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Botka admitted the failure of his strategy, reactions to Socialist PM candidate's resignation

The Democratic Coalition said that with his resignation, Botka had admitted the "failure of his strategy". Party spokesman Zsolt Gréczy said that the "confusion" within the Socialist Party half a year before the election harmed the entire opposition. He said DK regretted that Botka "was unable to adjust his strategy" when he saw he was failing to achieve his goals.

DK has tried to talk with Botka several times, Gréczy said, and cited Ujhelyi as saying that the "disagreement with DK was not at the root of the problems". DK will not appoint a PM candidate, Gréczy said, adding that the party's list will be headed by leader Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Gyula Molnár, the leader of the socialist party thanked Mr Botka for his leadership. He added: "Those who are opening champagne bottles, are not truly the friends of the party. We may have lost this battle, but we haven't lost the war. Mr Molnár promised to carry on the policies that Mr Botka started. According to the governing party, Mr Botka was just a same old socialist, who voted for higher taxes and agreed to short-change old age pensioners. Nothing changed on the left, they added.

On the one hand I'm happy, on the other hand I am not - this is how the head of Democratic Coalition (DK) reacted on ATV television to the news that Botka had resigned. Mr. Gyurcsány said that the socialists (MSZP) are in trouble now but he isn't in a victorious mood at all. He didn't stand up to snatch voters away from MSZP but he added that if DK does what it has to do than voters would come over to vote for them. The former socialist PM Gyurcsány said that Mr. Botka should have strived more to face the challenges of politics on a country-wide level. Mr. Botka thought everyone was his enemy and he behaved accordingly, the party head of DK said. Mr. Gyurcsány also said that his own party operates professionally to prepare for the campaign. He also added that the role of DK becomes more and more important because the stability and the normality they offer is something that could attract voters. He finally added that it wasn't time to open up a champagne now but it's high time to feel responsibility and to sit to make an agreement with the democratic opposition parties. He underlined that he is an opponent of governing Fidesz and not of MSZP and said that an agreement on the candidates for all 106 constituencies will be made now that Mr. Botka has left the stage.

The small LMP said in a statement that it respected Botka's resignation as an internal affair. It added that the party would continue to fight against the Orbán government and fight for social justice while striving to represent those who have lost faith following Botka's resignation. The leader of the Hungarian Liberal Party, which had recently entered into an election pact with the Socialists, said he regretted Botka's resignation, since he had been a candidate not only of the Socialists but the democratic opposition overall. Gábor Fodor said the liberals continued to stand ready for talks on cooperating with the Socialists, adding that it was up to the Socialists.

Dialogue co-chair Gergely Karácsony said Botka's resignation was a loss but also an opportunity for the opposition to start talks concerning individual candidates. Dialogue still believes that it is possible to replace the government, he said, and is open to talks with all opposition parties in order to select just one opposition candidate for each of the 106 constituencies to compete against Fidesz, he added. Együtt said it acknowledged Botka's withdrawal but continued to have trust in cooperation with LMP, Momentum and Dialogue in order to ensure that a single candidate of the democratic opposition competes in every constituency.

Some MSZP party officials claim that Botka's resignation was totally unexpected. As 24.hu put it, MSZP leaders are "stunned and paralyzed." They described it as something that came as suddenly as a bolt of lightning from the clear blue sky. Sorry, folks, I can't believe this version of the story. The handwriting had been on the wall for some time. And since last Wednesday, when Medián published its disastrous numbers indicating that MSZP's popularity among active voters had dipped below 10%, Botka's fall was inevitable. On that day I predicted (admittedly not in writing) that Botka would resign within a week. To continue the agony would have been foolhardy.

Who is responsible for this inglorious end to an initially promising candidate? If you were to believe László Botka, the answer is simple: everybody except him. In his version of the story, Fidesz sent its agents to unseat him, while certain MSZP "forces" gave up the struggle to get rid of the present regime and either didn't support him or actually undermined his efforts. He mysteriously referred to "the political mafia that has enmeshed all the democratic parties," including his own. But Botka is mistaken. Most of the blame falls on his shoulders.

Initially left-wing supporters were enthusiastic about Botka's candidacy. He was a very successful politician, serving as the long-time mayor of Szeged, a large city by Hungarian standards. Soon after his appearance on the national stage, however, these people began to have doubts. It was also hard to understand why Botka courted LMP time and again when, if there was one party that couldn't be convinced to cooperate, it was LMP.

In the first two months or so MSZP's support moved up a couple of percentage points, and Botka's own popularity one month reached or perhaps just surpassed that of Orbán. But soon after, things started to change. The number of MSZP voters kept shrinking along with Botka's popularity. At that point a talented politician should have taken stock of the situation and seriously considered a change of strategy. But not Botka. The worse the situation got, the more he insisted that his "winning strategy" was the key to success.

Surely one would expect the leadership in such a situation to sit down with the candidate and talk things over. Perhaps he was adamant and they were caught in a situation from which there was no good way out. Botka several times accused certain people in his own party of all sorts of sins, but if the party leadership was guilty of anything, it was giving Botka a blank check at the very beginning. The members of the presidium and the board should have known that his refusal to deal with Ferenc Gyurcsány would not float. Or that his arrogant comments about the smaller parties would not endear him to the leaders of these groups. Probably these two decision-making bodies themselves were split on strategy and that therefore time was wasted on fighting among the leading MSZP politicians.

The fate of MSZP is up in the air. Some analysts foresee a rupture, resulting in some MSZP leaders, especially from the Budapest party center, leaving the party and moving over to DK, together with their voters. Others wouldn't be surprised if MSZP simply disappeared, the way SZDSZ ceased to exist in 2010. Its voters might scatter all over. Some might decide to vote for LMP, which is clearly trying to attract left-leaning voters. Jobbik might also pick up voters from MSZP. Whatever the eventual scenario, these three parties are bound to profit from the incredible weakening or even possible demise of MSZP.

László Botka's most enthusiastic supporter was István Ujhelyi, one of the vice chairmen of MSZP and the party's representative in the European Parliament. For many years he had represented Szeged in parliament and therefore his backing of Botka made sense. Unfortunately, Ujhelyi believes, along with Botka, that Botka's fall was due to the disloyal MSZP leadership. He even talked about a coup against his friend within the party. Ujhelyi therefore decided to resign from his position as vice chairman of the party. At the other end of the spectrum, Tibor Szanyi, the party's enfent terrible who is also an MSZP member of the European Parliament, spared no words about the cowardice of Botka and his attacks on his own party. These kinds of squabbles can be expected to continue, inevitably leading to the further weakening of the party. All in all, the prospects are grim for the once powerful MSZP.

Népszava's Gábor Horváth calls Botka's resignation a tragic event. The left-wing commentator fears that the MSZP frontrunner's decision will further weaken the Left and lead to total chaos on the opposition turf. The rivals of the Socialists, he explains, may profit from MSZP's weakness in the short run, but it makes it even more likely that Fidesz will again secure a two-thirds majority in Parliament next year. In that case, Horváth believes, it would become extremely difficult for the opposition parties to rise and mount credible challenge to Fidesz any time soon.

In Magyar Nemzet, Albert Gazda likens the MSZP's performance to a tragicomedy. The centrist columnist recalls that the MSZP has been in decline since the late 1990s. Gazda thinks that the Socialist party may soon experience the fate of the SZDSZ and the MDF, the MSZP's main challengers after the shift to democracy in 1990, which have already disappeared from the Hungarian political scene.

In Magyar Idők, Ottó Gajdics believes that Mr Botka should not blame his failure on external factors. The pro-government commentator thinks that he has not been any less corrupt than other politicians on the Left and thus finds it not at all surprising that Botka could not convince voters of his fitness to govern. In conclusion, Gajdics hopes that all left-wing politicians who try to raise support by blaming all ills on PM Orbán will follow in Botka's footsteps and disappear from public life.

Source: MTI; Hungarianspectrum.org; budapost.eu

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