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Fidesz super-majority possible, but comes with major liability

25 January 2010 Szerző: Címkék:, , , , Nincs komment

The closer we get to election day, the more we will hear about Fidesz’s chances of winning a two-thirds majority in parliament.  Fidesz’s rivals will try to spook voters with the spectre of party leader Viktor Orbán getting carte blanche to amend the Constitution.

Orbán is already downplaying his chances of gaining a “super-majority”, saying it would be a “miracle”.

In Hungary, anyone who predicts the number of seats a party will win in parliament does so at their own peril. Hungary’s electoral system is a rat’s nest of variables and algorithms. (US election observers once commented that it helped them understand why a Hungarian was responsible for the Rubik’s Cube.) Voter preferences could also change. However, given the current opinion polls, the political atmosphere and the results of last June’s European Parliament election, Fidesz may well make the miracle happen.

By making some broad assumptions, we can assess whether conditions are ripe for a Fidesz super-majority. Hungarian elections take place in two rounds, with voters casting ballots for both regional party lists and individual candidates in 176 constituencies. Most polls indicate that Fidesz has about three times as many supporters as its nearest rival, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP). Fidesz, who beat the MSZP by a ratio of 3.25:1  in the 2009 elections for European Parliament, needs 258 seats for a two-thirds majority.

Crunching the numbers

Let’s assume Fidesz wins 57-60% of the vote, the MSZP scores 19-20% and the far-right Jobbik takes at least 12%: how many individual constituencies will Fidesz need to pass the two-thirds mark? This depends on a number of variables: First, how many smaller parties pass the 5% threshold for entry to parliament: the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) stands a good chance; Politics Can Be Different (LMP) cannot be ruled out. It also depends on the percentage of votes for parties who do not make it past the 5% threshold, and the regional distribution of voter turnout. So Fidesz will need to win anywhere between 145 and 155 individual mandates to reach the magic number of 258.

Given Fidesz’s runaway opinion-poll lead, the party could conceivably make a clean sweep of all 176 constituencies – especially since the first candidate past the post wins in the second round. Fidesz can lose as many as 20 races in individual constituencies without endangering its super-majority. Unless party preferences shift significantly, 258 is within reach.

The main risk for Fidesz is that its supporters will become overconfident and not bother to cast ballots. Ironically, this danger becomes greater if Fidesz wins big in the first round, because their voters may think that there is not much at stake in the second round.

Fidesz would then be able to alter Hungary’s political landscape. In addition to the power to change the Constitution, Fidesz would be able to rewrite laws that need two-thirds of MPs for amendments, including the media law, local government law and the electoral system. The authors of these statutes required a two-thirds threshold for changes specifically because they wanted legislators to reach consensus. Fidesz could also change laws on the right to assembly, freedom of speech and citizenship for ethnic Hungarians who live in neighbouring countries.

But Orbán’s “miracle” may not be all it is cracked up to be. The government would no longer be able to blame problems on the opposition’s unwillingness to cooperate. Also, Orbán knows that major rewrite of Hungary’s founding charter could backfire – he’s already talking about the need for “symbolic changes”.

Shot themselves in the foot

Politics can change in the blink of an eye. Just ask the MDF, who in 1994 teamed up with the opposition Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) for a two-thirds vote to raise the threshold for entering parliament from 4% to 5%. In the last three elections, these are precisely the parties that a lower barrier would have benefited most.

In the first parliament after the change of system the MDF and SZDSZ had the two biggest caucuses. Soon their popularity began to melt and from the 1998 elections it became a question of whether these parties would be able to cross the 5% threshold.

In 1998, the MDF failed, only gaining seats from the individual constituencies, cooperating with Fidesz. In 2002 they did not even risk running for parliament on their own, so they stood in alliance with Fidesz. In 2006 they ran alone, and they barely managed to enter parliament (5.04% of votes).

Regarding the SZDSZ, in the last three national elections they have managed to enter parliament, but if the threshold had been lower, this would probably  not have been the main question of their campaign.

A cikk a Budapest Times 2010. január 25-ei számában jelent meg.

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