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Nothing is set in stone

14 October 2011 Szerző: Címkék:, , Nincs komment

Knocking together a new electoral system, Fidesz-style

Political Capital Institute and Social Development Institute analyse the reform of the electoral system and report on the operation of the new system and its anticipated consequences with the assistance of the Think Tank Fund of the Open Society Foundations.

Owing to changing political interests, there has been and still is serious debate even within Fidesz about the new election law, the final result of which we now know almost exactly.

Because it is difficult to foresee how the party system will change in the coming years, the governing parties’ strategists are finding it difficult to determine which election system would benefit the Fidesz-led alliance in the next election (or at most two elections) – it is impossible to plan further ahead than that.

It is certain, however, that after the rewriting of the Constitution, the passing of the new election law will be the most important political act of the coming six months and will meet with intense interest abroad.

Winner-takes-all principle

The new system marks a large step towards first-past-the-post systems, because there will be a greater proportion of individual constituency seats (106) and a smaller proportion of seats based on the party lists (94) than in the past. Fidesz is strengthening the winner-takes-all principle because it trusts that even if it loses support it can remain the relatively largest political force in Hungary.

It is striving to ensure that it will be sufficient for it to take home the majority of Parliament mandates. That could happen if, for example, the number of people voting for its party list falls by roughly 30 to 40 per cent, but most of its individual candidates win seats because this opposition is so divided.

The scrapping of the second election round, which is all but certain, serves the same purpose. It is quite possible that Fidesz, which won a two-thirds majority with 52 per cent support in the 2010 elections, could still gain the majority of seats in Parliament in the next elections with 30 per cent support.

Still a gamble

Of course first-past-the-post systems are extremely risky simply because it is easier to obtain a two-thirds majority – that also applies to the opposition forces, which today still seem weak. A two-thirds majority is of great significance because it would enable the opponents of the Orbán government to rewrite the new Constitution and the cornerstone laws that are being drafted. Although the final text of the bill is not yet known, it is probable that Fidesz will not shrink from such a risk.

Votes from abroad

In Hungary many fear that citizens living beyond the borders, who will be given the right to vote, will determine the outcome of the elections. There are signs that there is alarm at such a prospect in Fidesz too, which is why a method has been devised to reduce considerably the weight of such votes from abroad.

The simplified procedure to acquire citizenship will certainly result in about 500,000 new potential voters, but apart from them there are several million Hungarian emigrants who live everywhere from the USA to Australia who have not lost their Hungarian citizenship. If they wish to take advantage of their new right to vote, they will have to register in advance.
For that reason (and because of other difficulties) it is likely that only a relatively small proportion will make use of their votes. However, because no information is available about the total number of Hungarian citizens living abroad, their propensity to vote or their party preferences, there is absolute uncertainty as to whether we are talking about a few thousand additional voters or perhaps 1-2 million.

Whatever their numbers, it has already been decided that they will not be able to elect individual candidates. They will be entitled to vote only for the national lists of the parties (the same lists as Hungarian citizens with their permanent residence in Hungary vote for). The method of calculation will be rather complicated, with the result that votes from abroad will be lucky to have an impact on 3-5 per cent of the total mandates.

There is a problem with that: the Venice Commission, which is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, is likely to raise its eyebrows at voters living in Hungary having two votes while those living outside the borders have just one vote.

Make seek opposition support

Of course nothing is set in stone. Those within Fidesz would like to avoid a situation in which only its MPs vote to pass the election law, as was the case with the Constitution. In an effort to win the favours of the Politics Can Be Different (LMP) party, the possibility of abolishing the much-outdated system of endorsement slips, which abounds with data-protection problems and creates a black market, has even arisen. If the LMP really puts its foot down, it is not out of the question that the second round will remain.

Fidesz could easily sell the liberal-green party down the river. While Fidesz has its two-thirds parliamentary majority, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the party will pass the new law, taking advantage of the LMP’s votes, and then amend it later – possibly even a few months ahead of the next elections.

A cikk a Budapest Times 2011. október 14-i számában jelent meg.

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