The verdict: The new Hungarian electoral law is not democratic

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.

The actual results were Fidesz 42.49 and MSZP+SZDSZ 52.85%. Here are the actual results in map form:


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.

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“The financial markets and the IMF will take care of him and his regime of national cooperation.”
I’m starting to come round to the view that this might happen (although only just!).
But if it does, what will be left in its place? Might the mess of a nearly bankrupt, deeply politically divided Hungary, with heavy ultra-right-wing, racist and nihilistic tendencies, actually be worse than an Orbán dictatorship?


But if the overshoot with the early elections, and the Jobbik takes over, then Orban’s legacy will be 2 years of disaster, that destroyed the economy, the democratic institutions, ridiculed the country and left the leadership to a very likely dysfunctional parliament, with no majority, lead by the KKK.
I hate being tossed around like chips on the table. This early elections is a very bad idea.
A bit of good news in Esztergom: the mob almost beat up the FIDESZ representatives when they were leaving the building. They needed police escort. If this is not a clue to resign, then what is?


This early election thing is pure will-o-the-wisp. Why on earth should Orbán go to the people now, when he knows he’ll win in 2014?
And Jobbik are just as vulnerable to his gerrymandering as the other parties – they too relied entirely on the national list to get any MPs elected.
Assuming we get as far as the next election, the make up of parliament will consist overwhelmingly of Fidesz, with a handfull of MSzP, one LMP (if they are lucky) and a few Jobbik – almost whatever the Fidesz vote is reduced to. Job done.
Not that it matters, anyway, as the role of the parliament under Orbán is simply to pass bills.

“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.” Sorry to be the merchant of doom and gloom yet again, but why do you think dealing with the IMF will be the end of Orbán? The IMF won’t (and can’t) insist on his removal as part of the deal, and he will spin the loan as something forced on him by the market, the socialists and the Jews. And his congregation will believe*. In fact, if anything, he will go from strength to strength once he has bitten the bullet and borrowed the money. The economy will recover – it may even grow. The forint will recover. And he will be able to bring in all sorts of austerity measures without taking any of the blame himself. The IMF are about to save Orbán, not get rid of him. *If anyone doesn’t believe this, go talk to a few Fidesz supporters. I live with them, and believe me it will take a hell of a lot more than this to get them to give up the emotional investment they’ve made in their… Read more »

For those who do not understand what is going on in Esztergom, here are some news
An other interesting article about Accountability Commissioner, Gyula Budai who “has been assigned to “hold to account” those suspected of abuse of office under the previous administration and to introduce anti-corruption measures.” My favourite sentence from the article is this: “, I should note that I am concentrating solely on the activities of the Socialist government. The State Audit Office has exclusive authority to investigate the activities of local governments. I therefore forward all tip-offs that concern local governments to the State Audit Office.” I guess he will not looking into the Tokaj affair or Pinter’s ex-company’s contracts.


Paul:”Why on earth should Orbán go to the people now, when he knows he’ll win in 2014?”
Because he doesn’t know. The economic situation may deteriorate to such degree by 2014 that FIDESZ’s chances to win elections may become zero.
By the way, not that I like it, but gerrymandering is also prevalent in the USA. It was even endorsed by the Supreme Court (with the exception of cases when it’s done to put ethnic or racial groups at a disadvantage). And both the Democrats and the Republicans use it extensively.


I have to agree with Paul. IMF or not, nothing will change until the bitter end which is not at all in sight. Even the light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming train… (some will remember where this came from)


The past week I became obsessed with reading comments at the end of every article, including a lot of fidesz and jobbik junk, blogs, that I put on my Google reader. After a few days of this diet, I started to recognize the differences between povocateurs, and the true believers.
I am not very happy to ackowledge, but the latter group is strong and nothing will change their mind at this point.
I must agree that the light is a train , Whitey Minusio?

Eva S. Balogh

Paul: “Sorry to be the merchant of doom and gloom yet again, but why do you think dealing with the IMF will be the end of Orbán?”
Because they will give him money only if there are certain changes are made, including the changes in the constitution.

Eva S. Balogh

Frace3 Television calls Fidesz a far-right party:

Odin's lost eye
Like Paul I am have a very strong suspicion that the reign of the Victator is intended to be eternal. He sees himself at the centre of the high table of the great European leaders. His problem is that he has never been responsible to anyone but himself. No financial crisis will bring about his downfall. His hold over the ‘True Believers’ is absolute. These twats will chant (and believe ) any mantra he tells them. This crisis will come about because the Victator’s demands on the IMF/ECB will be for an interest free loan (or rather a grant) with NO conditions attached, no and repayment date. If he does not get his money it he will start some sort of financial insurgency into Europe. He has the technology and skills to do it. This will range from forgery (swamping Europe with fake Euro notes) through huge internet and other digital attacks on the West’s Infrastructure. There will probably be the odd assignation thrown in for good measure. He does not care about Vox Pop and he believes that there will be no rising against him. As to the new voting laws I suspect that the new bill will be… Read more »

@Eva: “Because they will give him money only if there are certain changes are made, including the changes in the constitution.”
I doubt the IMF will set such requirements. I think they usually have economic requirements, and political ones only when these can directly be tied to money issues (like reforming the pension system, etc). At least, I’d be very surprised if they went any further than that.
I agree with Paul, if the IMF helps out Hungary, it will only prolong the reign of Orban. If they manege to strike a deal, OV may change directions economically (to some extent he already have)realizing that it is in his best interest to survive. But he won’t change his course politically.. he may try harder to look like a “democracy” to the outside world, but that would only mean that his tactics to dismantle it would become more crafty and insidious and less obvious.
It is very well possible though that OV and the IMF will not be able to strike a deal, if OV’s “nobody is dictating me” attitude wins over his common sense. He is a pathological case enough for that to happen.

Gabriella: “I am not very happy to ackowledge, but the [true believers of Orban] group is strong and nothing will change their mind at this point.” i agree with you. Orban is using psychological warfare with spreading misinformation, creating panic, allowing the far-right Jobbik to voice their hate speeches against Jews, conduct show-trials on the enemies, and so forth, in order to manipulate the less intelligent. JOhnny Boy is the perfect example on this board for this. Often he comes up with totally outlandish “facts” that he cannot support, and when he is proven to be wrong he goes back on calling those with a clear view communists or traitors. Orban actually built his platform by creating two groups, (Foreign Hearted) Traitors and True Hungarians. The True Hungarians can contain any one: Jews (Deutsch), gays, ex-communists (Schmitt, Kover), far-right (Peter Szentmihalyi Szabo) and even those who were convicted offenders after the changes (Gyorgy Ekrem-Kemal). THe only criteria is to beside do whatever you want to do, live the life whatever you want to live, believe what you wish, but never go against Orban. THe other group, the Traitors contains anyone and everyone who are not in the first group. Orban… Read more »

Eva, on a second thought, there is a slight chance for what you are suggesting, because Hungary will negotiate with the IMF and the EU jointly… so such pressure may come from the EU. Well, if the EU is not too busy with trying to survive, that is. But will see.

Eva S. Balogh

An: “there is a slight chance for what you are suggesting, because Hungary will negotiate with the IMF and the EU jointly… so such pressure may come from the EU.”
I was also thinking of some of the economic provisions they put into the new constitution.
In addition, as far as I know Washington is getting very tired of Mr. Orbán.


Off topic: Tarlos, the mayor of Budapest is mighty upset because Fidesz wants to dismantle the city, establishing entirely self-governing individual districts. He says if that happens, Debrecen will become the largest city in Hungary.
Paul, do you hear this? Maybe Debrecen will become the capital one day! 🙂 (again… it’s never a good situation when Debrecen is the capital, I must add).


Ann: “Fidesz wants to dismantle the city, establishing entirely self-governing individual districts.” It is not off subject. This has to do with the new electoral districts. Do not be surprised if the borders of the districts will be realigned.
Maybe Acsutdoboz will be the new capital… just saying.
Off subject
THe good news is that the Hungarian government still has plenty of money, so you do not need to worry that the hard working bureaucrats and politicians will not be bale to take home some bonuses. For that matter the employees of the newly established Censorship Ministry, I mean Media Authority will take home an average of 2.5 month wage. Now if you consider that some people will receive less, than you know some people will receive way more. Why would we need the IMF? I am sure there is plenty more for those who deserve this, where this came from.

Pete H.

Eva, I have a request. Many blogs post open threads on a regular basis. This gives blog participants a chance to share and discuss topics related to the blog but not part of a current post. I’d like to see a weekly open thread at HS. What do you think?
My motives for doing this are strictly selfish. I want to take advantage of the collective knowledge of the many well informed participants who frequent your blog. In addition, there is far too much going on in Hungary for one blogger to cover.
Thanks for your consideration!

Eva S. Balogh

Pete H: “Many blogs post open threads on a regular basis.”
I’m investigating.


Let us call the FIDESZ team evil.
Reagan (the handicapped thinker) did not want to appear inactive regarding the Soviets. Why should we hesitate to call Orban, , Kover and the extended Jobbik-FIDESZ etc. evil.
Orban is probably not even the real leader.
There are advisers behind, who act as his sponsors.
Who can list all of them?
Dr. Maria Schmidt spent the 1980s working on her doctoral dissertation on the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and held a series of scholarships for the study of the situation of Hungarian and East-Central European Jews in Budapest. A prolific writer and lecturer, Schmidt has also served as Chief Advisor to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (1998-2002), Director of the Institute of the Twentieth Century (1999-present), Director of the Institute of the Twenty-first Century (2000-present), and Director of the House of Terror Museum (2002-present).


Pete H., would it be possible with an ‘open blog’ to discourage contributions that have so far been ‘reserved’ for other places? I am thinking about the ‘propaganda’ pieces, which would have to be dealt with. My limited acquaintance with that through eg Johnny made me think who would feel the most encouraged to contribute…

peter litvanyi
Dear Eva, “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.” Why do you always insist on these last few words? I personally 100% agree with your comment about redistricting and its consequences. I even support your Feri /enthusiastically/ as long as he runs on a Karacsony Gergely unity platform such as “let’s get rid of them, let’s redo all constitutional changes they made and then LET US RESIGN!” This should be our focus now so let us not be divided in our goal. Re your last sentence: – Yeah, the “IMF will get rid of him”. Now the IMF actually got rid of lots of good true democrats in the past /Salvador Allende, Mikhail Gorbachev etc. a very long list/.Let me just bring up Yeltsin’s tanks in 1993. He basically killed off the nascent Russian democracy with full IMF support. Alas I can’t recall a single dictator that was lost due to IMF pressure. You may mention Iraq: I wish you just didn’t.… Read more »
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No offense, but if there’s a facebook like button, it’ll be much easier for me to share.


[…] voting with a simple majority winning the district. More about the new electoral law can be found here. The new system hugely favors Fidesz. In the future the situation might be even more lopsided if […]