Can László Botka, MSZP mayor of Szeged, lead the democratic opposition?

The big news of the day is an interview that László Botka, MSZP mayor of Szeged, gave for 168 Óra’s special Christmas edition. The paper will be on the newsstands only tomorrow, but the word is that Botka, the most popular socialist politician, is ready to lead the united opposition as a candidate for the premiership. Of course, he will accept the job only if his conditions are met by the currently negotiating opposition parties.

First, a few words about Botka, about whom I have written only twice before at any length. He joined MSZP at the tender age of 18. A year later, as a first-year law student in Szeged, he was already the honorary chairman of the party’s youth movement. In 1994 he won his district in the national election and, at the age of 21, was the youngest member of parliament. With the exception of four years, between 1998 and 2002, he was a member of parliament until 2014. In 2002, at the age of 29, he also became mayor of Szeged, a position he has continued to hold even as, at the municipal elections, almost the entire country turned orange.

László Botka in front of the Szeged City Hall

In the last few years Botka’s name was often mentioned as the party’s best bet for the post of prime minister, but the consensus in the party was that Botka was reluctant to accept the nomination, perhaps because of MSZP’s low standing in the polls. Maybe, commentators claimed, he is waiting for a better opportunity. Then last summer MSZP held its congress, and the delegates massively rejected Botka in his bid for reelection as chairman of the board. He felt betrayed and suspected some kind of conspiracy to remove him. He really wanted to remain in this post because, according to the new by-laws, the chairman is now able to influence the party’s strategy for the election campaign. This would have involved decisions concerning partnerships with other parties. My feeling at the time was that it was for this very reason that Botka was rejected as chairman of the board. He was known to be vehemently opposed to any kind of understanding with DK. Since at that point I had high hopes for a rapprochement between DK and MSZP, I was relieved that Botka was leaving party politics.

A couple of weeks later I wrote an article titled “Harmful politicians in the Hungarian democratic opposition,” in which I singled out Bernadett Szél of LMP and Viktor Szigetvári of Együtt. Szigetvári said that his favorite MSZP politician was László Botka. Since “MSZP blackballed Botka, the only conclusion one can draw is that the socialists don’t want to win the election,” he continued. I must say that Szigetvári’s praise of Botka didn’t endear me toward the mayor of Szeged.

Now, six months later, after seeing no signs of a constructive plan for a political formation that could possibly remove Viktor Orbán from power, I have changed my mind. I now think Botka should be given a chance, especially since I see no other viable and attractive candidate. The pro-government media has been floating names of possible contenders for the job, one less likely than the next. For instance, László Andor, former commissioner for employment, social affairs, and inclusion in the Barroso II administration of the European Commission, whose name surfaced in Magyar Idők, is an excellent economist, but it’s hard to imagine him as an inspiring leader.

Although some people might find Botka too assertive, he is exactly the kind of person the opposition needs at the moment. In addition, it seems that Botka has changed his position on cooperation. Back in July I got the distinct impression that Botka believes MSZP can win the election on its own. Otherwise he wouldn’t have vetoed cooperation with DK. By now he realizes that this idea is dead in the water. MSZP can’t win the election on its own. Without cooperation the chances for the opposition are nil.

Botka put forth three conditions for accepting the candidacy. First, the opposition parties should have one common list. This is very important because, apparently, the negotiators still at the table envisage common candidates but separate lists. That would mean that people could cast their second vote for their favorite party, i.e. MSZP, DK, Együtt, Párbeszéd, etc. This would only confuse the electorate. In 2014, they did have a common list, but all the participating parties’ names were printed on the ballot. That was bad enough. Separate lists would be even worse. Second, candidates in all 106 districts would be picked on the basis of electability, not party affiliation. Thus, he would ban any behind-the-scenes negotiations about the number of spots allotted to each party, according to their relative strength at the polls. And finally, there must be prior agreement about the values and policies appropriate for parties on the left of the political spectrum. That means at some level a joint program.

Although I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read the full interview Botka gave to 168 Óra, I did hear his conversation with György Bolgár this afternoon. I also read an article published in delmagyar.hu, a local internet news site, whose reporter talked to Botka in Szeged. On both occasions he expressed the view that what’s going on at the moment at the negotiating table among representatives of some of the opposition parties is a replay of the 2014 scene. It led to failure then and it will lead to even bigger failure in 2018. “What we need are one million more voters because even if we add up the supporters of all democratic parties we have only half of what Fidesz has at the moment.” These new voters should come from the undecided group, as well as from Jobbik voters and disappointed Fidesz followers. The politicians at the negotiating table “must get their senses back and make a decision by the beginning of next year. Otherwise, they can forget about me. What’s going on right now I cannot, I don’t want to take part in.”

Well, that is plain talk. Unfortunately, initial reactions, admittedly still scanty, are not encouraging. To my surprise, Együtt didn’t want to respond to Botka’s forceful proposal, which is interesting given Viktor Szigetvári’s earlier expression of admiration for Botka. After all, Szigetvári is the co-chair of the party. DK’s spokesman, Zsolt Gréczy, speaking on Klubrádió, wasn’t at all enthusiastic. He pointed out that at the negotiations the person of the future prime minister had not been discussed and therefore he assumes that Botka’s putting himself forth is nothing more than the expression of “personal ambition.” A rather unfortunate way of saying that, as far as he knows, Botka is not the official candidate of MSZP. To reinforce this point, Gréczy reminded his audience that Botka had been squarely rejected as chairman of MSZP’s board only a few months ago. He promised, however, that DK’s leadership will discuss the matter whenever the issue is officially presented to them. I assume the discussion will be brief.

In a few days an article of mine will come out in Népszava’s Christmas issue. In it I expressed my negative opinion of the politicians of the fractious democratic opposition. I am not sure that Botka’s plan would succeed even if all the others wholeheartedly supported him, but what’s going on now seems utterly hopeless to me.

December 21, 2016
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e-1056
Guest

Can Botka promise transparency in:

1. Hungarian – Russian deals

2. EU Grant accounts

3. Media freedom

4. Investigating past corruptions

Will he end the polarization of the Hungarian voters, and demagogue activity of the jobbik?

webber
Guest

1. He’s not in government, so he can’t promise that. Only the Hungarian government can. If he is in government, he might make such a promise.
2. Ditto.
3. He has stood up for this already.
4. We can hope.

Last – Nobody can do that.

Observer
Guest

Actually Gyurcsàny was the first to tackle political/party financing, ie. corruption in gov, but was fought tooth and nail by Fidesz and obstructed by his own party.
Now we can see how important the issue was/is.

If there’s to be a positive change in the Hungarian political environment, the Orban mafia should be destroyed completely and their property confiscated. If they get away with this grand robbery the next governments’ officials would be irresistibly tempted. And they will succumb, guaranteed.

Alex Kuli
Guest
Laszlo Botka can indeed lead the democratic opposition. Problem is, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Botka, the reincarnation of Lajos Kossuth, or Süsü a Sárkány who leads the opposition into the 2018 election. They are going to lose, and badly. Why such pessimism? The democratic opposition has little money, little infrastructure and little credibility. The only way they can get around Fidesz’s campaign-finance and election laws is through a superior ground game. They should have begun building up their ground game in 2012 or so. They still haven’t gotten around to it, preferring to whine about the unfairness of it all. Botka has got the right idea by proposing “electability” as the benchmark for picking candidates in the 106 constituencies, but there are two problems with this: 1) The chuckleheads who run opposition campaigns do not know the meaning of “electability,” preferring to nominate their cronies; 2) Outside of Budapest and downtown Szeged, the opposition has no means of gauging electability. (Remember the “unbeatable” Peter Doszpot from 2002?) If Botka is wise – and I believe he is – he will sit this election out. When the opposition gets its well-deserved thumping in the spring of 2018, his PR people… Read more »
Guest

Unless something drastic happens I also see not much of a chance for a win against Fidesz in 2018 – so Alex is right imho in looking at this as a long term strategy.

But of course unexpected things can happen – just two examples in the news:
OLAF has found corruption in the metro project …
It’s all over the news.
Hungary’s industry needs almost 400 000 workers – which they cannot find …
And now for something completely OT:

Hey, gravediggers already traing for their golden future:
In a graveyard in Hungary, solemn contemplation gave way to frantic sportsmanship on Friday as dozens of grave diggers battled to prove they were the fastest and best in the business.

Taking their places at plots selected by pulling names out of a hard hat, 18 two-man teams waited for an official to shout “Start!” before shoveling at the ground to dig a precise, regulation-size grave as quickly as possible.
There will be an international competition between the Visegrad4 countries deciding who has the best gravediggers – ain’t that symbolic?
http://www.reuters.com/article

Guest

Next grave digging competition will be motorized. One man digs 50 graves a day.

webber
Guest

“mopping up the remains of Egyutt, Parbeszed, MoMa and the other dwarf parties”
Fidesz will make sure that all the dwarf parties survive.

petofi
Guest

What a bunch of pipe-dreamers messin’ about herein!

Try displacing the mafia in the Bronx–you’d have a better
chance than to rid the country of the Orban/KGB partnership.

Elections mean nothing. Do people think that Russian interference in the US elections weren’t the determining factor?

Imagine the leader of a major country declaring that if Hillary wins then there will be a world war! No psychic difference
because of that? Americans should be alarmed that no significant reply was made to that. The very least, the US should’ve closed the American embassy in Moscow and closed down the Russian embassy in Washington.

“I told Putin to ‘cut it out’.” From Obrama, the chicken-hearted.

Observer
Guest

Petofi
From what I heard, the U.S. gov warned the Rusiians about trying to hack the voting systems, with a veiled threat to counter by hacking the Russian energy or admin systems. The Russians did not go beyond the Democratic Party computers, which they have already hacked.

petofi
Guest

@ Observer

Hacking is not the problem. The President of a major country warning of war if a certain person is elected is. That’s totally unacceptable. Perhaps there should’ve been a total news blackout on Putin for 6 months. At the very least, the US should’ve closed down their embassy in Moscow.

Istvan
Guest
Well clearly Eva Botka’s plan does not include any vision of a wide common list inclusive of the Jobbik and funded in good part by Lajos Simicska with one simple strategic objective, get Orban and Fidesz out of office. That seems to be your perspective Eva, even though you sort of nuance it. I don’t agree with it because of my own deep fears of and concerns for the Jobbik leaving the realm of electoral politics under a coalition government to establish an even more horrendous dictatorship than the Mafia state of Orban. I think a good number of the readers of this blog share that concern. In writing this my intent is not in anyway to denigrate the amazing work you have done in exposing the crimes of the Orban government and your consistent opposition to it. Eva your position is not illogical when one looks at purely electoral numbers and make some assumptions that the Jobbik will be marginalized within any coalition government. But clearly Botka’s plan, includes as you write, bringing Jobbik voters over to the common list without their party being part of it. But why not explain to your readers why you believe that strategy… Read more »
Guest

My friends in Szeged don’t like Botka because he is a plug in the money flow.

Guest

A bit OT re money flow – but very telling:

The ex-husband of a friend has been very active as an enforcer, as a pimp, in helping with selling drugs – and in politics. He went to jail however after he tried to blackmail someone with connections …

He told his wife once:
In Hungary you make money only with illegal businesses! If you try to have an honest business and make really good money the crooks will get to you sooner or later and if you don’t cooperate you’ll be bankrupted or driven out of your business (getting an offer you can’t refuse …) – or even maimed/killed …
Other stuff she told us is even worse …

The latest story about the Bp metro seems to prove this.

petofi
Guest

Or, they position you in a cop car and talk your head off until you drop dead from fright…

Hungaricoes! What would the world do for mocking laughter if there were none such…?!

pappp
Guest

This is totally OT or maybe not.

Gerhard Schröder, former German Social Democratic Chancellor praises Donald Trump.

As someone aptly put it: “At this point, you’d think he, too, is working for the Kremlin or something. Oh wait…”

http://www.faz.net/aktuell/wirtschaft/wirtschaftspolitik/altkanzler-gerhard-schroeder-lobt-donald-trump-fuer-wirtschaftspolitik-14587676.html

Guest

Well, Schröder has been working as a well paid consultant for Russian companies for a long time and he’s a big friend of Putin – one of the reasons why I can’t stand him …

In 2004 already when he was asked whether Putin was a real democrat, Schröder said something like “of course he is”!

pappp
Guest

Sure, but the point is also that a supposedly leftist politician supports Trump’s economic policy of cutting taxes for corporations and the rich while proposing to cut welfare and social security, putting billionaires, corporate lobbyists into government positions, supporting big Oil etc. I don’t think this has to do with Putin.

It’s not a total surprise that the left-wing is in decline when people like Schröder and other leftists like Tony Blair end up serving the biggest corporations, the rich etc.

What people forgive the right wing they don’t forgive the left wing. Many people in the West just as in Hungary believe that the left-wing does not understand the problems of the poor white working class any more and are preoccupied with elite issues. Le Pen etc. seem to be better at communicating that they understand the problems of the little joe whereas the Champagne Socialists don’t any more. This is an issue for the Hungarian left too.

petofi
Guest

Nobody understands the poor like Hillary: she clucks her sympathies every time she receives $400,000 for a speaking engagement! (Guilt, no doubt.)

Guest

It seems my answer was lost – so a short reply:

Schröder is not a leftist now – probably never has been (like Blair)!
He’s just an old man who wants/needs money for his many girlfriends …

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