I assume that most of you have heard of gerrymandering, which is a process of defining electoral districts to establish a political advantage for a particular party by manipulating geographic boundaries. The word goes back to the early nineteenth century when Elbridge Gerry, governor of Massachusetts, signed a bill that changed the Commonwealth’s electoral districts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a salamander.
If you want to do a little gerrymandering yourself, visit this site. You will be surprised to see what you can do with only a few clicks.
The new electoral law as envisaged by Fidesz was long in the making. Very thorough and careful research of prior results was undoubtedly necessary to come up with a sure-fire plan that would favor the incumbent. The task was complicated by the reduced size of the parliament from 386 members to 199. A further complication that had to be taken into consideration is that instead of a two-step system with the requirement that at least 50% +1 of the voting age population cast votes, the new system is a simple one-step affair with no minimum requirement. Both in the old and in the new system there is an element of compensation, but in the past only the votes of the losers were compensated. Now by some strange logic the winner will also receive extra votes. So, it will be not enough that he/she wins the elections; the winner will win very big.
Theoretically this new system on the face of it cannot be called undemocratic. However, a closer look at the details reveals that the new electoral system will reflect even less the popular will than the one currrently in use. It would also make the participation of smaller parties in the elections close to impossible.
Gordon Bajnai’s foundation, Haza és Haladás (Homeland and Progress), spent months studying the question of a new electoral system. Since last July Viktor Szigetvári, Csaba Tordai, and Balázs Vető have written several articles studying election systems in general and creating models that would give a variety of results. I read most of their articles and found them even-handed and open-minded. Yesterday they came out with their verdict. They decided that Fidesz’s proposal, if it is voted into law without any change, is “not a democratic electoral system.”
It is worth recalling the details of what Hillary Clinton told the leaders of the opposition when she was in Budapest. She “expressed concern … that with the many changes that the government is making with its historic two-thirds majority, Hungary will stay true to its own democratic traditions.” She called for a “real commitment to the independence of the judiciary, a free press and government transparency.” The two-thirds majority “offers the temptation to overreach. It can … allow for important checks and balances to be swept aside, and valid objections from citizens to be ignored.” This is why “the United States and other friends” are urging Hungary to pay special attention to the drafting of the cardinal laws. “The most important of these will pertain to an independent media and judiciary, and free and fair elections. The system cannot be permanently tilted to favor one party or another.”
Well, it seems that this new electoral law proposed by Fidesz is “permanently tilted to favor one party.” According to Szigetvári-Tordai-Vető the electoral districts are manipulated and the totality of the newly introduced features of the law “substantially constrains the replacement of the present government.” According to the authors’ calculations if the same electoral law had been in force in 2002 and 2006 Fidesz would have won both national elections.
Here is what the electoral map of 2002 would have looked like if elections had been held under the proposed electoral law:
The actual results were 48.7% for Fidesz and MSZP-SZDSZ 51.03%.
The situation would have been similar in 2006 when the MSZP-SZDSZ win was greater than in 2002.
Given the composition of parliament today it is unlikely that the final bill will be very different from the proposed one. Therefore, says Ferenc Gyurcsány, the opposition mustn’t participate in the parliamentary discussion of the bill because that way the government party can always claim that the opposition had an opportunity to participate and therefore the process was democratic. Gyurcsány goes even further, which is a much more controversial proposal. The next elections should be boycotted altogether. I’m not sure whether this would be a good idea.
Finally, there is more and more talk about Fidesz plans for early elections. Gyurcsány even heard the proposed date from Fidesz sources: March 18, 2012. He admits that this might be disinformation, but it would make sense from Fidesz’s point of view. The number of the party’s supporters may have shrunk, but they still have a hefty majority while the opposition is weak and fragmented. The results of an early election would most likely be a great deal more favorable to Fidesz than one held in 2014.
On the other hand, there are more and more commentators whose opinion I trust who think that Viktor Orbán’s and the country’s agony will not last much longer. The financial markets and the IMF will take care of him and his regime of national cooperation.