László Botka is MSZP’s candidate to face Viktor Orbán in 2018

On May 27 the Magyar Szocialista Párt (MSZP) held its congress, at which an overwhelming majority of the usually fractious delegates stood by László Botka, mayor of Szeged, who about six months ago offered himself as his party’s candidate for prime minister of Hungary. At the time of his announcement I was enthusiastic, mostly because I didn’t see anyone else in MSZP who would have the slightest chance of running successfully against Viktor Orbán. Botka is a self-confident and forceful fellow who kept Szeged a socialist stronghold even when practically the whole country turned orange after the 2006 municipal elections. So, I said to myself, the fellow must know something. I also thought that his years as the leader of Hungary’s second largest city would have given him ample administrative experience, which would serve him well.

Over time, however, I started having doubts about the wisdom of this choice. It is one thing to be self-confident and forceful and another to be abrasive and aggressive. MSZP’s ineffectual and untalented leadership was so excited at receiving an offer from Botka, who had earlier steadfastly refused any role in national politics, that they immediately broke off negotiations with the other democratic opposition parties and assured Botka of their support. In turn, Botka promised an election and party program and a nationwide campaign, during which he was supposed to introduce himself to MSZP supporters and those undecided voters who could perhaps be convinced that he is a worthy challenger of Viktor Orbán.

Initially, Botka indicated that he would visit the other democratic opposition parties, but mighty little came of it. He did talk with the leadership of LMP, a party that had stressed over and over that they would never cooperate in any meaningful way with anyone else. I was somewhat puzzled by Botka’s decision and expected a flat no from LMP. I was right, it was a flat no. As far as the smaller parties were concerned, Botka simply ignored them. They then, one by one, announced that in that case they will be forced to enter the race as individual entities. That was bad enough, but demanding that the Demokratikus Koalíció’s supporters dump their party leader, Ferenc Gyurcsány, meant that for all practical purposes the Botka-led MSZP had decided to embark on the hard road to political victory alone.

That route would be defensible only if Botka’s appearance on the scene could make an appreciable difference in the anemic popularity of MSZP. But after six months of alleged Botka campaigning, MSZP is still hovering around the same 10-13% popularity against Fidesz’s 27%. The same as it was in January. Therefore, it is hard to fathom the enthusiasm that István Ujhelyi, an MSZP member of the European Parliament, exhibited this morning on ATV about his party’s prospects. He added that Botka was the best choice and that he is supported by the politicians in Brussels as a worthy opponent of Orbán. I for one would like to see some tangible results by now. I know, we are being told that “there is still time,” but I’m afraid that, given the sad state of the opposition, eight or nine months will be far too narrow a window in which to build a robust MSZP or achieve some kind of understanding among the democratic forces.

Botka’s acceptance speech was broadcast on ATV, and had detractors from both sides. From the right Otto Gajdics compared him to a Stakhanovite construction worker who is the puppet of George Soros. Botka’s speech reminded Origo’s nameless journalist of speeches at party congresses of the Kádár era, and he quoted some sample sentences which he considered to be carbon copies of old MSZMP slogans: “We are building a new world,” “We live in dark times,” “We’ve had enough of slavery,” and “Let the rich pay,” a slogan much criticized on the left as well.

Not only Fidesz critics found the speech wanting. László Bartus, editor-in-chief of Amerikai Magyar Népszava, was appalled by Botka’s misunderstanding of “the essence of the regime.” In his speech the candidate divided the voters into the satisfied and the dissatisfied. As he put it, “2018 will be decided between the satisfied and the dissatisfied voters. The satisfied ones will vote for Orbán, the dissatisfied for Botka. The choice is simple: Orbán or Botka.” Bartus finds this primitive Marxist worldview not to his liking. What about human rights, freedom, law, culture, intellectual values, human relationships, and principles? His conclusion is that MSZP in 27 years has been unable to shed its origins.

Tamás Bauer, formerly an SZDSZ member of parliament, was also unhappy with Botka’s speech and the ideas behind it. Bauer especially disliked the “Rich should pay” slogan, although I don’t believe that Botka wants to take rich folks’ money and give it to the poor, Robin Hood style, but only wants to send a message that the era of the flat tax is over and better off people will have to pay higher taxes. What really bothered Bauer was something that Gyula Molnár, the MSZP chairman, said in his speech: “Those who are not with us are with them,” meaning Fidesz. Doesn’t Molnár know the origin of this sentence, Bauer asks? It was Mátyás Rákosi who said “those who are not with us are against us.” It was this terrible concept that János Kádár changed to “those who are not against us are with us.” Clearly, Bauer worries about the electoral cooperation of democratic forces. The socialists “don’t seem to care about their allies, whom they humiliate.” Bauer, who is a DK member, obviously has Ferenc Gyurcsány and the leaders of other democratic parties in mind. As a professor of economics, Bauer is also worried about all the promises Botka made. Where will the money come from to pay for them?

Botka promised to introduce a subsistence minimum, to raise the salaries of civil servants, to cut the taxes of low income people, to raise the minimum wage and exempt it from taxation, to strengthen the rights of employees, to spend money on hospitals and schools instead of on stadiums, to launch a comprehensive rental housing program, to double the pension minimum, and to restore the thirteenth-month pensions. This promise tsunami strikes me as irresponsible. We know only too well that one of the problems with the economic policies of past governments stemmed from offering financial incentives to the electorate in exchange for votes. Time and again, it became obvious that government expenditures were too high and the national debt was increasing. Quickly enough, austerity programs had to be introduced. Perhaps one of the worst decisions was the Gyurcsány government’s introduction of the extra-month pension, which had to be taken away in early 2009 after the financial crisis hit Hungary. So, for anyone with a half decent memory, the promise of a thirteenth-month pension has a bad ring to it. I think that if MSZP wanted to raise pensions, it should have done so in some other way.

Today, Ferenc Gyurcsány congratulated Botka and suggested a meeting, which I doubt will take place anytime soon. The message via István Ujhelyi on ATV was that Botka will be very busy and will not have time for such a meeting.

May 29, 2017
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Guest

Promises, promises …
Eva, I already linked to a statistic by index that says that Botka is more popular than Orbán (or Gyurcsany of course), Vona is third. What do you and the people here think about that?
http://index.hu/belfold/2017/05/28/bezuhant_orban_nepszerusege/

Member

Ibolya David ruled the roost of Hungary’s political popularity rankings for a very long time. The MDF, meanwhile, was scrounging around at below 5%. The party made it into both the Hungarian Parliament in 2006 and the Euro Parliament in 2004 and 2009, but only by the skin of its teeth.

Also, we see that the Fidesz party’s popularity has not suffered much in recent months, even as Orban’s personal popularity plummeted. Median was the only pollster that recorded significant fallout for Fidesz after the CEU protests. The others have shown slight drops in Fidesz’s ratings, all within the margin of error and therefore statistically insignificant.

(As someone here already pointed out, Fidesz had been performing much better in Median’s surveys than in polls by other companies. The decline simply brought Median’s numbers into line with the others.)

Conclusion: Unless Botka body-slams Orban at a debate (doubtful, since Orban is too chicken), his personal popularity is not a decisive factor in future electoral success.

petofi
Guest

Believe in Hungarian statistics??
You make me laugh…

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Wolfi,
I remember years ago (when I fancied myself as an activist of some sorts), someone told me the following on YouTube: “In Hungary, everything is twisted. The LEFT is on the RIGHT and the RIGHT is on the LEFT.”
I guess it’s really up to the Hungarians who actually live there to decide. (RE: Child care; home loans for young families; maternity leave; keeping the elderly in their homes by providing home care etc. etc.

petofi
Guest

Melanie-baby,
What you doin’ in Australia?
Get thee home, and into Viktor’s cabinet. (Of course, Vkie might ask you to hot-tub with him…)

Ferenc
Guest
2017.May.24, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cee-summit-hungary-opposition-idUSKBN18K27I Last line in the item: “Botka also said he would dismantle a fence along the border with Serbia – which Orban put up to keep migrants from entering Hungary – as soon as European Union border protection controls are in place and the situation in the Middle East calms down.” Next day M1 news (http://www.mediaklikk.hu/video/hirado-m1-2300-2017-05-25-i-adas/, at 7-11min) shortened this to: “Botka stated that he would start with dismantling the fence” and made a whole item around it, with all “Fidesz fence specialists” having their say. Then yesterday in parliament (saw it live on HirTV, but unfortunately can’t find an archived video of it) the shortened quote was repeated again and again by all Fidesz&Co speakers, who also summoned Botka to apologize to the “the Hungarian people” for bringing their lives in danger with such irresponsible thoughts. This shows the current state of “Hungarian democracy”, such a disgrace for any parliament within the EU. PS1: of course parliaments’chairman didn’t correct the Fidesz&Co speakers, only again reprimanded opposition members when shouting something through some other speakers, the chairman used wording like: “this is not a kocsma”, “your behaviour is bolshevistic”, “from a more intelligent football supporter can be heard more… Read more »
Member

Reuters’ “last line wasn’t written as a quote, just seems like added to the item. Could there be more behind it? (or am I making too much from it)”

I’d say the latter.

If Reuters had indeed gotten it wrong, there would have been a correction by now.

Ferenc
Guest

I didn’t mean to suggest that Reuters got it wrong, Botka surely said something like they wrote down. But why didn’t they provide his real quote about such a, in Hungary, sensitive item.
The way it was presented by Reuters, provided all options open for Fidesz&Co to use it ‘their own propaganda way’.

Member

My guess is: Botka spoke in a manner that did not lend itself to a quote — too long, too roundabout, too convoluted, whatever. Also, I doubt the authors were thinking about the propaganda implications.

Ferenc
Guest

“thinking about the propaganda implications”
possible, even for Hungarians, but from now on they have too!!

Ferenc
Guest

May be those 2 Reuters reporters can make a follow-up story about how their item was used by the Fidesz&Co media: the state of Hungarian propaganda (and it’s latest ministry)

Ferenc
Guest
Member

This highlights not only Fidesz’s mendacity, but the MSZP’s ineptitude. Botka should have known that saying anything about the fence would be political dynamite. His press people should have coached him: “If somebody asks about the fence, here’s what you say…” While I agree with Botka’s stance, the fact that he actually uttered these words is amateurish.

aida
Guest

The topic is dinamite. The MSZP, apart from being convoluted is the only response they could give.
What does Gyurcsany say about the wall?

Csaba63
Guest

I think MSZP’s leadership concluded that it cannot win.

Just offering mo’ money to dissatisfied voters – when Orban will spend about a whopping 1,000 bn forints in December and some more money in March just to gain popularity – won’t work.

People have relatively short memories (unless something traumatic happened akin to communist collectivization or confiscation of the family’s real estate) and many will feel by March 2018 that their lives improved and will be optimistic about the economy and their prospects. Such situation cannot be treated by an opposition by offering “more money” because no opposition can compete with real, hard money actually distributed by the incumbent itself.

Also there’s no coherent vision behind these promises.

MSZP is clearly lacking any ideology, any ideas, any vision and cannot comprehend that politics is not just about offering more money, which is its default tool to buy some popularity.

But this is the same grey Socialist bunch which grew up with Gyula Horn like Istvan Hiller, Gyula Molnar, Janos Barabas straight from MSZMP KB, Laszlo Puch (who’s been managing MSZP’s finances for 20 years) and so on. I don’t see how these grey apparatchiks can inspire voters.

Member

Agreed. Barring an unforeseen event, e.g. Orban getting photographed at a drag club, the MSZP is sunk for 2018. They might manage to pick up a handful of seats in Budapest, but a divided opposition makes this all the less likely.

aida
Guest

Ten months is a long time in politics.
Opinion polls are unreliable. Do not bet on the outcome unless you like taking risk.

Member

If I were a bookie, the only bet I would take is whether Fidesz wins 2/3 or not.

I would like nothing better than to see Fidesz take it in the teeth. Problem is, right now nobody except Fidesz has any organization outside Budapest, Szeged and the “red belt” in and around Miskolc. Plus, thanks to Meszaros, Fidesz controls key parts of the economy (that makes up for much of what they lost when Simicska decided to break with Orban.)

Ten months is not enough time to change this.

Csaba63
Guest
I don’t really get the Socialists. MSZP should’ve completely reinvented itself – if it really wanted to stay relevant for 2018 (though personally i think they should’ve left politics but that’s another question). The US is a huge warning sign for MSZP. Right now and for many years basically the Republicans have been unable to lose an election no matter who deranged or repulsive their candidate was. Like in the last one in Montanam, the candidate who assaulted a reporter (besides being a lunatic) and still won handily by 50-44. Voters just don’t like Democrats and no matter who corrupt the Republican candidate is still don’t consider voting Democrat. Why? The problem (sign of a deeper problem really) for MSZP – besides lacking a message to the voters and an inspiring vision – is that nobody really wanted to be a candidate for prime minister which is very strange for a party which should be full of ambitious people hell bent on unseating a corrupt tyrant. It’s one thing that they think they will lose in 2018 so why end up being a loser candidate but really there’s was nobody with the ambition and the stature who felt could potentially… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘more money’…

Perhaps as Camus notes life isn’t about the ‘best living’ but rather the ‘most living’. Magyarorszag looks to be a little insufficient there as we know on a number of life scales.

But anyway life is getting kind of absurdist in the country. With an almost king as pm and a robotic rubber-stamp Parliament. If that is illiberalism where is the meaning for the electorate? If the weight of all the money and graft was counted floating around in Parliament all it is is a matter of turning pockets inside out and the jingle-jangling would cover the ‘discounts’ taken from essentially the electorate and their communities.

The Socialists need to try harder and get to an ‘essence’. Time to figure out in one-sentence what their platform is so as to unseat a fellow who looks as if he likes to feely comfy for quite awhile in the pm seat. It would ‘concentrate minds wonderfully’ and stop wasting time and efforts that don’t go anywhere.

Roderick Beck
Guest

The Socialists have no currency with the business class, pro-Fidest or not. We businessmen labor under a terribly anachronistic system .

Roderick Beck
Guest

You overstate the case. Hilary got three million more votes than Trump and under any other democratic would be President as well. In 2008 Democrats had majorities in both Houses of Congress. The pendulum will swing again and Trump is making a backlash sooner rather than later.

wrfree
Guest

Re: the ‘electoral cooperation of democratic forces’

Always this aversion to ‘u-n-i-t-y’. Surely a seldom used word in the political vocabulary. Another charge perhaps by an opposition Light Brigade going it alone and unsupported into VO’s cannon. And it would be difficult to even entertain how Botka could rule even if he managed to eke an victory.

Ferenc
Guest

OT
THEY LIE/CHEAT/STEAL, WE FIND OUT AND WRITE ABOUT IT – http://atlatszo.hu/ comment image

Guest

Latest good news:

Mrs Merkel (probably talked about this with Mr Macron) doesn’t want to finance the illiberal regimes of Poland and Hungary any more!
http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/eu-haushalt-bundesregierung-droht-polen-und-ungarn-a-1149942.html
The money that will be missing because of Brexit will not be compensated for by the other financiers – at least that’s how I interpret that article.
Now we’ll probably see new attacks by Fidesz:
That money is ours!
But if it’s not there?
Normally any cut would require a unanimous vote which of course is impossible because of the Hun-Pol alliance – but if no one is willing to compensate for the British money?

Roderick Beck
Guest

I don’t think you need unanimity on financial votes.

Roderick Beck
Guest

Why does a genuinely pro-business candidate have no appeal here? Ireland is about to have a gay, half-Indian immigrant, pro-business Prime Minister. Light years ahead of Stodgy Hungary.

petofi
Guest

pro-business candidate…?

They kill geese, don’t they?

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