Register as Roma, vote by default for Fidesz

It can easily happen that, amid the frenzy of Fidesz legislative action over the last three and a half years, even the more observant among us misses a troubling piece of legislative action. Here is one that I at least missed. It was included in the new electoral law of 2011, officially called the Law on the Election of Members of Parliament. For the most part Law CCIII provides a description of the newly created electoral districts, and it was on these gerrymandering efforts of the framers of the bill that I initially concentrated. Yesterday a friend called my attention to an interview with Aladár Horváth, a Roma political activist, on ATV’s program ATV Start.

At the time of her telephone call I still hadn’t had a chance to see the program, but I was told that Aladár Horváth is urging his fellow Roma not to register as such because so identifying themselves will deprive them of their right to vote for party lists. The Electoral Law on the Election of Members of Parliament, ¶7§(2), reads as follows: “A citizen who belongs to a minority can vote a) for a candidate of his electoral district and b) for the list of his own nationality.” In brief, as opposed to a non-minority citizen who can vote for both a candidate and a party list, a citizen who registers as a member of a minority can vote for a local candidate and the minority list.

This is the first time that minorities in Hungary can, at least theoretically, have representation in the Hungarian Parliament. The lack of such a possibility was a major embarrassment for earlier Hungarian governments that often stood up for the rights of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries where in fact Hungarian parties do have parliamentary representation. Of course, it is also true that ethnic minorities in Hungary, with the exception of the Roma and perhaps the Germans, are too small to reach the threshold necessary to be represented in parliament.

The Venice Commission’s draft opinion on The Act on the Elections of Member of Parliament of Hungary welcomed this particular aspect of Law XXIII. “For the first time, special provisions aimed at favouring the participation of national minorities in parliament in the electoral legislation. . . therefore the Venice Commission welcomes the introduction of such provisions.” However, the Venice Commission seemed to have some concerns regarding the new situation faced by the minority voters. It recommended that “as voters have the right to choose between registering to vote for normal party lists or national minority lists, the law should allow such registration in a reasonably short time frame before election day. This would ensure that all voters have sufficient information to make an informed choice. However, it would be preferable to give to the voters from national minorities the possibility of choice on election day between nationality lists and party lists.”

I guess I don’t have to tell you that no such opportunity will be given to minority voters either at the time of registration or on election day. Moreover, it is very unlikely that the Roma population, undereducated and living in backward villages, will realize the pros and cons of opting for the party list versus the minority list. After all, even Viktor Szigetváry, Együtt 2014’s electoral expert, when he wrote about the new electoral system didn’t pay much attention to this particular provision of the new law. He did admit that voting for the minority list “in small measure will strengthen the majoritarian character of the whole system” but he obviously didn’t consider it a potentially serious problem.

I checked the number of people who registered in 2010 to be able to vote for minority lists in local elections. Their number is over 200,000. Under the 2011 law they will now be deprived of their right to vote for a party. Or to be more precise, by voting for the minority list they will de facto be voting for Fidesz.

The leading members of Lungo Drom,  the  representative body of Hungarian Gypsies, including the head of the organization, Flórian Farkas, are Fidesz puppets. So any Gypsy who votes for the current ethnic leadership will only help Flórián Farkas be reelected to parliament. It would be one more vote for Fidesz.

Flórán Farkas at the COÖ meeting in January 2011 / Népszabadág / Simon Móricz

Flórián Farkas at the COÖ meeting in January 2011 / Népszabadág / Simon Móricz

Farkas is an old ally of Viktor Orbán who has worked closely with Fidesz ever since 2001 when he was already the president of Lungo Drom. He signed an agreement with Fidesz-MDF at that time in which he pledged Lungo Drom’s support of these parties. After the split of MDF and Fidesz, Farkas stood by Fidesz and renewed the electoral agreement between the Roma organization and Fidesz. He has been a member of the party’s parliamentary caucus ever since 2002. He is known as someone who does nothing whatsoever for the Roma community even though he is also head of the Országos Cigány Önkormányzat (OCÖ or Nationwide Gypsy Self-government).

So, this is the situation to which Aladár Horváth called attention. The problem is that his message is pretty much lost in a sea of total indifference. For example, he gave a press conference which not even the reporters of the liberal-socialist press bothered to attend. Although he himself is making an effort to get to the Roma communities, it is unlikely that he and his friends will be able to enlighten the Roma minority about their choices and the consequences of their decision.

We can be sure of one thing. Fidesz doesn’t do anything that doesn’t serve its own interests. Just as they don’t really care about the Hungarian minority in the neighboring countries so they don’t care about ethnic minorities inside of Hungary. Their primary concern is to get extra votes from the mostly Fidesz sympathizers in Romania and Serbia and to ensure that by default the Roma end up supporting them. The rest is just talk.

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csoda.peter
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csoda.peter
August 23, 2013 2:00 am

If the Roma are being guaranteed some seats in Parliament, it sounds as though the opposition parties will have to be a bit more active in winning Roma support for their own candidate. Or am I missing something?

Gabriel
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Gabriel
August 23, 2013 2:27 am

If minorities can only vote for their candidates, this is a racist law. Correct me if I’m wrong, but other Hungarians could vote if they wish, for a Gypsy party candidate or list. In that case there would be a difference in people’s rights according to their ethnicity.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
August 23, 2013 4:36 am

csoda.peter :
If the Roma are being guaranteed some seats in Parliament, it sounds as though the opposition parties will have to be a bit more active in winning Roma support for their own candidate. Or am I missing something?

I entirely agree. MSZP in particular has been particularly silent in that field, and the fall of Kolompár didn’t help. It’s time for them to show they have something to say. But do they?

PS: I’m not a fan of the ‘minority seats’ principle, not a fan either of what Dr Balogh reports pertaining to the consequences of registration. But the Left actually engaging the Right on specific Roma issues is the only way those issues will appear less specific through time.

Adam Henry
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Adam Henry
August 23, 2013 4:36 am
Peter/Gabriel: In Hungary – because we have a mixed election system – in the general elections everybody has two votes. One can be cast for the district candidate and one for a party list. Having said that, If you are a member of a minority, you may choose (by registering yourself as a minority voter) to vote for a so-called minority list, instead of voting for the party list. You will still have two votes, and one can be cast for the district candidate, but the other will be cast for the minority list, instead of the party list. The system is very complex. 106 district members of parliament will surely be elected and 93 MPs from the national party lists or the minority lists. The division of the 93 list-based places between the national parties and the minority lists will depend on the votes for the various lists. There is a complex methodology for the calculation of the minimum votes for any minority lists necessary to send at least one member of parliament from the minority list. It is likely that no minority will be able to send minority MPs from a list — except for the Romas (Fidesz,… Read more »
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
August 23, 2013 5:04 am

Adam Henry :
If there are 200,000 default Roma voters registered as minority voters as prof. Balogh says, voters who will only be able to vote for the Roma list then then those 200,000 votes will be essentially cast for Fidesz — but more importantly also they will NOT be cast for any opposition party.

A couple of years earlier Dr Balogh mentioned an Ipsos poll according to which 80% of the Roma electorate had voted Fidesz in 2010. Ceteris partibus, shouldn’t the foreseeable loss for the opposition party lists be considered closer to 40,000 votes?

Naturally, that isn’t nothing, yet… have the opposition parties done anything during the current legislature to seriously challenge Fidesz among those voters? My guess is they had cut that loss already.

petofi
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petofi
August 23, 2013 6:12 am

The Hungarian elections of 2014 is a rigged game in more ways than people suspect. With the exception of Gyurcsany (who’s been stabbed more times than Julius Ceasar) and his DK contingent, the others are in on the gaff–Fidesz is to rule and the others will be in on the crumbs.

Oh, the glorious Hungary and it’s somnambulant citizenry!

petofi
Guest
petofi
August 23, 2013 6:15 am

By the way, has it occurred to anyone that the Fradi contingent commemorating that stalwart representative of Hungary–Laszlo Csatary–had been neither arrested or evicted from the soccer game, but ‘fined’…when we all know that the government is financing the said soccer team.

Hungarian connivance at its best…

spectator
Guest
spectator
August 23, 2013 3:25 pm

A very “nice” solution, indeed.
Particularly, if you consider and compare to the rights of the “over the border” citizens.

But so far nobody seem to raise for protest, so, its obviously the right thing, isn’t it?

tappanch
Guest
tappanch
August 23, 2013 4:48 pm

Today Bajnai & Mesterhazy fell out over the distribution of candidates challenging Orban in 2014.

The Fidesz machine attacks Gyurcsany a lot, Bajnai somewhat less so and Mesterhazy not at all.

This should be a giveaway to Mesterhazy to step aside – he is not dangerous to Fidesz.

[Is it possible that M. is Orban’s secret man in the opposition? – I keep asking myself]

There should be a triumvirate [!] consisting of Vadai [!] of DK, Karacsony and Konya of E14 and Botka of MSzP. At this point both Bajnai and Mesterhazy seem to lack the leadership qualities to beat Orban.

Ron
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Ron
August 23, 2013 5:40 pm

tappach: [Is it possible that M. is Orban’s secret man in the opposition? – I keep asking myself]

I also keep asking this question. The youtube (MSZP advertisement) from yesterday only strengthen it.

Petofi1
Guest
Petofi1
August 23, 2013 5:40 pm

@tappanch

Bajnai got some bad advice: MSZP and Mesterhazy cannot be trusted. The right plan would’ve been to join with E14 and DK; put Gyurcsany in to face Orban, who’s no match for him as a speaker or debater. Mesterhazy is a Trojan–works either as the historical horse, or as a prophylactic.

Kenny
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Kenny
August 24, 2013 1:58 am
Tappanch, Ron: The current left as you imagine it will never be able to work together. Forget that dream. MSZP has a national network, nobody else has it, and without it you do not exist. That is the way the election system works and it is because this is exactly how Orban wanted it. He wanted to play the match with MSZP, and MSZP only. Mesterhazy is actually quite aggressive and has tendencies similar to Orbán, it is just that he is not that smart of a politician and has absoluetely no vision about what he would do if he ever got to power. (Worse still, Mesterhazy has no legal capabilities compared to Fidesz to write law quickly and time is of essence, as the longer it takes to approve a statute the higher the chances that it will be diluted through lobbying or because MSZP politicians get scared, as they always do, as a consequence of Fidesz’s media assault). Bajnai has no leverage whatsoever vis-a-vis MSZP (and Bajnai is not agressive or hungry enough and he never has been). DK perhaps, if they play their national network better. LMP or the Karácsony faction do not exist, never have. They… Read more »
Paul
Guest
August 24, 2013 10:39 am
Thanks to Adam Henry for injecting some badly needed facts into this election debate. Unfortunately, most of the comments on here about the upcoming election seem to be based more on wishful thinking than reality, and even those accepting of the facts are generally missing the key point in this debate – which is that Orbán has rigged the system massively in his favour. First of all, the number of parliamentary seats has been reduced dramatically (and for no apparent reason – other than political ones) from 386 to 199 – that’s very nearly half the previous number of seats. This change alone gives Fidesz advantages. For a start, with fewer seats, the bigger parties benefit, especially the largest party – which Fidesz still is. But also, reducing the seats means redrawing the boundaries, which means the party in power at the time can gerrymander the new constituency boundaries to their own benefit (e.g. move the few Fidesz voters from the next door constituency, which is solidly MSzP, into a constituency which might have voted either way – thus replacing a ‘swing’ constituency with a solid Fidesz seat). Secondly, the ratio of constituency seats to party list seats has been… Read more »
Balazs
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Balazs
August 25, 2013 3:28 am

I think the post misses an important point: pursuant to the 36 Act of 2013 on the electoral procedure (86. §) minority voters, furthermore, have the right to choose whether they want to vote at the parliamentary elections (for a local candidate and the minority list) or participate only at the elections of their non-territorial autonomous bodies (thus, they can vote for a candidate and a party list just as non-minority voters). So the number of those who will cast their votes for minority lists might be lower than those who registered themselves as minority voters at the previous minority elections.

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