Yesterday I promised that I would return to the national consultation on the Soros Plan since last night’s post contained only a short introduction and a translation of the propositions and “infoboxes.” But breaking political news intervened. Around 9 o’clock Budapest time, hírtv.hu reported that László Botka had thrown in the towel. He is no longer MSZP’s candidate to lead the country after 2018.
Some MSZP party officials claim that Botka’s resignation was totally unexpected. As 24.hu put it, MSZP leaders are “stunned and paralyzed.” They described it as something that came as suddenly as a bolt of lightning from the clear blue sky. Sorry, folks, I can’t believe this version of the story. The handwriting had been on the wall for some time. And since last Wednesday, when Medián published its disastrous numbers indicating that MSZP’s popularity among active voters had dipped below 10%, Botka’s fall was inevitable. On that day I predicted (admittedly not in writing) that Botka would resign within a week. To continue the agony would have been foolhardy.
Who is responsible for this inglorious end to an initially promising candidate? If you were to believe László Botka, the answer is simple: everybody except him. In his version of the story, Fidesz sent its agents to unseat him, while certain MSZP “forces” gave up the struggle to get rid of the present regime and either didn’t support him or actually undermined his efforts. He mysteriously referred to “the political mafia that has enmeshed all the democratic parties,” including his own. But Botka is mistaken. Most of the blame falls on his shoulders.
Initially I was enthusiastic about Botka’s candidacy. He was a very successful politician, serving as the long-time mayor of Szeged, a large city by Hungarian standards. Soon after his appearance on the national stage, however, I began to have doubts. Serious doubts. I couldn’t fathom how somebody who is supposed to gather all the left-of-center forces into a coherent whole and who therefore has to begin negotiations to that end could announce at the very beginning that he would not negotiate with a leading politician in that camp. It was also hard to understand why Botka courted LMP time and again when, if there was one party that couldn’t be convinced to cooperate, it was LMP.
In the first two months or so MSZP’s support moved up a couple of percentage points, and Botka’s own popularity one month reached or perhaps just surpassed that of Orbán. But soon after, things started to change. The number of MSZP voters kept shrinking along with Botka’s popularity. At that point a talented politician should have taken stock of the situation and seriously considered a change of strategy. But not Botka. The worse the situation got, the more he insisted that his “winning strategy” was the key to success.
I have no idea about the inner workings of MSZP or, for that matter, of any party, but surely one would expect the leadership in such a situation to sit down with the candidate and talk things over. Perhaps I’m unfair and in actuality the party bigwigs tried to convince him that his ways were leading nowhere. Perhaps he was adamant and they were caught in a situation from which there was no good way out. Botka several times accused certain people in his own party of all sorts of sins, but if the party leadership was guilty of anything, it was giving Botka a blank check at the very beginning. The members of the presidium (elnökség) and the board (választmány) should have known that his refusal to deal with Ferenc Gyurcsány would not float. Or that his arrogant comments about the smaller parties would not endear him to the leaders of these groups. But I suspect that these two decision-making bodies themselves were split on strategy and that therefore time was wasted on fighting among the leading MSZP politicians.
The fate of MSZP is up in the air. Some analysts foresee a rupture, resulting in some MSZP leaders, especially from the Budapest party center, leaving the party and moving over to DK, together with their voters. Others wouldn’t be surprised if MSZP simply disappeared, the way SZDSZ ceased to exist in 2010. Its voters might scatter all over. Some might decide to vote for LMP, which is clearly trying to attract left-leaning voters. Jobbik might also pick up voters from MSZP. Whatever the eventual scenario, these three parties are bound to profit from the incredible weakening or even possible demise of MSZP.
László Botka’s most enthusiastic supporter was István Ujhelyi, one of the vice chairmen of MSZP and the party’s representative in the European Parliament. I have always thought highly of Ujhelyi and could never understand why he was such an ardent follower of Botka. Yes, I knew that for many years he had represented Szeged in parliament and therefore his backing of Botka made sense, but I thought he was a good enough politician to realize that his favorite was heading in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, Ujhelyi believes, along with Botka, that Botka’s fall was due to the disloyal MSZP leadership. He even talked about a coup against his friend within the party. Ujhelyi therefore decided to resign from his position as vice chairman of the party. At the other end of the spectrum, Tibor Szanyi, the party’s maverick who is also an MSZP member of the European Parliament, spared no words about the cowardice of Botka and his attacks on his own party. These kinds of squabbles can be expected to continue, inevitably leading to the further weakening of the party. All in all, the prospects are grim for the once powerful MSZP.