based on the manipulation of party contacts and a dynastic marriage to the daughter of a woman whose wealth is the result of manipulating contacts, rather than actually DOING something. That does not make him an admirable person. And although he talks in fine terms about cracking down in MSZP corruption, he turned a blind eye when he had the power not to and his appointments of people… Read more »
whoever
Guest

good post HiBoM!

tappanch
Guest

Fidesz changes election laws again

Fidesz announced today that they will change the way people can elect local government in Budapest, 3 months before the election!!

The 1 vote in the Fidesz-leaning district 1 will equal almost 5 votes in district 13.

Precise weights:
http://valasztas.hu/dyn/ep14/vertaj/hu/M01/v2t.html

This makes the elections farcical.

http://index.hu/belfold/2014/05/30/most_mar_biztos_atalakitja_a_fidesz_a_bp-i_valasztasi_rendszert/

http://magyarinfo.blog.hu/2014/05/30/a_fidesz_eddigi_legnagyobb_valasztasi_csalasara_keszul_budapesten

googly
Guest

Lantos,

Success does not always breed success, otherwise once a party won an election it would never leave until it gave up voluntarily. Success more often breeds complacency and corruption, stasis and stagnation. Fidesz is good at winning elections, but not so good at building a stronger country. Hungarians will, sooner or later, realize the mistake they have made, and former Fidesz strongholds will vote for one of the current batch of leftish parties or maybe some currently unknown center party. The only question is when, but nobody can really know the answer to that.

tappanch
Guest

The dictator’s henchmen smile:

comment image

1 vote in the Fidesz-leaning district 1 will be equal to 5 votes in the most populous districts.

1 vote in district 23. > 6 votes in district 11.

http://valasztas.hu/dyn/ep14/vertaj/hu/M01/v2t.html

The change in the election law will take place less than 4 months before the election.

http://www.portfolio.hu/gazdasag/igy_irja_ujra_a_valasztasi_rendszert_a_fidesz_2.3.199580.html

tappanch
Guest

Here is the text of the amended election law for local government, submitted in the last 5 minutes:

http://www.parlament.hu/irom40/00146/00146.pdf

Lantos
Guest

@googly

Please look at the histories of Mexico or Japan or Bavaria or even Italy (especially the south).

In all of these democratic countries and states one single party (or one political side in the case of Italy) dominated (between 80-100% of the era) the last 70 (!) years.

Why do you think Hungary is any different?

Just like in Southern Italy which is currently lagging Northern Italy more than any time in its history since unification or in Bavaria, people will not wake up one day and think that they are leftists.

This is not a choice. They are conservative because they think this is how they were born, this is how life feels natural, this is tradition in the family, just like celebrating Christmas. You don’t just start celebrating Yolka or Hanukkah instead of Christmas.

For a Western-Hungarian or Bács-Kiskun or Hajdú-Bihar person to be right-wing, conservative and hating the ‘communist’ is as natural and self-evident as speaking Hungarian or being a man or a woman. This is what we need to understand. Forget public choice theory (it only applies to self-described liberals who are a tiny minority in Hungary).

tappanch
Guest

The opposition parties will turn to the Constitutional Court, where almost all members are Fidesz appointees by now. That Court will approve this antidemocratic change too.

Unless there are mass demonstrations and general strike, Fidesz will not back down.

Paul
Guest

The phrase “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” comes to mind…

Member

Lantos
May 30, 2014 at 4:22 am
@tappanch

Well, it may be, but it is true.

Western Hungary is resisting the left-wing (still seriously referred to as the “communists” as all over Hungary) like the plague.

I hope Western Hungary realizes that there are more ex-communists are in Fidesz, and taking advantage of tobacco deals, land deals, contract deals) than in any other party. I hate to say this, bit of people does not know this fact, what does that tell about Western Hungary?

Guest

@Lantos re Bavaria:

It’s true that Bavaria is very conservative aka “black” and there is an old joke: The Christian Social (!) Union could nominate a black garbage can for parliament – it surely would get a majority of votes …

On the other hand many big Bavarian cities (especially Munich) have been Social Democrat strongholds and have had SPD mayors for most of the time – right now there was a very clear left majority after the old left mayor Mr Ude retired – the right didn’t stand a chance.

And of course there have been scandals in the CSU and several politicians had to go – unlike Fidesz where a politician can do what he pleases without any consequences …

Of course it helps that Bavaria is only one of the German states and has to follow the rules from Bonn/Berlin …

So Bavaria can still be called a democracy – while I’m not so sure about Hungary which wants only the money from Brussels but doesn’t want to follow the rules of the EU!

Member
HiBoM May 30, 2014 at 6:32 am Gyurcsány is a very intelligent man and a good speaker. So that is certainly not Orban. But he was prime minister for four years and achieved nothing. Could be Orban, but actually Orban made the country worst as far as democracy, finances, division goes. He did nothing to suggest he has any abilities for running a country although he can certain talk the talk. When the Öszöd speech was leaked, he made a huge tactical mistake in not resigning which I think any politician West of Hungary would have felt compelled to do. And by soldiering on, people were unimpressed that someone who admitted to having run the country poorly for reasons of political expediency should present himself as the man fit for repairing the damage. His peach was deliberately taken out of context by Fidesz. He did not admit to run the country poorly. Can you quote that in context? He told the truth and in fact Fidesz did rob the private retirement savings away. Fidesz did make false promises. Fidesz does have a better PR although. He is also a very rich man based on the manipulation of party contacts and… Read more »
Balazsi
Guest
@tappanch: Fidesz just won an election with 50somthing percent of the votes (I mean the EU elections). Do you seriously think people will demonstrate? Believe me, if any party would potentially be ousting Fidesz at any time, Fidesz with its 2/3s would immediately introduce a proportionate election system just before the elections, which would prevent any new party from getting 2/3s and amending the constitution to clear the system of Fidesz. Fidesz has entrenched itself and this is it. It’s over for the left. Actually, the Hungarian Left castrated itself. And after castration, as you know, potency is gone forever. Remember: it was Gyula Horn who introduced (in connection with Hungary’s joining of the NATO) the very easy rules for referendums which inflicted a mortal wound on MSZP (and although the anti-co payment etc. referendum would have been valid even under the more stringent original rules, the looser rules did help because if people thought it was impossible to win or even to hold a valid referendum, they wouldn’t have gone to cast a vote in the first place). Second, MSZP agreed to various conservative-leaning ‘consensus’ judges in the constitutional court as well as approved the leaving of Ottó Czucz… Read more »
Guest

Balazsi: “Get used to the reality.”

The “reality” is an edifice of ad hoc laws designed to keep Fidesz in power. One day it will collapse like the House of Usher.

RealityCheck
Guest

@tappanch

Article on proposed municipal election system also available in English:

http://www.portfolio.hu/en/economy/hungary_fidesz_proposes_hard_core_changes_to_municipal_election_system.27850.html

The dice will be loaded with a bomb:

“If that does not happen Budapest will have a system where it is a realistic scenario that Fidesz obtains a nearly two-thirds majority even if it ties.”

Istvan
Guest
The critical issue for Hungarian social-democrats isn’t changing the faces at the top with a handful of more youthful leaders, it’s a strategic orientation to the critical issues facing Hungarian youth today. About two month ago Gabor Gyori wrote a very reasoned short piece on the rise of the Jobbik by gradually building a vibrant subculture that draws mainly young people. This subculture includes a vast network of extremist webpages and a few print publications. ( see http://www.social-europe.eu/2011/08/how-the-hungarian-extreme-right-got-its-groove/ ) If one goes to the racist and ultra-nationalist kuruc.info you can also read this critique of the situation of youth causing ever increasing immigration to other EU nations: “The main reason amongst young people for going abroad is a form of social existential hopelessness lack of jobs, low wages, and jobs that are often humiliating, they are experiencing housing insecurity and interrelated personal difficulties. Jobbik and the Jobbik Youth Department has several times called attention to this increasingly serious problem and has developed a number of solutions to these proposals, but one of the party’s most detailed electoral programs also provided for the area.” The MSZP, Demokratikus Koalíció, and E14-PM, are all effectively pro-EU organizations. In the last election cycle their… Read more »
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