Until now LMP (Lehet Más a Politika = Politics Can Be Different) loudly proclaimed its “independence” and was bent on going it alone, despite the increasing odds against victory. It is worth recalling that MSZP tried to put forth a joint candidate for mayor of Budapest but LMP refused any cooperation. Result: the LMP candidate received 9% of the votes. Only lately, in two by-elections, with a joint candidate the two parties could have won. Separately they lost to Fidesz.
However, these failures didn’t deter András Schiffer, the leader of LMP’s parliamentary delegation, from attacking MSZP politicians, most often Ferenc Gyurcsány. Never, never, but never will LMP cooperate with MSZP, he said.
That was the situation until this weekend when we saw the first signs of a change in mind set. I don’t know why it took so long for LMP politicians to realize that a splintered opposition has no chance of ever defeating Fidesz at the next elections. I think the final jolt was the announcement of János Áder, EP member in charge of “coordination” of the work on a new electoral law, that woke them up.
Let me give some background on the electoral law question. The second Orbán government wasn’t even formed yet when Róbert Répássy, today undersecretary in the Ministry of Administration and Justice, announced that legislation on a new electoral law must be voted on soon. Accordingly they set up a subcommittee charged with working out the details. MSZP, LMP, and Jobbik could each delegate one person to the subcommittee. The chairman was the same László Salamon who chaired the subcommittee that worked hard on revising the constitution only to learn in the last minute that the committee’s recommendations had been ignored and József Szájer, another Fidesz EP member, would write the whole thing on his I-Pad. Well, something like that happened to Salamon again. János Áder, the “coordinator,” paid not the slightest attention to the work of the subcommittee and came up with an entirely new version that most likely reflects the ideas of Viktor Orbán and his closest associates.
It was last Saturday that Áder announced that the Steering Committee of Fidesz accepted his version of the bill that will be discussed further by the Fidesz parliamentary caucus. This is what a “coordinator” does. Completely sidesteps the work of the subcommittee. András Schiffer (LMP) and Mónika Lamperth (MSZP) immediately walked out of the subcommittee. Lamperth also suggested to Salamon that he resign, but it seems that for the Christian Democrat two humiliations are not enough. He is trying to console himself that after all this is not the final text.
The details of the proposed new electoral law were, it seems, a wake-up call for LMP. Here is a telling photo of András Schiffer (on the right) and Gergely Karácsony (deputy leader) in despair over what is going on in parliament with a two-thirds Fidesz majority.
The proposal Áder came up with could in an extreme case produce a one-party parliament. The decision to cut the number of the MPs in half was reached already last year. For a while rumors circulated that Fidesz was working on an electoral scheme that would prevent any party from ever receiving a two-thirds majority in parliament. Wrong! In fact, it seems that the new system could easily produce an overwhelming Fidesz win at the next election.
How would that new electoral system work and whom it would benefit? It would strengthen the position of large parties and would make the chances of smaller parties practically nonexistent. How? There are several points in the present plan that work in that direction. You may recall that candidates must collect “endorsements” from the voters before they can even run for office. Until now a candidate had 35 days to collect 750 signatures and some smaller parties at the last election, including LMP, had a heck of a time of it. In Budapest until the last minute it looked as if LMP wouldn’t be able to run for parliament. The situation was the same with MDF. Most politicians and experts on election laws argued that the “endorsement” system should be abolished because it violates privacy laws: the person who endorses a candidate must give his name and address when signing. However, Fidesz not only kept this provision but made the collection of these endorsement even more difficult. Now, a candidate will have to collect 1,500 endorsements in 21 days. This would certainly limit the possibility of smaller parties participating fully in the elections.
Currently there are two rounds of elections about two weeks apart. That allows smaller parties to forge alliances: the candidate who ended up third or fourth could endorse one of the two remaining candidates. Fidesz wants to change this system. There would be only one round of voting and a simple plurality would be enough to win. Thus it could easily happen if there are several contenders that a candidate could win with way less than 50% of the votes. In another “innovation,” every contest would be winner-take-all. That is, there would no longer be “compensation votes,” which would mean that smaller parties couldn’t possibly get into parliament. Compensation votes were gathered from losing candidates and added to the parties’ total. Otherwise, the current “mixed system” would remain: people can vote for an individual candidate and for a party.
According to people who are familiar with election procedures, if this scheme is adopted it could easily happen that Fidesz or any other large party could receive not just two-thirds but three-fourths of the parliamentary seats. At best only two parties would be represented. But it is not inconceivable that a one-party system could be achieved. All this in the name of democracy.
The surprise of the day was that Gergely Karácsony (LMP) in an interview (Népszabadság) suggested a close alliance among all three opposition parties. Even Jobbik would be included. In his opinion Jobbik also objects to the liquidation of democracy because this new electoral law would be injurious to the party’s chances at the next elections. Moreover, says Karácsony, in order to abrogate all those undemocratic cardinal laws the current Fidesz majority voted for, the opposition parties must win big at the next elections; they need to achieve a two-thirds majority. According to him that cannot be done without Jobbik.
Naturally, there are many people on the liberal and socialist side who reject any suggestion of working together with a party they consider to be neo-Nazi. In fact, there is a sense of unreality in this proposal. I somehow cannot imagine a liberal or socialist casting a vote for a Jobbik candidate. But I’m sure that the discussion about the best way to handle the situation will go on for quite some time. At least the thinking has begun. The present situation, as Karácsony kept saying this afternoon, is much more serious than they ever thought. Democracy is in peril.