The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) has named the 43 year old mayor of Szeged, László Botka, as its candidate for prime minister in the next parliamentary elections, expected in April 2018. Mr. Botka was merely 29 years old when he was first elected as mayor of Hungary’s third largest city in 2002 and he has since been re-elected three times. In the most recent 2014 municipal elections, Mr. Botka won in a landslide victory against his Fidesz opponent, beating him by 22 percent. Mr. Botka initially indicated that he was not interested in being a prime ministerial candidate, but then modified his position earlier this week, noting that he would accept the nomination so long as the left-centre parties run a united list of candidates, that candidates in individual ridings be chosen based on their ability to draw voters and that a new consensus be formed about the future of left-wing politics in Hungary.
“MSZP supports László Botka in being the democratic opposition’s candidate for prime minister. We need to come to an agreement with every party, with all unions and with all activists that have demonstrable sway in society,” reads the party statement. Party president Gyula Molnár indicated that MSZP would begin discussions on preparations for the election at the next meeting of the party’s presidium. Mr. Molnár added that MSZP must aim to reach out to four million Hungarians living in poverty and some five million Hungarians who live pay cheque to pay cheque.
The challenge, however, is getting the other opposition parties on board–most notably the Democratic Coalition (DK), Együtt (Together) and Párbeszéd (Dialogue). The parties will have to agree on both the joint candidate for prime minister, as well as the idea of running a single party list of candidates in 2018. While DK, Együtt and Párbeszéd had all been open to having the left field a single candidate in each riding, these parties had expressed a preference for each having their own party lists. Some prominent left-centre politicians have already expressed reservations, perhaps most notably Mátyás Eörsi, who is affiliated with DK. Mr. Eörsi is unhappy that the Socialists went ahead and selected the candidate for prime minister without consulting with their liberal and left-centre partners. Mr. Eörsi argues that this is a recipe for failure and likened it to the way in which MSZP went ahead and named Katalin Szili as candidate for President of Hungary in 2005, without coming to an agreement with MSZP’s junior coalition partner, the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), of which Mr. Eörsi was a member. In the end, even though MSZP and SZDSZ commanded a parliamentary majority, Fidesz’s candidate for President, László Sólyom, won over more MPs due to the left’s disarray.
The smaller opposition parties are interested in holding primaries to select the joint candidates for 2018. Yet MSZP’s move today may have extinguished the final hopes that such primaries would take place–even though the whole process of organizing primaries has been chaotic and rife with conflict between the parties from the beginning. Viktor Szigetvári, leader of the Együtt party, only two days ago emphasized his desire of having left-wing primaries to select a single left-centre candidate to run against Fidesz in each of the 106 ridings in Hungary.
Mr. Botka was critical in a recent interview with the 168 Óra weekly about the opposition, suggesting that many voters may feel that the opposition parties have given up all hope of winning in 2018 and booting Fidesz from power. Mr. Botka emphasized that the opposition cannot do what it did in 2014–and effectively argue with each other, before dividing up among themselves the country’s ridings and the 30 or so constituencies where the left stands a good chance of winning. Mr. Botka has emphasized that candidates must be selected based on their demonstrable ability to draw in local voters.
In the meantime, the Népszava daily reported that MSZP no longer believes that holding primaries is a realistic option. The party is willing to give the idea further consideration until late January 2017, but will formally drop the idea if no agreement is reached with other parties by that point.