Hungary's socialists seem to be throwing in the towel

Change seems to be afoot all across the European Union these days. While Chancellor Angela Merkel may have held on to power, her centrist socialist coalition lost a lot of ground and the right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party gained a strong foothold. But that’s not the only place where such shifts have been taking place. The socialists in Hungary had been hoping to retake power in that nation during next year’s elections, wresting at least some control from Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party.

Those plans hit a major setback this week when the presumed socialist candidate, Laszlo Botka, preemptively dropped out, claiming that his coalition wasn’t going to be able to pull off the feat. Further, he claims that agents of Fidesz had infiltrated his own party. (Reuters)

The Hungarian Socialist Party’s candidate to be prime minister after the 2018 parliamentary election resigned on Monday, accusing a “political mafia” of undermining leftist parties he had hoped would support him.

The Socialists governed Hungary for three terms in the 1990s and 2000s and tried to forge a leftist coalition to try to unseat populist right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the favorite to win a third straight term next April.

But Laszlo Botka, chosen as the Socialist candidate in January, said fellow opposition parties were not fighting hard enough to replace Orban, whose Fidesz party he said had infiltrated the opposition.

“I made a mistake,” Botka wrote in a statement on Monday. “I did not think democratic parties only wanted a few seats in the Parliament of the Orban regime and not victory in 2018… I did not know how much a political mafia has infused the democratic opposition, including my own party.”

It’s always dangerous to make assumptions about foreign cultures based on your own experience, but we’re talking about politics here and some rules seem to be shared across international boundaries. What the Socialist candidate isn’t mentioning in his remarks is the fact that the leftist coalition he was trying to hammer together included smaller parties with candidates who also wanted to run for Prime Minister. Botka’s offer apparently included a demand that they step aside and support him in advance for a run against Orban. That didn’t sit well with some of them, so the needed coalition failed to firm up. That, of course, led to the circular firing squad and festival of finger pointing which we’re seeing play out now, not to mention the lack of a viable candidate for Prime Minister unless they can scramble and find a replacement quickly.

It’s also rather curious that Botka is accusing Orban’s party of “infiltrating” the leftist organizations to sow dissent. Don’t they know who their own members are? It just seems strange that some random right-winger could wander into the heart of one of the smaller socialist factions, presumably as an anonymous troll (otherwise they’d know the person was a Fidesz supporter), and suddenly be vaulted into a powerful enough position to set of a schism.

In what might turn out to be something of another parallel to American politics, perhaps Botka’s party is simply in denial about what the people of Hungary want and are willing to support. The Socialists are still all gung-ho for the EU and open borders, while Orban has been fighting them tooth and claw, putting up fences and shutting down illegal migration entirely. As much as Botka may want to be in denial about it, that’s proven to be a pretty popular formula in that nation.

Rather than engaging in some sort of civil war among his own backers, perhaps he could be reflecting on whether the people of Hungary are truly interested in buying what he’s trying to sell. Call it nationalism or populism or any other ism you’d care to tack on. If the voters of Hungary are looking for security and safety they probably aren’t going to be easily swayed back to the socialist side of the fence.