Electoral law and the opposition: analyses and discussions a day later

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Budapest and had a fairly long discussion with members of civic organizations, according to media reports she noted that as long as one government can be replaced by another one at a democratic election one cannot talk about the end of democracy. Therefore, she added, the United States will pay close attention to the “reform” of the current electoral law.

I think it is important to say a few more words about the Fidesz proposals and their possible consequences. After all, this is a complicated and weighty topic that cannot be fully discussed in a few hundred words. So, let’s return to some of the intricacies of the current Hungarian electoral system, which is terribly complicated.

It is not at all suprising that a governing party, especially one with a two-thirds majority behind it, will propose a system that at the moment seems advantageous to it. However, the party, in this case Fidesz, must also be mindful of a possible change in the political climate that may result in an outcome that might be disadvantageous to the party that proposed the changes in the law. A political commentator reminded us yesterday that the two parties that insisted and voted on raising the parliamentary threshhold to 5% were MDF and SZDSZ. And behold, a few years later these two parties struggled mightily to gather enough votes to be eligible for parliamentary representation. It is very possible that sooner or later Fidesz will find itself in a similar situation. What looked terrific in 2010 or 2011 may well be a serious disadvantage in 2014 or 2018.

As it stands now, according to the calculation of Viktor Szigetvári, formerly campaign manager of MSZP but who now seems to be active in the Haza és Haladás Alapítvány (Country and Progress Foundation) established by Gordon Bajnai, if the Fidesz proposal for electoral reform is accepted in the form it was presented to the public over the weekend, a party with 45% of the votes would receive 135 seats out of the possible 200 while a party with 35% of the votes would get only 47 seats. Roughly speaking, a 10% difference in popular vote would result in an almost 30% difference in actual representation.

Or here is a graph published in today’s Népszabadság:

Here are some explanatory notes. As you can see, there are four categories in the above graph: individual voting district (egyéni választókörzet), regional list (területi lista), countrywide list (országos lista), and total (összesen). In the Hungarian system each voter receives two ballots. On one he/she can vote for the individual running in his/her district and, on the other, for the regional list put together by the parties within each county or in the case of the capital within the city. The individual voter doesn’t vote for the countrywide list. Instead candidates on that list receive their mandates from the votes of those candidates who didn’t manage to win in any given individual voting districts. This is called the compensation list (kompenzációs lista).

In the first row we can see the results of the 2010 elections. In the case of Fidesz the victory was so great that the compensation votes didn’t really matter very much. Altogether the party received only three extra seats that way. But in the case of LMP the compensation list was critical (they wouldn’t have reached the 5% threshold without it), and almost half of MSZP’s meager parliamentary representation came from this list.

Last year Fidesz already came up with a proposal. The second row of numbers shows what the situation would have been in 2010 if that proposal had been adopted before the election. Keep in mind that instead of a 385-seat parliament the new parliament will have only approximately 200 members. As you can see, in the 2010 proposal people would vote for either for an individual or for the countrywide party list. However, in that scheme there would still have been a compensation list.

And finally we have the situation that would have been created on the basis of this latest proposal in two versions: the first in which there would still be a compensation list and the second without it. You will surely notice that the lack of a compensation list makes the system even more disproportionate. But these graphs presuppose a political situation identical to the one in the spring of 2010. As we know very well, since then Fidesz has lost about one million voters and therefore we have no idea what the situation is going to be in three years’ time.

Of course, all these calculations are based on a partial knowledge of the Fidesz plan for a new electoral law. The reduction of the size of parliament by half also means that the number of electoral districts will be reduced, and that means redrawing the districts. Viktor Szigetvári, who wrote two articles on the electoral reform, considers this redistricting to be the crux of the matter. Will it be done without gerrymandering or not? If the new districts are drawn on the basis of past voting patterns favorable to Fidesz, then we can say that the new electoral law will not only favor Fidesz but will be undemocratic and therefore unacceptable. I have my doubts about Fidesz’s intentions in this regard. In certain cities just before the municipal elections certain voting districts were redrawn in a most artificial way. It was clear on the basis of the maps I saw that those who were responsible for the redistricting knew the past voting patterns of practically every city block.

And finally. Just as Some1 rightly noted and as a very well informed political observer pointed out to me in private, I neglected to make clear that Gergely Karácsony wasn’t thinking in terms of a long-lasting coalition among the three opposition parties. No, it would be a very temporary “alliance” for the purpose of winning a two-thirds majority which would allow these parties to undo the damage Fidesz inflicted on Hungarian democracy, including the abrogation of some of the cardinal laws. Karácsony thought that a month would be sufficient for that. Once democracy is restored and a more reasonable electoral law is in place, parliament would be dissolved and new elections held.

Of course, this scenario is highly unlikely, but at least it achieved one thing. The opposition parties got closer together. Even András Schiffer (LMP) this morning on InfoRádió talked about a “technical coalition” to get rid of Fidesz’s most grievous pieces of legislation. Ildikó Lendvai (MSZP) wouldn’t hear of any “technical coalition” that would include Jobbik, but she talked about an “opposition roundtable” (ellenzéki kerekasztal). Anyone familiar with the history of the change of regime in 1989-90 must remember that at that time all parties and civic organizations that wanted change stood on one side against MSZMP and for months did nothing else but hammer out the details of the regime change. I suspect, however, that it will be harder to go from Fidesz-style democracy to true democracy than it was to go from communism to democracy.

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Johnny Boy
Guest

Forming party alliances does not necessarily entail all voters coming and voting for the alliance.
That’s why this attempt already fails at the start.
But it is quite telling that the losers would do everything for power, including communists voting for the ‘nazis’ if ‘necessary’.
Everything and anything.

Member

This strategy certainly works as we know. Orban did not have a problem to turn his own party (Fidesz) to opposite direction as it meant that he could be a Prime Minister again. Orban was hard core opposition for the church, as much as he is against to anyone who does not support the church. Fidesz teamed up with he KDNP (Christian Democrats) in order to make sure to grab power. (By the way a new survey shows that the alliance dropped 2 more popularity points, as much as MSZP, whole Jobbik lost 1, and LMP picked up 3 points.) Of course I can certainly see that the threat of such move will be somehow blocked by Fidesz. Right now the whole political life in Hungary is a chess game, and those who feel secure, do not want to realize that they are playing with the lives of real people, who have no time to wait for the outcome, as they are loosing their jobs, pensions and so forth.

elveszett - nemzet
Guest

Orban seems to be a worse dictator than Kadar.
The anarchy is complete, and the people suffer.
What is he doing: incoherent constitution, election rule manipulation, price increases, tax cut to the rich.

Contre nous de la tyrannie
Guest
Contre nous de la tyrannie

Johnny Boy: “That’s why this attempt already fails at the start.” Hungary reminds us to the last days of the Weimar Republic and 1933 and 1934 when democracy was demolished in Germany and people got arrested. At the same time in France, there was a chance for the French fascists to won the elections. But the French opposition came together and formed the Popular Front which won the elections of 1936 with Leon Blum
“The free man is he who does not fear to go to the end of his thought.”
Leon Blum
The end of the thought is a Popular Front in Hungary.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“Contre nous de la tyrannie”: and your Popular Front reminds us Hungarians to the not too long ago gone times when a small gang of treasonous scum (sorry but your “us” reminds me to that gang), with the help of a foreign military superpower, forced our country into the yoke of slavery for many decades. All the while bragging about “people’s democracy”, “anti-fascism” (the same as yours) they raided and raped throughout the country, kicking it back to the palaeolithic age while it was only that gang of scum that belonged there.
Thanks, we do not want it any more.
It is really telling that you find it acceptable to ally with the ‘neo-nazis’ (Jobbik) to regain power. Nothing matters to you, only power, by all means.

Member

THe outrage and the outcry for any actions that would topple an undemocratic institution always comes from the Tyrant themselves or from their supporters. Both have a lot to loose, and suddenly they become concerned with democratic means.
I find it very sad that Orban/Fidesz became such an institution that the MSZP is considering to team up with the Jobbik, and things must be awful if the Jobbik considers that. At the same time history showed us that sometimes what a Nation need is a common enemy to restart cooperation. Maybe Jobbik will realize that democracy is more precious than any imagined enemy with imagined goals. Fidesz is the one who provides the real danger by taking away all democratic means from Hungary as a whole in order to remain in power.Yepp, things must be bad.

Contre nous de la tyrannie
Guest
Contre nous de la tyrannie

I did not find it acceptable to join forces with Jobbik, no need for that.
Fidesz is doing a great job to unite Hungarians. If you read only Nezopont surveys, you may not understand what is going on, but try to check other sources to see what people feel and think in Hungary.

Member

Contre nous de la tyrannie: “Fidesz is doing a great job to unite Hungarians.” If that would be the case they should not be so afraid from accepting the decisions made by a committee they erected regarding the new electoral law, they would involve members of the opposition to participate in key decisions, like membership in the Media Authority, and in the News Constitutional Court. Fidesz would not see the need to throw revised documents on the table on the day when voting needs to be done at the parliament. THey do all this to make sure that there is only one voice, and it is theirs. Not involving others looks very bad, and certainly not the sign of unification. THere would be no need to hype up Trianon over and over again, and putting the victims of holocaust against the victims of Hungary’s rulers bad decision at WWI. IN reality Fidesz behaves as someone with a low self-esteem, putting on lots of make-up, and trying to create a havoc amongst others to show that he has no problems.

Contre nous de la tyrannie
Guest
Contre nous de la tyrannie

Some1: you misunderstood it
I meant Fidesz is doing a great job to unite Hungarians and no need for nazis to have a majority of the following crowd:
All victims of retroactive laws
All victims of stolen pensions
Victims of new Forced Labor Laws (Roma population almost 10% of citizens – 80% of Roma vote went to Fidesz at the last elections it won’t happen again)
Methodists, muslims, small Christian Churches, Buddhists and Ateists etc… All who are not on the list…
Jews ( New Constitution = Hungarian holocaust denial statements & christian country – 1% of voters)
Gays and Lesbians (about 7-10% of the population)
Policemen, Firefighters etc…
Government employees around the country who suffer from the new bureaucratic order. ( I hear from ministries that people who voted for Fidesz face uneducated and immoral new management.)

Member

Contre nous de la tyrannie: and they will vote for … ? Allons enfants de l’apathie!

Kirsten
Guest
Johnny: “But it is quite telling that the losers would do everything for power, including communists voting for the ‘nazis’ if ‘necessary’.” I consider it a problem that some concepts are used with such fluid meaning (and I suppose that Johnny as our Fidesz envoy is to some extent representative). I think that “do everything for power” is perhaps a bit different from “maintaining an electoral law that aims at a bit more balanced representation of party preferences in parliament than the proposed law of Fidesz”. By forming such a coalition (that aims at making the adoption of the new electoral law more difficult for Fidesz) nothing more would be gained than this electoral law, not a joined government (with obvious responsibilities and “power”) nor anything else. It would, of course, show Fidesz that their power is limited. So if you change your sentence into “do everything to show Fidesz that their power is not unlimited”, it not only better describes what this move is about, it is also not malicious. Perhaps this thought should find its way into Fidesz party meetings: the broad support of last year is not there anymore. It is risky to take Jobbik on board,… Read more »
Paul
Guest

I’m a little miffed about this!
I said exactly this in my post of 4 July:
“The only way to defeat OV democratically (which means at the next election, while enough democracy remains for it still to be possible) is for the democratic parties to form a pro-democracy coalition. Individual party differences should be ‘forgotten’ for the duration and the election should be fought entirely on the basis of restoring democracy, freedom of the press, civil rights, etc – and restoring the constitution (including setting up an independent, all-party commission to update it where necessary). Once democracy, freedom of the press, etc are restored, new elections should be called on the normal party basis.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. This is the ‘standard’ solution for replacing failed dictatorships and one-party states. That’s where Hungary is headed, and that’s why this is the only solution.
The task that should have been done 21 years ago unfortunately now needs to be done again. But this time it needs to be done properly.”
Yet Some1 gets a name check and I don’t!
(Smiley faces, of course.)

Member

Contre nous de la tyrannie: Sorry for not reading it more carefully. THank you for clarifying as I do agree with you. Just like Kirsten I would be concerned about the Jobbik, but at this point I am more worried about the Fidesz. Many of the Jobbik members served many “allies” before, just like many Fidesz members did. I think it is easier to deal with the enemy who you already know where they coming from , as with Fidesz there are surprises on the daily basis. I trust that Jobbik only represents a small percentage of the population and at least out in the open. I hate what they do, but at the same token I am glad that the extremists have a forum.

Paul
Guest

But seriously…
If the alternative is a long-term Fidesz one-party state, then we have to work with Jobbik – but only to achieve the overthrow of OV. After that it’s business as normal.
But, I think there is a very good chance that we will not need Jobbik. I think much of their support is a protest vote and when people see that there is hope for a real change in politics and the way the country is run, and a real chance to get rid of Fidesz, I think Jobbik’s support will shrink rapidly to just their core vote (which I would estimate as no more than 10%).
Also, as SB helpfully proves (yet again) in his role as HS’s token right-wing bigot, any association with Jobbik gives OV an open goal for propaganda. (Rather ironic considering the way he used Jobbik to gain power himself.)

Paul
Guest

And I loved SB’s “Nothing matters to you, only power, by all means.”
Just when you think he can’t get any dafter, he comes up with a gem like that!
Have you actually looked at OV’s career recently, SB?

Kirsten
Guest
Paul, I seem to have a bit different perception of the current situation but for me democracy will not have to be “restored” but “gained”. The unfortunate (or fortunate) Kadar system has been dismantled only to some extent and it would be good to make progress on that avenue. The result of the 2010 election had its justification even if not in terms of what Fidesz made of it. But the part of the society that could constitute the backbone of democracy (not Fidesz style) appears small. (This Fidesz revolution was too easy.) That is why I see risks in going into an alliance with Jobbik. They may be relatively small and may not be able to drag society into a further dead end but their contribution to a modern democracy with checks and balances is questionable. By thinking about this alliance with Jobbik the current remaining options are suddenly more clear, but this alliance would have too divergent interests to be able (or willing) to “restore” what has been lost in the last year. At least two parties may have difficulties in “restoring” (the “MSzP system”), the third may have difficulties with “restoring” its own party. (I am exaggerating… Read more »
Paul
Guest
You’re probably right, Kirsten – gain, not restore. But I’m not sure it makes much difference – all that really matters is that we end up with a proper, functioning democracy. Any agreement with Jobbik must be purely pragmatic (i.e. the danger of failing without them is greater than the ‘stain’ of succeeding with them) and only a choice of the very last resort. And they must be kept strictly at arm’s length – no joint candidates, no shared platforms, etc. It should be made crystal clear all along that this is a pact with the Devil made necessary by the greater evil of Orbán, but it is emphatically NOT a Faustian pact. But, as I said, I don’t think it will be necessary. The history of extreme right-wing politics in post-war Europe is pretty clear – they may sometimes reach an unexpected peak of popularity and appear on the verge of being an accepted ‘proper’ party, but it always turns out to be just that – a peak. It is always followed by a pretty rapid decline. The only thing that could prevent that would be the continuing success of Fidesz, coupled with a complete collapse of the ‘left’… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest
“all that really matters is that we end up with a proper, functioning democracy.” In that we certainly agree. The difference (as someone who grew up in communism) is that I am afraid that it is not entirely clear just “how to” end up with a proper, functioning democracy (not only in Hungary but it is currently the most obvious case). Take the institutions that are nominally in charge of investigating crimes such as the police and the courts. What they really do is sometimes more and sometimes less helpful in finding out what has happened, political connections can be of great use or harm for the accused. The “solution” to it would be that the electorate systematically punishes those politicians who fail to establish the independence of these institutions. But how does the public find out who exactly are those persons who impede this independence (both on the politicians’ side and on the policemen/judges side)? And are there people who will be better able to withstand the pressures from politicians and colleagues who are “part of the system”? This is just an example but I got the impression that it is already tricky to find exactly the points that… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest
Paul: “Have you actually looked at OV’s career recently, SB?” Yes I have, but you seem to have missed out on this one. OV, of his 20-year career, spent 16 years in opposition. He won the elections 2 times, both were democratic elections, the first one in extreme media headwind. He waited patiently for another 8 years before winning for the second time. Hungry for power? Maybe in the eyes of those who cannot cope with their corruption channels being closed. But if you think over the latest proposal of LMP, you cannot come to any other conclusion than they want power desperately, by any means. Tyrannosaurus: “I did not find it acceptable to join forces with Jobbik, no need for that.” Last time you posted you praised the “all-inclusive” unification against Fidesz. Now you post this. Please decide which is your real opinion. “Fidesz is doing a great job to unite Hungarians. If you read only Nezopont surveys, you may not understand what is going on, but try to check other sources to see what people feel and think in Hungary.” I was born and I live here, in contrary to most readers on this blog. I don’t need… Read more »
Member
Johnny Boy: “OV, of his 20-year career, spent 16 years in opposition.” 1. Orban is 48 years old, we never received an answer to find out what did he do in opposition when there were his “real enemies” under the communism. He was actually peacefully educated in communist Hungary, in one of the best universities. Hardly the sign of someone who is in opposition. 2. He became member of the “opposition” at the end of the communist are, when communism collapsed. His speech were given when there were no enemies any more. THe berlin wall was taken down peacefully two and a half months later. 3. He was in “opposition” as a liberal, then he was in opposition as a conservative. For the advise of his great friend Bertolucci he switched sides. 4. He wanted to become friends with Russia, but that did not work and now he would like to follow the Chines model. “mi magyarok megemeljük a kalapunkat az előtt a fantasztikus teljesítmény előtt, amellyel emberek százmillióit sikerült a jobb élet irányába vezetni és reményt adni számukra a jövőt illetően”. 5. While he is till in opposition of the communists (Is he?), when the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao… Read more »
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