József Tóbiás wants to shift into higher gear. At least this is what the new chairman of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) is promising: to strengthen the party and work for a “better Hungary”.
But some say he is a political lightweight.
Since the municipal elections in autumn 2006 the MSZP has suffered one defeat after another, culminating in the resignation of chairman Attila Mesterházy (2009-2014) in May and leaving the former ruling party (1994-1998, 2002-2010) weak and disoriented.
Tóbiás was elected to front MSZP under these circumstances. It’s obvious how badly the MSZP is doing when we consider that he was the only candidate, despite lacking quality. At the extraordinary party congress that elected him this month, Szeged mayor László Botka was confirmed as chairman of the party committee and the almost unknown Zoltán Gőgös was elected deputy chairman.
In his first speech as MSZP chairman, Tóbiás said the party will return to its “traditional values” under his leadership. The Socialists want to support those people in a bad social situation and to re-establish the shaken trust in the Hungarian rule of law. He spoke about the importance of communication, saying peace is not the same as lack of conflict but is much more like a dialogue, which allows conflicts to be discussed and eliminated.
Tóbiás emphasised that all Hungarians should have equal chances and the same rights. The left governments in the past 25 years had not always given enough thought to this. Now it would be basic MSZP policy. “Without the security of the law there is no existential security,” he said. And “Nobody should be broke due to the inequality of chances in this country.”
He promised not only a “new social contract” but a “decent left-wing program”. The MSZP would neither fluctuate in its policies nor “parade ideas”. There would be sober and prudent policy. This also meant that the party would refrain from defaming its political opponents. MSZP “does not want to be the loudest, rather the largest party” in the country.
Tóbiás said that currently there is no way of avoiding cooperation between the forces of the left spectrum. In the long term, however, MSZP did not want to be part of a “rainbow coalition” along with the Democratic Coalition (DK) party led by former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány (2004-2009) and the alliance Together-Dialogue for Hungary founded by another former prime minister, Gordon Bajnai (2009-2010). The Socialists would act much more like an “independent power”.
Political scientist Zoltán Kiszelly believes that the new and old leadership of the MSZP have made an agreement. This would be the only explanation for several protagonists from the Mesterházy era, for example Ágnes Kunhalmi (leader of the MSZP in Budapest) and Zoltán Lukács, also securing positions in the new leadership.
Kiszelly also pointed out that the representatives of the old generation, including Ildikó Lendvai, a former leader of the party, have been left out of the new leadership. Lendvai and other prominent figures from the MSZP’s past, Imre Szekeres and János Veres, have just founded the liberal Deák István circle to tackle a renewal of the party.
If Tóbiás performs well at the municipal elections in October, Lendvai and her followers will back down inside the party permanently, Kiszelly said. If he does badly, the possibility of a Lendvai-wing comeback is not ruled out. The political scientist doubts that Tóbiás and the “almost fully unknown new leadership” can make the MSZP a serious opponent for the government again.
Should the Socialists continue their “grey and lame policy” of previous years, even the right-radical Jobbik party could triumph over them, Kiszelly said. He pointed out that Gyurcsány’s DK is “much braver” and Bajnai’s party alliance is “much more creative” than MSZP.
Ágoston Mráz, director of pro-government research institution Nézőpont Intézet, said the public had not learned anything at the Socialist party congress about how MSZP would be renewed. Mráz said Tóbiás’ first performance was “powerless and empty”. He had not given any answers to the urgent problems of the Socialists, and had failed to announce clearly the separation of the party and DK, which has been openly fishing from MSZP’s voter pool for a long time.
Mráz said that based on Tóbiás’ lame presentation he is only a temporary solution as MSZP leader. Many members already wanted László Botka to lead them.