“Those who have, those who are rich, will find themselves kindly contributing more to solving the country’s problems,” quipped László Botka, the Mayor of Szeged and the Hungarian Socialist Party’s (MSZP) candidate for prime minister in the 2018 elections to the 444.hu news site on Tuesday. The interview highlighted the left-wing turn that MSZP is taking under Mr. Botka, signalling a different direction than the avowedly Blairite “Third Way” approach taken between 2002 and 2010, especially in rhetoric, when the Socialists were last in government. Mr. Botka has promised to levy special taxes on a wide range of luxury goods, including high-end real estate, helicopters, yachts and luxury cars. Mr. Botka also reiterated that he supports special taxes levies on banks and on the financial sector in general, as they played a key role in the 2008 financial crisis and should be made to help “clear away the rubble.”
“The introduction of special taxes in specific sectors of the economy could have been a good idea,” said Mr. Botka referring to special taxes levied under Fidesz. “A tax on banks and telecommunications is, in theory, acceptable. The time has come to redistribute profit,” added the MSZP politician.
“We live in a country where 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. Should we wait until it hits 50%?”–asked Mr. Botka, adding that while the large majority of Hungarians have nothing to fear from his left-wing economic program, people like the billionaire mayor of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s hometown, Lőrinc Mészáros, should worry.
“There is a talented plumber, who is the prime minister’s childhood friend and whose income rose by a thousand-fold from one year to the next. Let’s decide which story we believe,” said the Socialist politician of Mr. Mészáros. Mr. Botka believes that following a change in government, it is likely that Hungarians will see Fidesz politicians being taken away by police in handcuffs, although if this were to happen, it would not be political retribution, but rather a judiciary that will simply do its job. And without the heavy weight of fear, or rewards and political considerations from Mr. Orbán’s authoritarian regime, the judiciary will fall back to actually doing its job–at least this is Mr. Botka’ conviction.
One of Mr. Botka’s ideas is to make public all tax returns, thus shaming the wealthy and the well-connected into providing honest returns and properly paying their taxes. The idea is modeled off of Norway, where everyone is able to see exactly how much their neighbours, co-workers, friends and family make, and how much they pay in taxes. (The downside is that if you are “snooping” on your boss’s or friend’s returns, he/she will be notified of all people who searched their return.) This may be of most use to the Hungarian media, which could then conceivably publish a top ten list of the wealthiest people in Hungary.
An MSZP government under Mr. Botka would also aim to implement a guaranteed basic income for all. “As a left-wing man, I cannot imagine a more beautiful idea that a modern and a just state provides all of its citizens, at minimum, with the fundamentals of a basic livelihood, so that they do not starve to death and so that there is a roof over their head,” remarked Mr. Botka.
By introducing a guaranteed minimum income for all, Mr. Botka is trying to reach beyond the traditional core supporters of the centre-left, and bring into the fold those of lower income levels who voted for Jobbik in the past two national elections, undecided voters, as well as some who live on limited means and voted for Fidesz. Yet as 444.hu correctly points out, right-wing populists have won ground in Europe and North America through a mix of economic populism built around the downtrodden and sparking loathing of the “elites,” but also by attacking multiculturalism and immigration. So what is Mr. Botka’s take on immigration and the migrant crisis?
This is what he told 444.hu this week:
“When someone’s life is in danger, the most ancient European, Christian and human principles dictate that we must help. But I cannot accept that several million people from Africa or the Middle East simply decide to move to Europe, because they can live better here. This cannot happen.”
The journalists of 444 were correct to note that this is a shift from his earlier position, which was much more open to accepting migrants. Mr. Botka is pivoting to a new role in national politics. Mr. Botka is now also critical of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and noted that the focus had to be on creating stability in regions of the world that produce migrants and refugees.
The website’s journalists spoke with Mr. Botka for over an hour in his Szeged office. Among the many topics covered was religion. Mr. Botka noted that his family has “Catholic roots,” but he himself is not religious and does not attend church. When asked if he believed in God, Mr. Botka answered, with a smile: “This has not yet been made possible for me.”
The Socialist politician has his work cut out for him. He has made little progress on getting the smaller opposition parties to partner with MSZP in advance of the 2018 elections. While he categorically rejects any cooperation with Jobbik, he has only two options when it comes to the smaller liberal and centre-left parties. Either MSZP starts rising in upcoming opinion polls at the expense of parties like the Democratic Coalition, thus weakening their hand at the negotiations table and firming up MSZP as the single dominant player on the left, or Mr. Botka reaches some sort of modus operandi to at least ensure that the fractured left does not field candidates against each other in those of the 106 ridings that are in play.