The new electoral law: LMP’s wake-up call

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.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Member

As absurd it seems, all the parties could form a coalition under the name For The Time Being Party. As soon as they get in power, they change the Constitution (they could work out the details on that for three more years to come) back to a democratic course, dissolve the parliament and hold a second election under democratic terms.
Election is way more simple in many other countries but lets not forget that those countries actually have democratic checks and balances in place.

Minusio
Guest
“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.“ In Hungary, democracy was in peril when Orbán entered the political arena. And if it is true that thinking has begun, it is too little, too late. In reality, sinking has begun. I have aired my opinion on this platform before, as a citizen of a country that experienced how a faltering democracy was taken over by some determined people (who also had about ten years to elaborate their masterplan, but never won a true majority, either) within months and turned into a totalitarian one-party state. It took a world war to get rid of them. Orbán’s undemocratic thinking and scheming has been clear from the beginning, only people’s memories are short. Surprisingly, practically nobody shouted out loud at the municipal elections last October. Although Fidesz could be certain of a landslide victory they changed the electoral laws just as they are planning now for national elections. Add to this the creativeness of Fidesz to create “mill games” in every field. And wherever they install this game they already have a way to… Read more »
peter litvanyi
Guest

“At least the thinking has begun”
It’s about f…ing time /if not too late already/.
“It will be the street that will finally defeat him”- that may actually be the case.
Peter Litvanyi

Member

The sad thing is that Minusio is very much right on.

nestbeschmutzer
Guest
Unfortunately, it does seem highly unlikely that the Orbán regime could be defeated through regular parliamentary elections. The number of the obstacles erected by this government is daunting: the new constitution, the restriction and the packing of the Constitutional Court, increased government influence on the judiciary, the media law, all the cardinal laws that are being passed, including the grossly biassed election law, the redrawing of electoral districts, and Orbán’s people appointed to key positions for 9 or 12-yr terms… In addition to all these mechanism, let’s not forget about the ruthless determination of people in power who know they would have a lot to lose, and a lot to answer for, if they were to be ousted from power. Using time-honored mafia strategies, Orbán has seen to it that even relative moderates within Fidesz (such as Pokornyi, Navracsics, Ader) had to become active accomplices in some of the most sinister legislative moves of the regime, not to mention in any number of behind-the-scenes deals, tenders, etc. Some of these people might feel like objecting to Orban’s scorched-earth campaign and they might prefer a less hell-bent, less militant approach. But the moment their dissent went beyond the mandatory theatre of… Read more »
Member
As we can experience through history, there will be always those who will support any governing system, as they think that by doing so will protect their interest (political, financial or personal). In order to gain more support the leaders will promise anything, but as their power strengthen they will step over those who lifted them up. In reality dictators have very few friends. After a while they will systematically dispose their alliances as they are not in the business to gain “new friends”. THis is exactly what happened in a large scale between the Soviet Union and Germany prior to WWII, or even between many prominent Jews and fascists accomplices to the Germans (France, Italy). mestbeschmutzer is right, the “accomplices” become vulnerable after while, as they have way to much to loose (Murdoch scandal).THings are also complicated by the fact that the media is slowly bought up or made dependent by Fidesz (Metropol, MTI), so the news is all propaganda, like a Leni Riefenstahl movie. The one who owns the information holds the power. I think the most important would be to get out the truth to people. because what they hear now is anything but, and if they… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest
Unlike previous autocratic dictators ‘His Mightiness’ (Orban Viktor) has a little problem which is the EU. The EU might wish for a regime change but will respect the wished of the Hungarian People as expressed in the 2010 ballot. What they will do however is to watch every move that the Hungarian Government makes and every time that a regulation is broken Hungary will be in the European court. The EU could start the procedures today with the ‘Working Time’ directive. This directive is broken ten’s of thousand times a day all over Hungary. I have no doubt that the ‘Great One’ (OV) would love to see the back of the EU but he has no real option but to stick with it. The EU surrounds him on all sides. There are only three Non EU borders with the Hungary. These are Serbia, Croatia and the Ukraine. Serbia and Croatia will co-operate with the EU as they are desperate to become members. The Ukraine is becoming more and more interested in joining, if only to offset Russian influence. With this Hungry would become totally isolated by road, rail, the river and air. Even the Chinese who want to use Hungary… Read more »
peter litvanyi
Guest

off topic:
dear “odin’s lost”



is this the link you meant?
I became aware of Burma thanks to roshi Sulak Sivaraksa and sensei Bernie Glassman.
So it goes. All roads lead to the same hilltop. “Mount Sumeru”.
Thanks.
Peter Litvanyi

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Off topic
Yes Peter, I watched both parts of the lecture on BBC World. The link you have is to Part 1 of the talk. Part 2 is about dissidents. I am afraid I had to look up your reference to ‘Mount Sumeru’. I am not educated!
Back to the topic.
I am just wondering how much geography was taught in Hungarian schools during the communist period. Many Hungarians do not seem to be able to read maps and seem to know so little about the outside world.
Hungary is supplied by road, rail, air and the river. Cut those off and Hungary will quickly sink back to the Stone Age. . She is ‘landlocked’ and has no direct access to the sea, the only real open supply route. Or does the Autocrat have a ‘cunning plan’?

Hoping
Guest

Odin… China will fly in supplies a la Berlin Airlift. ha ha ha.

Hoping
Guest

Don’t know why I am laughing. I live here.

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Hoping How? if the nations surrounding close their airspace to aircraft going to Hungary. Hungary provides fighter escorts? That would be an armed incursion.
Think Geography! Where will the Chinese bases be? Moldova to Hungary is about 800 Nm round trip (accrodd Romaina)
.
Get a grip!

Johnny Boy
Guest

Democracy is in peril because the winning party could win big. LOL.
I always thought democracy was about the party with the most votes winning but it seems I was wrong.
I suppose democracy in Britain is long lost because of their electoral law being so one-sided.

Member
Fidesz clearly won under false promises and with false platform. I am shocked very honestly that there are no clear procedures in place in the EU for such events. Of course I guess they never had to deal with something like this, but they should get something in place. THere will be many other countries with a murky current history that will be getting into the EU. The stakes for swindler politicians are much higher to get into power, so they will do anything (as in Hungary) to get elected, but then they will hardly able to deliver. I posted this once, anyone can win an election by giving false promises to the masses. The educated people can see through the murk but the non-educated, misguided majority can’t. THis is why it would be important some accountability. Does anyone has any news about the two rapporteurs of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly’s visit last week? Also, I would like to bring your attention to an article in the Christian News Wire, Hungarian Parliament Resurrects Soviet Past with Midnight Adoption of Europe’s Most Restrictive Religion Law. Here are some quotes: “I have known and worked closely with Hungarian Prime Minister… Read more »
Member

@Johnny You sound like Charlie Sheen. WINNING!

Member

Establishing and running a dictatorship takes a lot of talent, courage and persistence. These are not the typical treats of the ruling bunch. These guys scribbled down a constitution on an iPad in a week just to avoid working.
The “national emergency” idea is very intriguing. I’m trying to imagine what would happen. Average Joes so don’t care right now that wouldn’t even notice it. Election? He? Wasn’t last months? Suuuureeee …
Let’s face it: if there will be no leadership by 2014, I mean a new party, that can unify for a change, transparent and has integrity … sigh … then it really will not matter if we postpone the election by a few years. It’s cheaper.

Kirsten
Guest
Johnny, admittedly a definition of democracy as you have applied exists. But the big problem is that the word “democracy” is not sufficient to define the structure of a political society of more than just one city state. Certainly you and I agree that currently there is a parliament that decides many cases (there is not a universal poll on all issues, neither on agora nor in the internet). The parliament is composed of “representatives”. Why is that “democratic” if we think of democracy as being all involved (as on the agora)? Apparently it is possible to speak of “democracy” even if there are only few who actually decide. But – and here is the catch – this is only possible because those few that actually decide are elected for a fixed term and can be replaced by other representatives in the next elections. To say that ONE election (no matter how big the success) proves that one party is now entitled to rule forever is a misunderstanding from the start. If you advocate participation of citizens in public matters (as you have done by claiming that a “majority” decides and this is not 263 Fidesz parliamentarians but apparently 7… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest

Johnny Boy Old Mao said that power stems from the muzzle of a gun.
If that gun is carried by the privileged then they have power.
If it is carried by the people (or there are no guns) the people have the power which in a democracy they lend to the party(s) of their choice.
Then in due course they take it back.

Johnny Boy
Guest
Kirsten: the law does not favor Fidesz, there is no “Fidesz” string in the proposal AFAIK. Or maybe you know more than me about the issue? First of all, I think we should agree on the fact that there is no winning proposal yet. So what are we talking about? Fidesz has long had the habit of creating something that is clearly overdone and then loosening it up. I think they are going to do it again. Second, even if one of these proposals get accepted, no one forces the electorate to vote for Fidesz. The new law would merely favor the winner more than it does today, but that does not mean Fidesz will be unbeatable. Go collect more votes than Fidesz and you have a stable majority for your party. How do these qualify as ruining democracy? Isn’t democracy about the majority winning? Who forces the majority to continue supporting Fidesz? I personally would like to see an electoral law that favors the winner even less than the current law, and of course any differing opinion on the law should be considered. But this persistent outcry about ‘democracy in peril’ is vastly outdated, boring, and ridiculous. You are… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

Oh, and I forgot the most important part: as long as you are mewling about Fidesz continuing to retain power while you are subconsciously building upon the assumption that Fidesz has the majority (see above), you are not worried about democracy being in peril, you are worried about democracy itself hitting you hard.
And there is a vast difference.
It is not a big deal to live with democracy if it favors you; the bigger deal is learning to tolerate democracy when you are in the losers bracket.
If you come up with a valid train of thought that predicts that Fidesz will retain power despite not being the winner among the competing parties, THEN, and only THEN, will your point of ‘democracy in peril’ be valid. Until then, it’s merely the frustration.

Member

@Johnny Modifying the system to favor more then winner when you are the winner it’s a petty, loser mentality. Orban is the Charlie Sheen of politics.
Your loser party hit the jackpot in 2010 because there was no alternative at that moment on the Hungarian political landscape. Now they are trying to sustain the initial orgasm but they know that it will not last forever. In 10 years a party will rise up and bump them eventually even if they manage to breath life into the economy. They feel they are losers. They hear it every day. The humiliation, the almost tangible proof of their incompetence. What they are doing is similar to a beaten army that burns everything before they have to leave. Pathetic.
Johnny is right. It’s fair play. When they will be beaten they will fall hard.

Kirsten
Guest
Johnny, it is not about not being able to accept defeat in a democratic system. The point is that there are many possible ways how a system that wishes to use democratic procedures can look like. And of course there are arguments for a winner-takes-all type of electoral system. But in such a system it can happen that there are not 50 % of the votes needed to have 2/3 in parliament but it could be as low as, say, 25 %. In such a case then it is difficult to argue that the parliament reflects the will of the majority of the electorate (perhaps relative majority but this is not how you used that term and it is more difficult to derive democratic legitimacy from that). Also, there should be a fair chance to replace parliamentarians through elections (as there should be a fair chance to change laws and not impediments such as “cardinal laws”). You think that this fair chance is still there. Fine. But why then raising the number of endorsements, which have to be collected within a few weeks? Why relying only on a first round? Because a second round, where a number of parties could… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

“Modifying the system to favor more then winner when you are the winner it’s a petty, loser mentality”
That’s so because you say so. Very intriguing.
“Your loser party”
Then what are you? Loser on the 10th power? You combined don’t even have one third of the seats.
“there was no alternative at that moment”
Yes. Your parties don’t even qualify as an alternative.
“When they will be beaten they will fall hard.”
So then why aren’t you happy? Why are you so “worried” about democracy?

Johnny Boy
Guest

Kirsten I very well know the ‘winner-takes-it-all’ system. And as I said, I don’t favor it.
But the end of democracy? Go think about it.
Is the democracy in Britain over?
I’m only trying to drag you back into the valid frames of reasoning.

wpDiscuz