I haven’t written anything about the internal affairs of MSZP, Hungary’s socialist party, for ages, mostly because there has been nothing much to say about the party, especially nothing good. I did appreciate the party’s clever handling of the referendum scandal, which somewhat improved its standing. Bertalan Tóth’s efforts to acquire documentation regarding the spending of the Hungarian National Bank’s foundations also added to a rise in the popularity of MSZP, which according to the latest poll now surpasses that of Jobbik. However, a lot of people inside and outside the party have been dissatisfied with the current party chairman, József Tóbiás, under whose leadership the party has been languishing since July 2014. Soon MSZP will have the opportunity to elect a new chairman when it holds its biennial congress on June 25. Four people, including Tóbiás, will be vying for the position.
Already in February two people announced their intention to challenge József Tóbiás: Tibor Szanyi and Tamás Harangozó. Szanyi is viewed as the enfant terrible of the socialist party, someone who is obviously smart and well educated but who often finds himself in impossible situations of his own making. Perhaps because of his cantankerous disposition he ended up as MSZP representative to the European Parliament in 2014. Szanyi has been preaching for years that the problem with MSZP is that it is not really a leftist party. When he talks about the left, Szanyi thinks of a socialist party of yesteryear. This is not the first time that Szanyi has tried to capture the chairmanship. In 2014 he lost out to Tóbiás. I suspect that he will not be any more successful this time around.
Tamás Harangozó is currently deputy whip of the socialist caucus in the Hungarian parliament. He has relatively little political experience, but he appears a lot in public, representing the views of his party. These frequent public appearances may have something to do with the fact that he completed “communication training at the Dale Carnegie Strategic Workshop.” Harangozó is one of the young Turks Attila Mesterházy recruited with a view to changing the image of the party as a collection of old-timers who, in his opinion, were responsible for the decline of the party. As a result, the most experienced people in the party were forced out of leading positions. Real greenhorns took their place and also appeared on the party list for parliamentary seats. I don’t give Harangozó much of a chance of winning this race.
A latecomer to the contest is Gyula Molnár. Unlike Harangozó, Molnár is an old-timer. He started his political career immediately after the regime change as deputy mayor of District XI (Újbuda). From 1994 to 2010 he was a member of parliament. In 2002 he became mayor of District XI, where he was reelected in 2006. Most likely he would have won again in 2010 if Viktor Orbán’s favorite prosecutor hadn’t charged him and his SZDSZ deputy with fraud a few days before the election. It took him five years to clear his name. While he was under a cloud he remained outside of politics, but a few months ago he decided to run for the party’s chairmanship.
Molnár announced his candidacy in an interview he gave to ATV’s Start program in early April. Since then he has outlined his program which, in my opinion, is a step in the right direction. Instead of Tóbiás’s totally unrealistic idea that MSZP will win the election running separately from other opposition parties, Molnár stands for “peace within the family.” What does he mean by this? If I understand him correctly, he considers the ideological differences among MSZP, DK, PM, and Együtt so minimal that they all belong to the same ideological “family.” He would open channels of communication with the other members of the “family” while also approaching the very active civic groups and the trade unions. In an interview with Népszabadság a few days ago Molnár claimed, I think correctly, that the real action is on the streets, not in parliament. Finally, Molnár indicated that he would like to build bridges to liberal intellectuals and professionals whose services are of vital importance to any political group. One problem with Fidesz is that the party lacks talented professionals who can assist the work of the government.
According to the latest survey, Molnár has a good chance of getting the most votes at the congress. The congress is made up of 290 elected delegates from Budapest and nineteen counties in addition to seventy ex officio delegates. At the moment it looks as if most county delegates in addition to the huge Budapest delegation of 63 men and women support Molnár. But this projection is tentative. It all depends on how dissatisfied the delegates are with the status quo. If the reformers are in the majority, Molnár will be the winner.
This morning Népszava published an article about Molnár after he had a conversation with one of the newspaper’s journalists. During the conversation he said: “We believe in the openness of Ferenc Deák, the humanity of Árpád Göncz, and the pragmatism of Gyula Horn.” I find this statement significant. You may recall an old post of mine about prominent MSZP politicians, 22 in all, who established the Ferenc Deák Circle right before the 2014 party congress. They feared that under Tóbiás’s leadership the party would not choose the best path. Ildikó Lendvai, one of the leaders of the group, wrote in a post on Facebook that the political dividing line is no longer between left and right. “Today in Hungary that line is between openness toward Europe and inwardness, between progress and boorish conservatism.” She wrote that there are impressive politicians on the left, outside of MSZP, and said that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party is here to stay, “whether we like it or not.” MSZP “must make peace with them and cooperate.” The group’s choice of the name “Ferenc Deák” was significant because Deák was the architect of the famous Compromise of 1867, which was one of the wisest political moves in modern Hungarian history. Molnár is ready for a compromise. Equally important is the mention of Árpád Göncz, who before his election to the presidency was a liberal politician. Surely, Molnár is ready to embrace the liberals as well to form a united opposition against Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. And Gyula Horn was MSZP’s most successful politician and, according to many commentators, the best Hungarian prime minister since 1990.
I’m glad that Molnár has returned to politics despite having been dragged through the mud by Fidesz.