Four candidates run for leadership of Hungarian Socialist Party

The Hungarian Socialist Party (Magyar Szocialista Párt – MSZP) is at a juncture in its history. After June 25th, the newly minted MSZP president will play a critical role in deciding whether or not the party will join forces once again with other smaller, left-centre parties in 2018, in an effort to defeat Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. Two of the candidates for president are highly reticent when it comes to creating a formal electoral alliance, while one is strongly supportive of the idea and the fourth is lukewarm.

MSZP is currently led by József Tóbiás, who took over the party following its defeat in the 2014 elections. The party congress, scheduled for June 25th, includes the election of a new leader. Mr. Tóbiás is running for re-election and his rivals include Tibor Szanyi, the party’s markedly left-wing politician in the European Parliament, as well as a much more centrist Budapest district mayor, Gyula Molnár and 36 year old Tamás Harangozó, a Socialist MP since 2010, and member of former party leader Attila Mesterházy’s generation.

In order to contest the election, aspiring candidates has to collect 1,500 signatures from supporters within MSZP and had to submit an exhaustive proposal for their vision of the party. I had the chance to read the full texts of the proposals submitted by Tibor Szanyi and Gyula Molnár. The two presented starkly different visions for the future of a party that has seen better days.

Tibor Szanyi

Tibor Szanyi

Mr. Szanyi, a 60 year old long-time Socialist, who sees former MSZP Prime Minister Gyula Horn (1994-1998) as his political role model, wants MSZP to eschew formal cooperation with other left-centre opposition parties in 2018, and run instead on an independent and unapologetically left-wing platform. Mr. Szanyi expressed concern about his party today being little more than “table company, who are all over the map in terms of their discussions.” Mr. Szanyi calls into question the claim that MSZP has 15,000 registered party members, suggesting that perhaps only half this number is actually active in any way and that the others are inactive “old comrades.” MSZP has failed to keep up with the times: the party’s databases, as well as its websites are outdated and the party is not using social media to its full potential.

“Our heritage is great, but our future is questionable,” writes Mr. Szanyi, who then specifically references Bernie Sanders, adding that the Vermont senator’s positions are ones that Hungarian Socialists could and should embrace, namely: a fair minimal wage, universal health care and an improved system of public education.

Mr. Szanyi writes that many opposition politicians in Hungary are “seriously infected with neoliberalism,” especially those who were once part of MSZP, but have since broken away to form smaller parties. The target of Mr. Szanyi’s reference is very clearly former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and his Democratic Coalition (Demokratikus Koalíció – DK).

“The neoliberal version of capitalism has brought destruction throughout the world,” argued Mr. Szanyi, and then went on to indicate that his goal is to concentrate on four key areas: improved universal public health care, investment in public education, fair wages and fair pensions.

Mr. Szanyi also wants to once again operate a national headquarters in Budapest, specifically in Köztársaság Square, where the Party once had its main base. The building, widely seen as too costly to operate and ineffective, was sold and the party moved to smaller headquarters. That building has now also been sold and MSZP essentially holds its meetings in the offices provided to MPs by the Hungarian state. This raises concerns about whether it is possible to have sensitive, internal party discussions, if the building is monitored by security forces employed by Fidesz. As one of my friends close to MSZP noted: everyone entering the so-called “White House” on the banks of the Danube is searched by men who essentially report to the Speaker of the House, László Kövér. Should MSZP really be holding highly confidential discussions at this location?

Mr. Szanyi’s vision of rebuilding MSZP as a markedly left-wing party does not include much opportunity for cooperation with groups, notably DK, that he believes are “seriously infected with neoliberalism.” In contrast, Gyula Molnár, the 54 year old mayor of Budapest’s 11th District, sees MSZP as a moderate, centrist party, building ever closer ties with the smaller centre-left opposition parties, especially Mr. Gyurcsány’s DK.

Gyula Molnár

Gyula Molnár

Mr. Molnár speaks of building a “modern left” in Hungary, where one gets ahead through hard work and a good education, and not by one’s personal connections. Success is based on the market economy and on protecting freedoms. The mayor and candidate for party president sums up his platform in five points:

  • Hungary most be protected from increasing international isolation, by steering it towards the West and the European Union, rather than moving it towards Russia, Central Asia and the East in general.
  • Unorthodox economic policies must be terminated, whilst also decreasing the “outrageous” gap between the haves and the have-nots.
  • The foundations of rule of law and parliamentary democracy must be re-established.
  • The rise of the far-right must be stopped.
  • The Orbán regime must go.

Mr. Molnár believes that the only way to achieve this is to be open to cooperation on the left, and not just with other political parties, but also with civil society, labour unions and with intellectuals. There is a belief that the intelligentsia, in particular, must be re-engaged and MSZP must show that their thoughts and expertise are valued.

On a more operational level, Mr. Molnár believes that the centre of MSZP’s activities must be at the local, grassroots level. The party must become active in individual ridings throughout the country. On this point, the programs of Mr. Szanyi and Mr. Molnár are not very different. Mr. Szanyi, for instance, pointed out that MSZP is not present in the majority of the country’s 10,000 voting districts.

MSZP’s current leader, József Tóbiás, occupies a position somewhere between Mr. Szanyi and Mr. Molnár. He recently remarked that the left must not make the mistake it made in the last election–it must focus on building at the local level and exploring opportunities for cooperation in individual ridings, rather than discussing cooperation and power dynamics only among elites, at the national level. Mr. Tóbiás is also supportive of moving MSZP somewhat further to the left. Of the candidates, Mr. Tóbiás is probably among the least controversial and is least likely to rock the boat among the party’s various ingrained interests and platforms. In contrast, Mr. Szanyi would likely aim to increase party discipline. His temperament would undoubtedly rub some of his colleagues the wrong way.

József Tóbiás

József Tóbiás

Tamás Harangozó is the youngest candidate and he is also fairly opposed to cooperating in any way with Mr. Gyurcsány. In a recent interview, Mr. Harangozó said:

“Mr. Gyurcsány does two things, either intentionally or unintentionally: he divides the left and keeps Fidesz’s voting base united. It is absolutely certain that with him, it is impossible to win over a majority of voters.”

Mr. Harangozó poured cold water on the idea of a primary amongst left-wing politicians and parties, to determine who would lead the opposition in the next election. But he left the door open to some kind of an electoral alliance, yet without the participation of Mr. Gyurcsány.

Tamás Harangozó

Tamás Harangozó

It’s difficult to determine the popularity of the candidates within the party. Mr. Szanyi is seen by some as a loose canon and a rabble rouser. On the other hand, some see Mr. Molnár as disloyal to the party and in cahoots with Ferenc Gyurcsány. Mr. Tóbiás ruffles fewer feathers within the party, but it remains to be seen, whether he is able to whip MSZP into shape in the less than two years before the next election.



  1. Avatar Pierre Divenyi says:

    Old people definition of two Hungarians: five parties.

  2. Avatar Pierre Divenyi says:

    An old definition of two Hungarians: five parties.

  3. Avatar Dr. Habil. András Fodor says:

    I am glad to read that the two most well-known fractions of the MSZP are represented in the noble competition for the No. 1. Position of the Neo-Communist Party of Hungary of different names throughout our history.
    The Plain Cortex (or Brainless) Fraction is represented by Tovarish Tobiash, while the Alcoholist Fraction is represented by Comrade Szanyi, whose idol is George Mureschan-Marosán one of the main bucher in 1957 after the Revolution.
    I am really glad because these figures guarantee that the MSZP will never ever will rule my homeland, Hungary.

  4. I assume the chairmanship of The Hungarian (Anti-)Socialist Party is a relatively well paid position. By funding from the Orban-regime, in order to be a phony-opposition party. Now they hold phony-discussions about whether to show a neoliberal or a keynesian face towards the misled public. They shall go down the sewage-pipe like other traitors of the working-class, for example PASOK in Greece, and even traitors of parlamentary democracy, like their social-democratic 1920s and ’30s predecessors…

  5. good thinking! regret to say but have to agree

  6. “The foundations of rule of law and parliamentary democracy must be re-established. …The Orbán regime must go.”

    I believe it doesn’t really matter whether the socialists or any other parties will grab the power, they will come out with empty promises for big and favorable changes, but they will leave all the modifications of the Constitution and the reigning achievements of the Orban government that is serving dictatorial governmental and controlling power intact and will be using them for their own benefit further on, i.e. sitting in the preheated velvet chair, and will be offering Hungary on a golden salver to the EU or to any other financial and business circles for their own personal benefits and profit.

    Orban is not as independent and powerful as he looks like. No PM in the world can be, not even Merkel, or Obama. It just a matter of fact which government, which PM, which press, which power-group they belong to.

    Look Merkel in this picture. She is not waiving, not smiling but is using her hands to make the sign of Horus and is using the button on her jacket as an eye. She is always doing that. She did the same walking down the streets of Paris with the same hand-sign all the time when the PMs of the world were ordered to gather to pay condolences to the murdered members of Charlie Hebdo. A clear message to the world of what counts and who are behind the smiles. Puppets are behind the smiles. The others, even the more powerful parties and PMs and governments are just puppets. Even Merkel herself is noting more than a messenger.

    It doesn’t matter what Szanyi and the others say, nothing will change even if the Orban regime has gone. And if there are changes to come, they will come from the power elite and these little puppets will obey. Szanyi or any others.

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