Socialist party elects old faces, hopes for renewal

July 7, 2016

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“The socialists – constantly talking about the need for reform – couldn’t have found a better person to demonstrate that they have no idea how to dispose of even the most embarrassing episode of their post-1989 history.” – Index.hu

The Hungarian Socialist Party (Magyar Szocialista Párt – MSZP) is taking renewal to a whole new level. After electing former Budapest 11th district mayor Gyula Molnár party chairman, its Budapest 7th district chapter elected György Hunvald as its president despite Hunvald having served three years in preliminary custody on charges of corruption, for which he was eventually convicted.

Budapest, 2016. június 30. Molnár Gyula, a Magyar Szocialista Párt (MSZP) új elnöke interjút ad az MTI újságírójának Budapesten 2016. június 29-én. MTI Fotó: Balogh Zoltán
Gyula Molnár, newly elected chairman of the Hungarian Socialist Party. Photo: MTI/Balogh Zoltán

To make matters even worse, Hungary’s highest court annulled the previous judgment against Hunvald a few days ago, ruling that all penalty cases of the former mayor must be held under the same hearing.

As Hungarian news website Index.hu put it, “the socialists – constantly talking about the need for reform – couldn’t have found a better person to demonstrate that they have no idea how to dispose of even the most embarrassing episode of their post-1989 history”.

Lagging behind

MSZP is indeed in trouble. According to a poll conducted by Medián Institute, the Socialists are lagging behind far-right Jobbik in popularity. While 37 percent of the adult population support the governing party Fidesz, 12 percent would cast their vote for Jobbik and only 9 percent for the Socialists.

Members of MSZP now hope that their recently elected president Gyula Molnár will do what it takes to defeat Fidesz in the 2018 elections.  However, a quick survey by The Budapest Beacon suggests MSZP has once again shot itself in the foot.

Indeed, even the election of Molnár raised some eyebrows within the inner circle of the party. Although the former mayor of Budapest’s 11th district was acquitted of all charges, many remember his criminal trial concerning the privatization of a large plot of municipal ground fronting on the Danube just south of the Rákóczi bridge. as well as shady contracts behind the prestigious Hadik Café.

Budapest, 2016. július 6. Molnár Gyula pártelnök (b5), Tóth Bertalan megválasztott frakcióvezetõ (b3), Burány Sándor megválasztott általános frakcióvezetõ-helyettes (b6), Velez Árpád megválasztott frakcióigazgató (b2), Varga László (b), Tóth Csaba (b4) és Szakács László (b7) megválasztott frakcióvezetõ-helyettesek, valamint Budai Bernadett szóvivõ (j) a Magyar Szocialista Párt (MSZP) tisztújító frakcióülése után tartott sajtótájékoztatón a Képviselõi Irodaházban 2016. július 6-án. MTI Fotó: Szigetváry Zsolt
The new parliamentary faction of MSZP. Photo: MTI /Szigetváry Zsolt

Good work takes time

Those asked by The Budapest Beacon said Molnár was probably not the best candidate for the post, but that he should be given some time to prove himself. On the other hand, many were disappointed by former party president József Tóbiás for failing to reform the Socialists. They all hope Molnár will be the one to join forces with other opposition parties, as there is likely no other way to defeat the governing Fidesz-KDNP alliance, or Jobbik for that matter.

The election of István Hiller as head of the party presidium is also cause for concern. Many MPs don’t understand why their most popular politician, László Botka, resigned from the presidium and was let go.  The long-serving mayor of Szeged is considered by many to be the ideal joint opposition candidate for prime minister in 2018, but his resignation suggests such a candidacy is not on the cards.

Speaking to Hungarian news website Origo.hu, Molnár said he still counts on Botka as a candidate. He also thinks parties on the left must put an end to taking votes from each other. As for the election of György Hunvald, the new chairman was not so lenient. Although he claimed members of the municipal organization voted autonomously, he will keep a close eye on the former 7th district mayor and will voice his reservations in case Hunvald wants to run for higher office.

Hunvald György a Szegedi Ítélõtáblán. 2013.09.05. Fotó: Móricz Simon
György Hunvald was sentenced to 18 months in prison

Surprise for all

Other MSZP members were not so understanding. Former MSZP chairman Attila Mesterházy told Hungarian news website propeller.hu he was surprised by Hunvald’s election.

“I wouldn’t have thought he was to hold any position in the party,” Mesterházy said.

MSZP`s Ildikó Lendvai showed solidarity with the former mayor but even she thought Hunvald should have waited for his criminal trial to end before running for office.

Zoltán Gőgös, on the other hand, voiced a different opinion.

“If a community is humiliated by convicting its leader based on trumped-up charges, it should be a normal human reaction for the community to bring this leader back,” he said.

No party, no office

It is certain that the Socialists have a difficult road ahead if they wish to continue on the path to renewal. On Wednesday, the new leaders of the parliamentary faction were elected, bringing back even more old faces.

Apart from the personnel changes, MSZP has some other issues to deal with, like finding a suitable office for Molnár. According to Index.hu, as Molnár is not a Member of Parliament he cannot use the former office of his predecessor Tóbiás, who resided in the “White House” of MPs. As the Socialists don’t even have their own office building, Molnár will work from his 11th district office in the near future.