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Szeged mayor quits Socialist Party

László Botka, the long-serving, recently reelected mayor of Szeged and one-time candidate for prime minister of the Socialist Party (MSzP), announced he is quitting the party for good on Monday, according to a report by independent news portal Index.hu.

László Botka (photo: Tibor Végh, Wikimedia Commons)

Botka informed the MSzPʼs Szeged organization about his decision on Monday.

"Those who paid attention to my movements could see that I already made a decision in spirit about quitting two years ago," Botka told Index.hu. "However, I did not want it to become the theme of public discourse during the election campaign periods last year and this year."

Botka stepped down as the Socialist candidate for prime minister in October 2017, ahead of the general elections the following year, after his political philosophy ran into significant opposition from other party members. A month before he stepped down, the MSzPʼs support stood at 12% among the entire population, making it then the second most popular party behind Prime Minister Viktor Orbánʼs Fidesz, according to a poll by Publicus.

As of October 2019, the MSzP-Dialogue for Hungary alliance stands at 7% among all voters, according to the same polling organization. The number puts the Socialists firmly as only the third strongest opposition force, behind Momentum and the Democratic Coalition. The latter is headed by former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány, who led the country in the colors of the MSzP in 2004-2009.

Despite his departure, Botka said he wishes his former colleagues well, saying that he does not want to "sling mud" at his former party. He will continue in his job at the helm of Szeged as a member of the Alliance for Szeged Association (Összefogás Szegedért Egyesület), a joint opposition grouping under whose banner he successfully ran for reelection as mayor.

In the municipal elections this October 13, Botka achieved his biggest victory yet in Szeged, where he has been mayor since 2002, winning an overwhelming 60.56% of the vote, against 36.43% for the government-backed candidate.

MSzP President Bertalan Tóth said that while he was sad to hear about Botkaʼs decision, he has no doubt about his democratic commitment and left-wing credentials, adding that Botka has been leading Szeged in an exemplary way.