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The new Hungarian election system’s beneficiaries

On November 30, 2015, the Center for EU Enlargement Studies of the Central European University, with the support of the Budapest Büro of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, has organized an international conference dedicated to the role of elections in young democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. With this international conference, CENS aimed to create an opportunity for critical debate concerning elections in post-communist EU member states by discussing the significance of election results and their far-reaching consequences on EU governance.

Participants represented several countries in the region, including Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

All papers presented at the conference can be reached here.

The paper of Political Capital’s Róbert László is titled as “The new Hungarian election system’s beneficiaries”. The abstract is issued below, the whole paper can be reached here.

Róbert László: The new Hungarian election system’s beneficiaries

Regarding the Hungarian election system restructured between 2010 and 2014 it can be stated that it has not made its creators invincible. While a large number (but not all) of the system’s new components can be said to be applied by other countries as well, its constituent parts converge to create a whole where the current governing party is granted a significant and unjustified– although not insurmountable – advantage over its rivals. However, in criticisms levelled against the election system arguments challenging the system’s democratic credentials and choice of political values and interests are often conflated. Below we shall make an attempt to disentangle these strands and identify components that may actually limit the scope of democratic competition and the ones that “simply” served the prevailing interests of the governing party at the time of the reform process, components that – with a shift in political winds – may even end up favouring other political forces.

It is safe to assume that Fidesz’ guiding principle in promoting the election reform was to guarantee that the new system translate the party’s relative lead in the polls into an absolute majority in the House, i.e., bring the odds of a two-thirds majority closer to reality than ever before. While in the 2014 election the promoters of the legislation managed to pull in another two-thirds victory, an election system is no life insurance: the long-term interests of a political party may shift along a number of criteria and the selected model cannot be guaranteed to work at all times.

People in the governing party are likely to keep this in mind as well and if it becomes necessary to adjust the election system to a shifting political climate, they will not hesitate to make the right moves. However, their effort may run into obstacles on several levels. First, it is difficult to foresee changes in the political landscape through 2018, which means it is unclear in what direction changes should be effected regarding a number of election system components. Second, Fidesz no longer enjoys a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which means it can no longer amend cardinal acts at will. The votes of its 131 delegates are sufficient to modify two-thirds acts only if (1) at least two opposition representatives vote with them, or (2) at least three opposition representatives abstain from voting. If Fidesz finds it politically convenient to modify election laws, it can find ways to win the support of a sufficient number of opposition representatives, or at least it can offer something in return for a vote / not voting.

The policy paper looks at deficiencies in the election system from the perspective of political interests and wishes to make review recommendations exclusively in cases where a basic election principle is violated or the potential for serious fraud is detected. For instance, we shall refrain from criticizing the system’s majority feature or its eased nominating requirements, although we will not pass over in silence the toxic mix created by adding campaign financing regulations. Similarly, we are not going to criticize the voting rights of non-resident Hungarian citizens, although we will definitely mention discrimination in the method of voting and will also call attention to the urgent need for preventing the abuse of deceased non-resident citizens’ personal data and ballots.

Please find the whole paper here.

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