Socialists set Ágnes Kunhalmi and Ferenc Falus up for failure

The democratic opposition’s election campaign ahead of the October 12th municipal elections in Budapest is the very epitome of a political train wreck. It is certainly true that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s decision to completely transform the Hungarian capital’s electoral system a mere four months before the vote would have thrown a wrench into the plans of any political party, no matter how talented and savvy their politicans may be. But this is no excuse for the way in which the Hungarian Socialist Party, in particular, has thrown one of the left’s rising stars (and there are precious few of them) under the bus.

Ágnes Kunhalmi

Ágnes Kunhalmi

Ágnes Kunhalmi, a 31 year old Socialist politician who was not tainted by the delinquencies of the previous MSZP administration that governed the country between 2002 and 2010, became chair of the party’s Budapest faction after performing honourably in Budapest’s 15th district riding, which includes the Pestszentlőrinc/Pestszentimre suburbs. She was parachuted into the riding after the previous candidate, Gábor Simon, was arrested on charges of money laundering. Despite being inexperienced in national politics and having to deal with Mr. Simon’s looming shadow of corruption, she only lost the riding to Fidesz-KDNP by a mere 56 votes. Ms. Kunhalmi did end up becoming an MP, as she also ran on the opposition’s party list.

Ms. Kunhalmi didn’t anticipate becoming a politician, as she had planned to instead build a career as an actress. That perhaps helps explain why she is more telegenic and more articulate on camera than most MSZP politicians. She hails from a small country town of Kiskunmajsa and ended up moving to Budapest at age 14. Ms. Kunhalmi explained that this was a turning point in her life, since as a teenager living in a high school dorm, far away from her family, she learned to fend for herself. Ms. Kunhalmi’s parents — her mother is a schoolteacher and her father a lawyer–were supportive, though worried when she decided to enter into the world of politics and to become an MSZP city councillor. The Socialist politician had indicated her mother’s long-standing commitment to students from poverty-stricken families inspired her to become a left-centre politician.

Unfortunately, MSZP’s national leadership managed to put Ms. Kunhalmi into a totally untenable position. During the problematic negotiations between MSZP, the Democratic Coalition (DK) and Viktor Szigetvári’s Együtt-PM, the three opposition parties squabbled over the Budapest electoral “pie” in public. MSZP’s district associations (especially in the Socialist bastion of Angyalföld, but also in Zugló) were hardly inclined to accept that their party no longer enjoyed a monopoly on the left. While DK and Együtt-PM somehow managed to stay on the same page and papered over their otherwise tense relationship, MSZP’s district leaders were reticent to finally close the deal with their left-centre partners.

While Ms. Kunhalmi, as Budapest chair, urged district leaders to come to a compromise with the other parties and to accept that MSZP’s central city leadership had accepted the terms of a deal that would have seen them support Dr. Ferenc Falus as the united opposition’s mayoral candidate against current Mayor István Tarlós, and also agree to cede several wards where the Socialists normally perform well to DK and Együtt, the district leaders ignored their chair’s position and unilaterally attempted to renegotiate (or, in fact, to rewrite) the pact with the other parties.

The astounding silence of newly elected Socialist Party president József Tóbiás (who has been vacationing in Malta and had nothing to say in terms of his party’s public disintegration in the Hungarian capital) speaks to a real lack of political acumen on his part. Not once did MSZP’s central national leadership attempt to get the rebellious districts to follow Ms. Kunhalmi’s lead. It appeared as though Mr. Tóbiás was intent on distancing himself from MSZP’s likely defeat in Budapest on October 12th by not appearing overly supportive of the united opposition’s plans.

Mayoral candidate Ferenc Falus is not doing himself any favours either. On Wednesday, he announced that his electoral platform is still under review (a mere two months before voting day) and that he will seek to get feedback on it from internet users. He has also repeated on a few occasions that he is not interested in politics. Hopefully, he realizes that the mayoralty of Budapest is, in fact, a political office.

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One Comment

  1. András Göllner says:

    The irresponsibility of the Hungarian Socialist Party, it’s inability to get down to grass roots levels, to organize, to establish local riding associations staffed by enthusiastic volunteers, to work diligently, honestly for the support of Hungary’s ill served citizens at local levels, continues unabated. Budapest and Hungary is stuck between a stone and a hard place. With opposition like this, who needs enemies ?

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