March 8, 2009
The picture on the Liberal political field is as simple as on the Socialist, so this is the second post in a series of the Hungarian MEP candidate lists. The Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) is a member of the ALDE group in the European Parliament and ELDR – European Liberal Democrats party group. It’s aim is simple: to survive the election and send at least one delegate to the European assembly.
After the reinstallation of democracy and the leaving of the Russian troops SZDSZ had the second largest national assembly group in the Hungarian Parliament in 1990-1994 (remaining in opposition) and 1994-1998 (going into coalition with the post-Communist MSZP). It gave the first president to the new republic (Mr Árpád Göncz, whose daughter is now leading the Socialist list) and the first mayor of the capital city Budapest, Mr. Gábor Demszky, who is the second on the current SZDSZ-list. The coalition with the former communists have eroded SZDSZ’s popularity from 20% to 5-7%. The party’s stronghold became Budapest, where Mr Demszky was re-elected four times in a popular vote. His position, the mayor of Budapest, is the highest seat that is directly elected in Hungary.
SZDSZ has participated in three consequitve Socialist-led governments between 2002-2008 and took on the role as the minor left-wing party which is somewhat more liberal and free market oriented than the major party. When the government and its two parties lost popular support, a bitter infighting started and SZDSZ left the coalition behind in 2008. Ironically, the Socialist minority government survives in the Parliament with the votes of the two small parties, who would probably fall out from the Parliament in the new elections. This leaves the options of the Liberal candidates very limited: they must prove that they can still jump the 5% treshold and send at least one candidate to the ALDE group again.
The SZDSZ list is lead by Mr. István Szent-Iványi (MEP), who played a neutral role in the bitter infighting within SZDSZ between 2007-2008. Although he is not a very widely known politicians, he is a favorite in the core party base as the person who embodies party unity in difficult times. Like the other candidate, they are the only major politicians of SZDSZ who did not loose credit in these very nasty infighting among the core Liberal voters, probably 5% of the electorate.
The second candidate, Mr. Gábor Demszky, the mayor of Budapest is a real heavy-weight politician. He is a formidable campaigner, and the most successful election winner in Hungary’s new democracy. As the president and the prime minister is elected by the parliamentary majority, he gets the most popular votes and was re-elected in the 1.8 million strong capital city four times. A former member of Hungary’s underground democratic opposition, from where SZDSZ grew out, he became very young in 1990. The right-wing successfully branded him as the politician representing ‘urban’ and ‘cosmopolitian’ values of ‘true’ and ‘rural’ Hungary. It may have helped the demise of SZDSZ but only strengthened Mr Demszky who started to claim the embody Budapest’s urban and cosmopolitan values and successfully widened his appeal very much beyond the Liberal voters. His popularity in Budapest has probably saved SZDSZ from falling out the national assembly.
Mr Demszky has debuted as a Hungarian MEP in 2004 but a strange legal ruling found that he cannot hold an MEP’s and Budapest mayoral office at the same time. (He was campaigning on the ticket he will represent not the parties but Budapest in the EP). He gave up his seat to Ms Viktoria Mohácsi at that time, a young hopeful of SZDSZ, who became the second Roma MEP.
If SZDSZ achieves its aim it will probably send Mr Szent-Iványi into the MEP, who might later give up his seat to somebody else on the party list if he is badly needed for the survival in the 2010 national elections. It is not impossible that Mr Demszky would like to have another bullet point in his strong but very short resumé: he has been serving now for 20 years as mayor of Budapest which is his first legal job. (He had been an editor of the Hungarian samizdat in his early years).
In fact, SZDSZ is fighting a two-way battle besides trying to attract back its core voters who were disgusted by the infighting within the party between 2007-2008. Some of their voters became supporters of the Socialist party because they feel it a safer choice to avert a right-wing victory in the elections. Others have defected to MDF, a small centrist right-wing party which has been representing Liberal economic policy and a strong middle-class message, and it looks that it will run with a Liberal favorite on the top of its list.Dániel Antal