MSZP nominates Szeged mayor László Botka as united opposition candidate for prime minister

December 23, 2016

The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) has nominated Szeged mayor László Botka to be “the prime ministerial candidate of the democratic opposition in 2018,” reports index.hu. Negotiations between MSZP and other opposition parties to find a joint candidate culminated in the party, by far the largest in the left-wing opposition, endorsing Botka.

“In the last six months, through discussions with other opposition parties, MSZP has represented exactly what László Botka recommended: a common opposition list, the running of the strongest candidates in the voting districts, and a new left-wing politics,” MSZP announced in a statement today. “MSZP leadership supports Laszló Botka to be the prime ministerial candidate of the democratic opposition in 2018.”

Botka’s nomination by MSZP comes after months of searching by the democratic opposition parties for a candidate who could realistically unseat Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz-KDNP alliance, an aim that, due to infighting and fragmentation on the left, has done little to bring opposition parties together in recent months. However, Botka is the most popular MSZP politician, and surveys show he has wide appeal across party lines, and has recently softened his opposition to working together with other opposition parties going into the 2018 election.

“It seems to the voters that the opposition does not want to win in 2018,” Botka had said in an interview with weekly news magazine 168 Óra. “If the left-wing parties continue fighting for position against each other, then the result will be even worse in two years than it was in 2014.”

In that interview, Botka set forth three conditions for accepting his party’s nomination: first, that the opposition parties should run on a common list instead of as individual parties, meaning that voters would choose to vote for a joint list including all participating opposition parties, rather than choosing their individual favorite party. Second, that candidates in all 106 electoral districts should be selected based on their electability and not their party affiliation, meaning that the opposition would seek to get opposition representatives elected in as many constituencies as possible, regardless of what party they belong to. And third, that the left opposition parties must make an agreement on new, common policies and values.

However, mno.hu reports that Democratic Coalition (DK) is not yet convinced of the immediate need for unity. The party’s press secretary, Zsolt Gréczy, told the conservative daily that neither his party’s leadership nor other opposition parties had discussed who ought to lead the opposition as the candidate for prime minister. The opposition needs to seek the kind of prime ministerial candidate who has the best chance of defeating Orbán, “but for now, it’s not yet time,” Gréczy said.

Index.hu reports that MSZP and DK leaders are currently planning how to run a joint candidate but still have their own individual party lists, which makes it seem unlikely that other, smaller opposition parties will be willing to run on a joint list in 2018. Indeed, Együtt has indicated that it will run its own party lists, and insists that there be a primary in the case of a joint prime ministerial candidate. Dialogue for Hungary (PM), while it agrees with Botka’s three conditions, also insists that if he is to be the candidate, then he should be able to win a primary. The Hungarian Liberal Party (MLP), for its part, believes that a joint opposition candidate is necessary, and that the affected parties cannot afford to wait until the last moment again to find one.

László Botka joined MSZP when he was 18, and led the party’s youth movement during his undergraduate law studies. He won his district in 1994 national elections, and at 21 was the youngest member of parliament. He was an MP 1994 and 2014, except for a four-year break between 1998 and 2002.  He has been mayor of the southern city of Szeged since 2002.  Szeged is the fourth-largest city in Hungary by population after Budapest, Debrecen and Miskolc.  It is the only major Hungarian city to be led by a Socialist mayor.