Home » Analyses

Fidesz pushes beyond boundaries of restraint

25 November 2011 Szerző: Címkék:, , 3 komment

The draft electoral law submitted by János Lázár, leader of the governing party’s caucus, on 20 November can be described as a show of strength. On the majority of points the government has opted for the tougher options. It is not guaranteed, however, that Fidesz will be the party to benefit from all the changes.

We would be extremely curious to know what changed between the preceding Thursday, when there were reports that Fidesz might be willing to compromise, and last Sunday, when the draft was submitted. The proposal indicates that Fidesz did not after all manage to rise above its instinctive desire to wipe the floor with its political rivals.

Hitting the little guy

The rules for fielding of candidates have been tightened considerably: 1,500 endorsement slips will have to be collected instead of 750 as in the past, over an area that is one-and-a-half times as big, rather than twice as big. However, there is also some relief: in order for it to be possible to vote for the list of a party in every constituency, 27 candidates will be sufficient (which adds up to 40,000 endorsement slips). Until now fewer slips had to be collected (a total of 36,750 was enough) but they had to cover all the counties and Budapest, while in the future it will be sufficient for a party to concentrate on nine counties of its choice and the capital. Opposition forces capable of cooperation should be able to make astute use of the resulting possibilit

Closer to the first-past-the-post principle

A relatively minor change compared to comments bandied about earlier is that Parliament will have 199 members (106 individual mandates and just 93 mandates from the lists). Most likely that should not be seen as a gesture towards the Socialists (in 2009 the Hungarian Socialist Party put forward an electoral law concept advocating the same number of MPs that has been on the backburner since). It is more probable that it is based on the practical consideration that there cannot be a stalemate situation in a Parliament with a fixed odd number of MPs. Probably it also serves the aim that if one of the national minority or minorities manages to gain a preferential mandate/mandates, the number of MPs will not be increased and instead fewer list mandates will be allocated. Fidesz is likely to welcome the side effect that the system will move closer to the first-pastthe-post principle. The text of the bill essentially solves the constitutional problem concerning disproportional constituencies, but we can hardly speak of Fidesz exercising self-restraint. It was a key requirement that the text of the law should state that the constituencies must form a „coherent area”.

Setting boundaries

Furthermore, the constituencies may not cross county and capital boundaries (although they can cross the Danube; the whole of Budapest Districts I and V, with parts of Districts VIII and IX added on, will form one constituency). Another concession to self-restraint is that only those cities can be divided into several individual constituencies where the “number of those entitled to vote exceeds the average number of those entitled to vote of the individual constituencies”. Put more simply, those cities where there are fewer than 75,000 voters cannot be divided into several electoral districts. Nevertheless, the draft fails to establish that the constituencies should be drawn in a way that best reflects the municipal structure of the given region. In the absence of such principles, most of the cities concerned (such as Miskolc, Szeged and Pécs) have been divided into constituencies in such a way that agglomeration settlements have also been added to each (to a greater or lesser extent), while in Debrecen and Székesfehérvár electoral districts have been carved out that are without such small settlements. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the map makers were influenced by the database, broken down by wards, of the last elections.

Some restraint

The draft law more or less complies with the recommendation of the Venice Commission in that it states the number of voters in the constituencies should not deviate by more than 15 percent from the average. If disproportionalities reoccur because of population movement, resulting in a constituency with 20 percent more or fewer people living there than the average, Parliament has to amend the constituency boundaries. It would have been more fortunate to take the right to draw the map out of the hands of the politicians and to create an independent committee to establish the constituency boundaries, but of course it would be too much to expect the government to tie its hands in such a way, and we should just be pleased that an important safeguard has entered the law in any case. In fact, there is also another such element: the map of constituencies may not be amended “in the period between the first day of the year preceding the general election and the completion of the general election”. Let’s not go into what happens if the number of voters in a constituency crosses the critical limit precisely in the year before the elections…

Not easy to manipulate

Where there are electoral districts the risk of gerrymandering cannot be eliminated, although it can be moderated. The main safeguards are set out in the text of the law, but the room for establishing a political advantage is restricted most by the fact that the whole country has to be divided into a total of 106 constituencies, and in such a way that the county boundaries are not crossed. In 12 counties there will be a total of just two to four individual constituencies, which allows few possibilities to manipulate the results substantially. In Budapest and the cities, however, there is plenty of leeway; in addition to the examples referred to above, the attachment of Budapest’s District XIII to District IV is suggestive of such an attempt. The conspicuously meandering line would mean just one Socialist mandate, rather than two based on the 2010 results.

Second round out

As was expected, the second round will be scrapped. The only source of surprise was that – in contrast to the proposal made – there will not be a validity threshold. In other words, it will not be necessary for half of those entitled to vote to do so in order for the election to be valid (the election will only be invalid if votes are tied, but even in that case a by-election rather than a second round has to be called).

Alongside the rules for fielding candidates, the most striking indication that self-moderation is still not one of Fidesz’s hallmarks is that the most extreme of the ideas for compensating the winner has found its way into the bill, according to which not only will votes for candidates that lose in individual constituencies be added to the votes for the national lists, but also the votes for the winner that are not “used up” in gaining the individual seat in Parliament.

The significance of that would be minimal if power relations are balanced, while if one party is significantly more popular than the others (as was the case in 2010), such distorting elements are not necessary for it to acquire a twothirds majority. However, in a party system with several poles, the effect is simply unpredictable.

It is not difficult, however, to describe power relations (which are not inconceivable) under which Fidesz would lose out as a result. If, for example, the candidates of the centre-left forces win comfortably in several Budapest districts and Jobbik wins in the country’s crisis zones, while Fidesz can only acquire its constituencies by a relatively small margin, then the opposition forces could benefit from the extra compensation. Of course greater or lesser gestures can be expected right up until the last minute, and the system “compensating the winners” is a typically expendable element – as was seen during the framing of the law on local government elections.

On 7 October János Áder remarked at the Academy of Sciences that a decision had not yet been made about whether half or a third of the number of votes to secure a regular mandate will be sufficient to secure a preferential mandate. The question has been decided: according  to the draft, a quarter will be sufficient. The aim presumably is to make it possible for the German and possibly the Slovakian minorities, rather than just the Gypsy minority, to have a chance of getting a representative into Parliament. Perhaps the national minority candidates will be those keeping their fingers crossed most of all that the government majority will not depend on their mandates.

The analysis was published in Budapest Times on November 25 2011.


Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.