Hungarian voter registration found unconstitutional

Reuters was the first foreign news agency to report that “Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party abandoned plans to force voters to register for parliamentary elections before the 2014 poll, after the Constitutional Court threw out the measure saying it limited voting rights.”

The court’s ruling is considered to be a  major blow to the Orbán government. Just before the holidays there were nationwide students demonstrations that forced Viktor Orbán, for the first time in his present tenure as prime minister, to retreat. Now, instead of fighting the ruling of the court as this government has done several times in the past, the decision was made to give up the idea of registration. But, as Antal Rogán, the whip of the Fidesz delegation, emphasized in his press conference after the ruling became public, “there will be no registration for the 2014 election.” So, perhaps there might be for subsequent elections. However, I would like to remind Mr. Rogán that first Fidesz must win the 2014 election, which is not a done deal at the moment.

The court was “mindful of the practice of the European Court of Human Rights… [and therefore it] established that for those with Hungarian residency the registration requirement represents an undue restriction on voting rights and is therefore unconstitutional.” In addition, the court also found that some of the law’s provisions on political campaigning imposed “severely disproportionate restrictions on the freedom of opinion and the media.”

I dealt with the question of the electoral law several times and also with the latest ruling of the Constitutional Court on the so-called “temporary provisions” of the Constitution, one of which was the electoral law. A thorough analysis of the electoral law by members of the pre-1989 democracy movement can be found on Hungarian Spectrum. I also covered the ruling on the temporary provisions, and therefore I don’t think it is necessary to dwell on the proposed law itself. A much more interesting question at the moment: why did Fidesz decide to abandon its previously inflexible position on the subject?

Opinions naturally differ on the cause.  An unsigned editorial in HVG is of the opinion that the Orbán government really doesn’t care about the rulings of the Constitutional Court. It happened before that the court found something unconstitutional and the answer was immediate: “It doesn’t matter. In this case, we will put it into the Constitution or add it to the list of items in the temporary provisions to the Constitution.”

László Kövér just lately said in his  usual blunt way what he thinks of the Constitutional Court. In his opinion, the court misunderstands its role. It acts as a “quasi appellate forum over parliament in such a way that the judges, unlike members of parliament and members of the government, are not responsible to anyone. The judges created the theocratic power of a divinity called ‘the invisible constitution’ over and above the sovereignty of the people.” In brief, Kövér doesn’t seem to realize the real function of a constitutional court. Kövér is not alone in his opinion within the Fidesz leadership.

Moreover, the HVG article continues, the Hungarian Constitutional Court is a shadow of its formal self and therefore what is going on now is not a struggle between two equal branches of government. The real reason for the change of heart, according to the author, is pragmatic. As he puts it, it is “the self-correction of a regime that only understands force.” The author suggests that the opposition parties and organizations should follow the example of the students. The logic of this particular explanation is not at all clear to me in light of its conclusion of “force” as the only thing Fidesz understands. If the Constitutional Court is so weak, why would Fidesz bow before it?

retreating, in formation  Flickr

Retreating, in formation / Flickr

Another article that also appeared in HVG  is by Áron Kovács and András Kósa. They think that pushing ahead with the registration issue would have been “too politically costly” to Fidesz. It didn’t matter how hard the government tried to sell registration as something desirable, the idea wasn’t gaining traction. According to Medián, 78% of the population is still against registration. Even the majority (51%) of Fidesz voters disapproved of the plan. The large group of undecided voters that the parties must court was overwhelmingly (85%) against Fidesz’s plan. Even the pro-Fidesz Nézőpont measured a substantial reluctance to support the government’s registration scheme.

As for the “political scientists,” only a few have been interviewed so far. Gábor Filippov (Magyar Progresszív Intézet) considers the decision a “defeat” for the government. Filippov added that going against the Constitutional Court’s ruling would “ignite wide and long conflict internationally” which, under the present circumstances, would place a heavy burden on the weakening Hungarian government.

Csaba Fodor of Nézőpont took a different position. Fodor normally vehemently defends the government’s position in all matters. He stresses pragmatism as the motivation behind the decision to bow to the ruling of the Constitutional Court because this way “one will not be able to question the legitimacy of the next election.” Moreover,  the idea of registration is not popular and therefore it may even be counterproductive. Fodor also mentioned that  Fidesz supporters can be more readily mobilized than the forces of the opposition which gives Fidesz an advantage anyway, so imposing an unpopular registration procedure is unnecessary. Please note that Fodor, most likely unwittingly, admits the real reason behind Fidesz’s eagerness to introduce voter registration.

Naturally, all opposition parties and civic groups are delighted and greeted the decision with great enthusiasm. Zsolt Molnár (MSZP) praised the decision as a sign that “the rule of law is still alive in Hungary.” According to Gergely Karácsony (LMP), “promoting voter registration was one of the worst moves of Fidesz” and he hoped that the decision would have a major impact on the politics of the government party for the better. E14 warned the government “not to try to smuggle back through the window what the Constitutional Court threw out of the door.” According to Csaba Molnár (DK), “the ruling was a decent and wise decision.” In his opinion Fidesz retreated not so much because of the Constitutional Court’s ruling but because of the opposition of society.

All in all, the opposition is delighted. They consider it a major defeat for Fidesz and a huge victory for the opposition. Within a couple of weeks we will see what the potential voters think of all this.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Guest
January 4, 2013 6:19 pm

FIDESZ WIKIPEDIA CONTROVERSY PAGE UPDATED — BUT EXPECT REPEATED RE-WRITE EFFORTS FROM THE FAITHFUL FIDESZ SPINMASTERS Controversy After winning 53% of the popular vote, which translated into a super-majority of 68% of parliamentary seats, giving Fidesz sufficient power to revise or replace the constitution, the party embarked on an extraordinary project of passing over 200 laws and drafting and adopting a new constitution — since followed by nearly 2000 amendments. The new constitution has been widely criticized[1] by the Venice Commission for Democracy[2], the Law of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament[3] and the United States[4] for gathering too much power in the hands of the ruling party, Fidesz, for limiting oversight of the new constitution by the Constitutional Court, and for removing democratic checks and balances in various areas, including the ordinary judiciary,[5] supervision of elections and the media. On January 4 2012 the opposition took to the streets protesting the actions of the government of Viktor Orbán, who has rejected appeals from European Commission President Jose Barroso and Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn. The European Commission subsequently threatened punitive action against the Orbán government.[6] Pro-government supporters held a much larger rally on the 21st of January, 2012,… Read more »

Guest
Lecso
January 4, 2013 6:22 pm

This might not be over yet.
I have heard that in April, the composition of the constitutional court will change, and Fidesz might try it again.

Guest
Lecso
January 4, 2013 6:24 pm

Also, given that a statue of István Bethlen is being built next to the Buda castle(I wonder who is behind this..) , and Bethlen is famous for his “democratic ways” , I doubt Fidesz will give up.

Guest
Lecso
January 4, 2013 6:26 pm

Lecso :
This might not be over yet.
I have heard that in April, the composition of the constitutional court will change, and Fidesz might try it again.

“As of April 2013 the majority of the Constitutional Court of Hungary will become Fidesz appointees”

Please ignore this message, as I was writing it, the post above was not yet posted, so it is clear now.

Guest
January 4, 2013 6:36 pm

If Orbán really is going to accept this ruling and “not to try to smuggle back through the window what the Constitutional Court threw out of the door”, then this is the best news I’ve heard in ages.

I still think there is no way that Fidesz-Jobbik will lose the next election, but Hungary’s future depends on the opposition managing to get a significant number of seats in 2014, and this is now much more likely to happen.

I still can’t believe that OV is giving up so easily on this though. He obviously no longer thinks that voter registration is the winner he thought it would be. But he’s not one just to back off because of a little difficulty, so I wonder what else he has up his sleeve to make 2014 as difficult as possible for the opposition?

Guest
Lecso
January 4, 2013 6:52 pm

Paul :
If Orbán really is going to accept this ruling and “not to try to smuggle back through the window what the Constitutional Court threw out of the door”, then this is the best news I’ve heard in ages.
I still think there is no way that Fidesz-Jobbik will lose the next election, but Hungary’s future depends on the opposition managing to get a significant number of seats in 2014, and this is now much more likely to happen.
I still can’t believe that OV is giving up so easily on this though. He obviously no longer thinks that voter registration is the winner he thought it would be. But he’s not one just to back off because of a little difficulty, so I wonder what else he has up his sleeve to make 2014 as difficult as possible for the opposition?

Sorry, what do you mean Fidesz-Jobbik? Did I miss something (they form a coalition?)

Guest
Minusio
January 4, 2013 7:03 pm

I share Paul’s doubts. And then I felt that with the actual election law and gerrymandering Orbán had more or less bagged the next election anyway (if there will be one). This is why I always felt this registration law was a “regulatory overkill”. But until next April a lot of things can happen. I wouldn’t write it off yet.

My friends put a lot of hope on the students’ demonstrations and expect that other groups will join them. When I point to voter arithmetics and argue that the students are very articulate but there are not enough of them they just cling onto this hope. Tragic.

All of this reminds me in a certain way of the 20th July, 1944 when some officers tried to assassinate Hitler, take over the government and begin peace negotiations with the allies. It failed for several reasons. But it left a tiny positive mark on German history: It showed that not every German was a nazi and in this small way regained a little bit of honour for the country. For me the demonstration against antisemitism and those against the educational “reforms” are in a similar vein: honourable – but basically too little, too late.

Guest
January 4, 2013 8:16 pm

London Calling! This ‘opposition’ victory may turn out to be bit of a Pyrrhic victory. They may look back and wish they had let Orban overplay his hand. If Orban wins the next election – it will probably be a solid consolidation of his power and place(wo)men – so at least another four years of misery for the Hungarian people. Had he succeeded with pre-registration – and with four out of five people against it according to ‘Medián’ – then a boycott could have been very effective. Yes Fidesz would have won – but with a ‘legitimacy’ question hanging over the (potentially extremely-low-turnout) election. The option of a boycott will now disappear into the ether. Orban is clearly frightened of the EU on this matter – as shown by Rogán being “……mindful of the practice of the European Court of Human Rights…”. I will be bemused as to how this will be received by the ‘we are not a colony’ brigade. In addition I will also be bemused as to how Orban will explain the climbdown to his party faithful – having left the dirty work of explanation to subordinates – quite a common parliamentary trick that. They have to… Read more »

Guest
January 4, 2013 9:58 pm

Lecso : Paul : If Orbán really is going to accept this ruling and “not to try to smuggle back through the window what the Constitutional Court threw out of the door”, then this is the best news I’ve heard in ages. I still think there is no way that Fidesz-Jobbik will lose the next election, but Hungary’s future depends on the opposition managing to get a significant number of seats in 2014, and this is now much more likely to happen. I still can’t believe that OV is giving up so easily on this though. He obviously no longer thinks that voter registration is the winner he thought it would be. But he’s not one just to back off because of a little difficulty, so I wonder what else he has up his sleeve to make 2014 as difficult as possible for the opposition? Sorry, what do you mean Fidesz-Jobbik? Did I miss something (they form a coalition?) They are just two wings of the same party in reality. I was using it as shorthand to indicate that it’s not enough just to defeat Orbán, especially if Jobbik pick up ex-Fidesz votes. The only thing worse than Orbán ‘running’… Read more »

Member
Some1
January 4, 2013 10:16 pm

I am not sure why is everyone so surprised. People really think that Orban suddenly woke up today with a happy smile, and decided to loosen his grip? Let me put up a little reminder July 27 meeting of the National Association of Entrepreneurs (VOSZ) in Budapest,

“„Reméljük … a demokrácia helyett nem kell kigondolnunk más típusú politikai rendszert…”
„egy ilyen félázsiai népség, mint mi, akkor tud összefogni, ha erő van”

Let’s hope “we would not have to replace democracy with another type of political system” in the interest of economic survival, “but such half-Asian hordes like us can only unite if there is power”

So, here you have the answer.

Guest
Wondercat
January 5, 2013 5:16 am

Your chosen illustrations always interest and sometimes amuse me, Prof Balogh. How much time — a ballpark figure! — do you spend in searching one out for the day’s posting?

Guest
Pektin
January 5, 2013 6:25 am

I have to be the contrarian. Fidesz will not win the next election — unless a snap election is held in a coming months. Obviously, the question is that if not Orban then who will win the election, for in the new system, it is not enough just to vote against Orban, a winner needs to be effectively ‘chosen’ in advance by opposition voters. It is unclear whether the winner will be Egyutt or MSZP (no other serious contender is likely at present). And if there is no such ‘chosen’ winner beforehand (there is no cooperation on the opposition) then there is no winner at all, in other words Orban will not be fired (under the current system). Orban can do whatever he wants but even the current system does not work if overall the united opposition (sans Jobbik of course, whose voters will support Fidesz mostly in the current system) has a 5-7 point average lead. This may not be the case yet, but we are getting there. Sure, in certain districts (e.g. Hodmezovasarhely, Western-Hungary) Fidesz will keep its positions, but otherwise it seems that the balance is slowly tipping towards the opposition. No gerrymandering, or miscounting of foreign… Read more »

Guest
oneill
January 5, 2013 6:57 am

There is great dissatisfaction with Fidesz but that does not necessarily mean He Who Must Be Obeyed will permit defeat in 2014.

The fact that it was Ader who got the ball rolling on this with regards sending it to the Constitutional Court with the knowledge that at this present moment it would be rejected proves surely that it is the Dear Leader himself who has decided not to proceed with registration?

Why?
He’s confident enough with his lackies in place in the courts and the state machinery that regardless of the 2014 result he continues to dictate what is and what is not accepted.

Guest
January 5, 2013 7:33 am

Maybe that voter registration was the “drop that made the keg overrun” (an old German saying).

For those who can read German:

Even our local German newspaper has a scathing report on power-hungry Orbàn and his first real defeat in this question:
http://www.tagblatt.de/Home/nachrichten/ueberregional/politik_artikel,-Sand-im-Machtgetriebe-_arid,199307.html

There are little gems in that article – like Orbán getting even more isolated in the EU as an enemy of democracy whose only political idea is to stay in power for the next 20 years …

Member
January 5, 2013 8:39 am

“Gábor Fodor of Nézőpont took a different position.”

Do not confuse Gabor Fodor with Csaba Fodor, please!
Quite different “nézőponts”.

Guest
January 5, 2013 12:38 pm

Petkin – for Fidesz to lose the next election requires three basic conditions:

1) An electoral system that allows the opposition a decent chance of winning.

2) An effective opposition.

3) A significant number of voters being ready to forgive MSzP and vote for them again.

And, to avoid the Fidesz-Jobbik coalition nightmare – a fourth condition:

4) The collapse of the Jobbik vote.

I can’t see any of these happening, and certainly not all three/four.

The best we can hope for is a significant vote for the opposition in 2014. This will panic Fidesz/Orbán and will show the voters that there is hope after all and that it IS worth resisting Fidesz. And, if the opposition remains united and builds on it’s 2014 success, and Orbán fails to control/reverse the situation, then I think we can look forward to a change in regime in 2018.

This is a great deal better than the long-term Orbán viktatorship/economic collapse/civil war I have been long predicting, but it’s still a long-shot, and it’s going to require a hell of a lot of dedication and energy to make it happen.

Member
January 5, 2013 1:09 pm

“3) A significant number of voters being ready to forgive MSzP and vote for them again.
And, to avoid the Fidesz-Jobbik coalition nightmare – a fourth condition:
4) The collapse of the Jobbik vote.”

I am not quite sure if it has to happen. It must be a real protest vote as to my best knowledge or experience, collecting all opposition powers..
It is easy do advise from outside HU!
Voters are definitely not stupid. Hopefully they move together by heart!!!

Guest
Minusio
January 5, 2013 2:48 pm

@ Dénes. “It is easy do advise from outside HU! Voters are definitely not stupid.”

I do hope you didn’t try to pull our leg(s). During and after the first Orbán government it was crystal clear what Orbán wanted more than anything else: power. Never mind that he had to change his position on various important issues several times, that he virtually blocked parliament and government on vitally necessary reforms, that he left a state in tatters with empty coffers, more corrupted than ever before, that he went on an expensive but ineffective vendetta when he finally made it again. All of this was clear to me long before his time in opposition had even begun. Why should I think that the Hungarian voter is NOT stupid?

In addition I happen to think that people abroad who are really interested in Hungary are much better informed than their friends in Hungary. Mostly, we have to use the Internet – but we do (even if we don’t understand Hungarian)!

Guest
petofi
January 5, 2013 2:12 pm

Some1 : I am not sure why is everyone so surprised. People really think that Orban suddenly woke up today with a happy smile, and decided to loosen his grip? Let me put up a little reminder July 27 meeting of the National Association of Entrepreneurs (VOSZ) in Budapest, “„Reméljük … a demokrácia helyett nem kell kigondolnunk más típusú politikai rendszert…” „egy ilyen félázsiai népség, mint mi, akkor tud összefogni, ha erő van” Let’s hope “we would not have to replace democracy with another type of political system” in the interest of economic survival, “but such half-Asian hordes like us can only unite if there is power” So, here you have the answer. Quite right: Orban is not a skunk that will change its spots. Most probably, the greater sin was the gerrymandering that went on before. This ‘registration’ push and it’s surrender was just the ‘cover story’ to hide the greater sin–typical Felcsutian mis-direction. If you want a true barometer of the nature of Orban government and its approach to lawfulness, keep your eye on the Csatary case. Keep in mind that some 70 years after an original guilty decision, the genius Hungarian investigators have now declared that Csatary… Read more »

Guest
Minusio
January 5, 2013 2:16 pm

@ oneill. Whether Áder acted on the behest of Orbán or not we don’t know. It’s a subtle, but noticeable phenomenon that the six people who founded Fidész (among them Áder) are still more or less on eye level with Orbán – quite in contrast to his underlings and minions.

When Orbán lost the election in 2002, he did two things because he wasn’t sure that he could keep the Fidész leadership. One was to found the “civic circles” in various places which turned out to become extremist right-wing Jobbik. The other was to get his main rival out of the way. This rival was Áder. They have never been friends.

Áder is probably the only legal mind in Fidész to be taken seriously. At the same time he is also a shady figure: On the one hand he rewrote the election law, on the other, he first praised the registration law as being democratic the same day he sent it to the constitutional court for review.

So we know that we don’t know.

BTW, Pester Lloyd carried an article about the 175 “district offices” which according to PL will have an even stronger impact on a pro-Fidész election outcome than the election law.

Guest
petofi
January 5, 2013 2:19 pm

Paul : Petkin – for Fidesz to lose the next election requires three basic conditions: 1) An electoral system that allows the opposition a decent chance of winning. 2) An effective opposition. 3) A significant number of voters being ready to forgive MSzP and vote for them again. And, to avoid the Fidesz-Jobbik coalition nightmare – a fourth condition: 4) The collapse of the Jobbik vote. I can’t see any of these happening, and certainly not all three/four. The best we can hope for is a significant vote for the opposition in 2014. This will panic Fidesz/Orbán and will show the voters that there is hope after all and that it IS worth resisting Fidesz. And, if the opposition remains united and builds on it’s 2014 success, and Orbán fails to control/reverse the situation, then I think we can look forward to a change in regime in 2018. This is a great deal better than the long-term Orbán viktatorship/economic collapse/civil war I have been long predicting, but it’s still a long-shot, and it’s going to require a hell of a lot of dedication and energy to make it happen. And what do you suppose will be left of the country… Read more »

Guest
Jano
January 5, 2013 2:47 pm

I’m agree with Paul almost perfectly, I don’t see any of those four points happening, and any other way seems to be pure wishful thinking. There is also one more issue. The opposition has to stay united after a victory otherwise Orbán will be back in office in a year.

“And what do you suppose will be left of the country if Orban stays until 2018?”

Hungary had worse. It will be bad, but there is no such bad where a good governance can’t get the country back from with time. 60 years of communism was god awful but the country is still here.

Fidesz won’t get 2/3 for sure and some of it’s own 2/3 rules are gonna backfire at them a lot when they are going to need opposition help so therefore a strong opposition will be able to hold a lot of cards.

Guest
spectator
January 5, 2013 2:48 pm

Eva S. Balogh : I’m also a great deal more optimistic than Paul. Almost sure that the overwhelming portion of the population is fed-up with the more and more obvious incompetence of this government. The lies don’t help either. At the moment the extent of the dissatisfaction doesn’t show yet in the opinion polls but only because half of the population refuses to tell its intentions. Just yesterday Rogán was still talking about Fidesz’s lead but I have the feeling that he himself actually knows that the polls don’t tell the whole truth. Completely agree with your assessment, Eva. However, winning the election is only part of the tasks lay ahead, not even the hardest part, (relatively speaking) as I see it. Given the fact, that Orbán – in any event – has still more than a year in full power, the damage what they can yet inflict during this time, added to the present, already dire situation will leave next to nil maneuvering possibility to any kind of following government. Knowing his character, I dare say, that their actions in essence wouldn’t be much different from the retreating Nazis: we better be prepared that they will destroy everything what… Read more »

Guest
Pektin
January 5, 2013 3:47 pm

In Budapest, Fidesz/Jobbik is already way behind the opposition parties (as far as it can be ascertained, given the problems with polling). Sure, it’s only Budapest, which has always been more liberal (read more news, dare to express leanings etc.), but still, it is a district with some 1.7m people, and its voters are more active on average. Hard core Fidesz/Jobbik voters will never ‘forgive’ to MSZP, they are a big constituency and they will never vote for MSZP. If you talk to these people (often more educated people who have simply stronger conviction), you will think that Fidesz is still strong. But I don’t think so. There is now an opportunity for the opposition, they may well blow it, but people want change. They don’t want four more years of Matolcsy, Orban, Kover, Hoffman, Rogan. This has not been a great three years so far for anybody, the Fideszniks only vote ideologically but there is no constituency which is happier than was in 2010 (perhaps with the excpetion of the friends of Gyorgy Fekete and Szami aka Karoly Eperjes). It is all true that Orban will rearrange the system, Ader and the constitutional court will support Orban, that the… Read more »

Guest
cheshire cat
January 5, 2013 4:31 pm

Paul

You are right in many ways. It will be very difficult for a lot of Hungarians to forgive the socialists so soon – and E14 has Gyurcsany, Bajnai etc. I tend to be more optimistic than you, but then I’m probably wrong.

But remember one thing: ever since 1990, Hungarians ALWAYS voted out every government in parliamentary elections. Apart from 2006, but the Gyurcsany cabinet was only 2 years old then.
This is just that kind of a people! :-O

The 2014 elections will be decided by those who still hate the socialists, but unhappy enough with Orban’s government not to vote for him. They come up as the “uncertains” in the polls. We can’t know for sure, before we get a little closer in time, whether these people will vote at all, and if yes, who they will hate less. How much they will hate Fidesz will partly depend on the state of the economy THEN, level of recession, inflation, healthcare etc. that is how WELL-OFF they are. Partly on how loud, successful and believable Fidesz’s campaign against E14 will be.
This is just that kind of a people.

Guest
cheshire cat
January 5, 2013 4:35 pm

Minusio @26
Your question is a very valid one…

A lot of Hungarians don’t care about democracy. They want a high standard of living and western lifestyle. Democracy can wait.

Or have I become very bitter?

Member
Some1
January 5, 2013 4:43 pm

I think at this point for Fidesz is only coming from people who directly benefited form some of the doing of Fidesz, and that number is not so big. At the beginning it was the hope, the promise that kept Fidesz’ popularity, but most of those promises were smoke and mirrors. People do understand that Fidesz simply cannot deliver. Who were on their side to begin with? Opportunists with little going for them (Annamaria Szalay), some who had to keep up some “agenda” in order to stay relevant (Maria Wittner for one), those who were side-swept by the previous government (Pal Schmitt), economical reasons (I am sorry but I also put the Hungarian from Ukraine and Romania in this group), oligopolies, students/teachers, religious leaders, and medical professionals. Those were the groups that were hypnotized, and slowly woke up. Finishing students realized that the 1000000 new jobs in ten years will never happen, the middle class knows that the 5-6% economic growth is not obtainable, students going for university and their families understand now that that have to cough up money they never planned, doctors and nurses are forced to retire (let’s not even talk about the medical crises this will… Read more »

Guest
cheshire cat
January 5, 2013 4:46 pm

About the original topic.
Do I remember correctly, that E14 has announced they will got to the streets if the registration will go ahead? And the Bekemenet guys responded by saying that so would they, and “they would win” (=outnumber them).
What with university students already edgy, Fidesz probably (and rightly) got worried about a possible mass anti-government demonstration that could have turned violent if the Peace March joined in. And given the percentage of the people who were against the registration, Peace March probably wouldn’t have outnumbered them!
So they decided to “use their minds instead of their power”, as Rogan so nicely put it.

wpDiscuz