A minor miracle: nine parties support Márton Gulyás’s electoral reform plan

Yesterday’s post turned out to be quite controversial. It reported on a poll that showed what we have suspected for some time: that Hungarians who were born in the country and who currently live and work there resent the generous financial support given by the Orbán government to Hungarian minorities living in the neighboring countries. Moreover, Hungarians know that their tax money that goes abroad is intended primarily to gather votes for Fidesz, the party of choice in those countries. The majority of the inhabitants of Hungary proper strongly oppose the current practice of bestowing voting rights on those Hungarian speakers in the neighboring countries who become dual citizens. I added my own personal agreement to that general sentiment.

During the resultant discussion it turned out that many of the commenters are not familiar with details of the electoral law as it applies to citizens living abroad. I suggest that readers take a look at a November 2013 post of mine called “Inequality of the Hungarian electoral law.”

Since we had such a brisk debate on this aspect of the electoral law, we might as well talk about another angle of it, its gross disproportionality. There is nothing new in the disproportionality of the Hungarian electoral system. In 1994 MSZP got 32% and SZDSZ 19% of the popular vote. Together, with their combined 51%, they had a two-thirds majority in the Hungarian parliament. In 2010 a similar situation occurred: Fidesz’s 53% was enough to have a super majority in parliament. With amendments, tipping the electoral law even more in their favor, in 2014 44% was enough for Fidesz to get a two-thirds majority in parliament. In a more proportional system, Fidesz wouldn’t have been able to form a government on its own.

In March of this year, Miklós Haraszti, rapporteur of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and a monitor of the elections in the Netherlands, began a campaign of sorts to induce Fidesz to change the electoral system before the 2018 election. In his opinion, an alliance of all left-of-center parties is neither realistic nor is it an effective way to ensure victory. Fidesz naturally would oppose any change to the present electoral system. In that case, all the other parties should refuse to participate in the election. Haraszti argues that Fidesz cannot risk such a “one-party campaign and election” and therefore will have to negotiate with the other parties.

Haraszti’s idea was widely debated in intellectual circles. In May it got a boost when at a demonstration Márton Gulyás, a civil activist, called for a political movement whose goal would be to change the unfair electoral system. As usual, there were many who argued that, in the current political landscape, the opposition would not benefit from a more or less proportional system but in fact would emerge weaker than it is now. As long as this greatly disproportional system exists, there is always the possibility that an opposition party may, even with 45% of the votes, be able to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority that would enable the new government to dismantle Viktor Orbán’s illiberal political system. However, given the current state of the Hungarian opposition, the likelihood of such a development is unlikely. The left-of-center parties show no inclination to gather under the leadership of MSZP’s László Botka. Perhaps the growing recognition of this fact induced these parties to line up behind Márton Gulyás’s new movement, Közös Ország Mozgalom/Common Country Movement (KOM).

After the initial announcement of Gulyás’s political movement in May, there were weeks of silence. To tell you the truth, I thought that the whole program had died even before it was launched. But on August 7 the newly revived zoom.hu reported that Gulyás’s movement will make its debut on August 20. Zoom.hu learned that most of the opposition parties indicated that they would support Gulyás’s movement. “If all these parties sign the document, we will be witnessing a minor miracle.” The internet site seemed to know that Jobbik had not yet made a decision. In any case, on August 18 Alfahir.hu, Jobbik’s official internet news site, published an intriguing article on the subject titled “There will be no political cooperation with the left but the electoral system must be changed.” The article quoted Jobbik PM Dóra Dúró’s personal opinion, posted on Facebook, which harshly condemned the leftist parties that “ruined the country” and declared opposition to any cooperation them. In the body of the Alfahir.hu article there was not a word about “the electoral system [that] must be changed.” These words appeared only in the title. However, if I read this article correctly, Duró’s words might not be the final ones on the subject. Her weight within the party has greatly diminished since the demotion of her husband, Előd Novák.

Well, it seems that the minor miracle did happen. Nine parties support the movement, including such stalwart “go-it-alone” parties as LMP and Momentum. The two larger rivals, MSZP and DK, managed to find common ground. This is indeed an accomplishment, and most likely it happened only because the initiator of the movement is a civil activist, an outsider in a way. The nine parties that signed up are MSZP, DK, LMP, MoMa, Együtt, Párbeszéd, the Liberals, the Two-tailed Dog Party, and Momentum. Negotiations with Jobbik are still in progress. As a spokeswomen of KOM stated, “the representatives of [Jobbik] might participate in the discussions that begin on September 4.” These discussions will take place in the open, in a temporary structure called Agora on Alkotmány (Constitution) utca, where topics related to the electoral law will be discussed continuously. I guess the hope is that during these discussions ideas regarding the final shape of a new electoral law will emerge. Otherwise, Gulyás gave Fidesz a deadline of October 23 to respond. If Viktor Orbán refuses to negotiate, the activists will begin a program of civil disobedience.

How can this be a country of all?

Does this movement offer any hope? What worries most people is the lack of a specific proposal for the kind of electoral system they would like to be adopted. What do they mean by a proportionate election law? But perhaps open discussion could ignite some public enthusiasm for change. We know that the majority of Hungarians don’t want to see another four years of Fidesz rule, but they have been discouraged and dispirited by the lack of resolve on the part of the opposition parties. Perhaps the very fact that nine parties or perhaps even ten could stand behind a political cause might give them some hope that Fidesz’s stranglehold on the Hungarian political system can be broken. We will just have to see.

As for Fidesz’s reaction, it is too early to say. For the time being, at least on the surface, the party leaders seem utterly unconcerned. We know, however, that the national security forces have been keeping a watchful eye on Márton Gulyás and his camps, which are supposed to prepare his followers for the force activists may face if they carry out peaceful resistance. We have also heard often enough about the “hot fall” that is coming, when enemies of Hungary will try to overthrow the government. So, obviously there is some concern on the part of the powers-that-be.

Fidesz was undoubtedly prepared for the launch of the movement, but what might have come as a shock was that there seems to be a united front behind it. At the moment only one short editorial appeared in Magyar Idők today. It makes fun of the people, nine men and nine women, representing the nine parties, on the video released by the movement. The journalist mocks their personal appearance and their alleged political gravitas, which he suggests is feather light. He tries to minimize the problem of the disproportionality of the Hungarian law and accuses them of “ignoring the unfairness of the French electoral system.” He asks them whether they plan to stand behind the “unrealizable brainstorming” of Momentum’s program on electoral reform. “Don’t miss it! Every word of it, every picture-frame of it, worth its weight in gold. And imagine what would happen if they governed the country. It’s better not to find out.” I guess the rest of the pro-government press is waiting for Viktor Orbán to return from Croatia, where he is spending his vacation.

August 21, 2017
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Christopher Adam
Guest

I find Gulyás and his activism intriguing and refreshing in many ways. While the devil is always in the details, especially when it comes to Hungarian politics and opposition cooperation, this basic agreement to at least dialogue on this issue is mildly promising. But I have misgivings about a fully proportional electoral system, one based perhaps only on party lists and not on any single member ridings, if indeed this is what they are working towards.

One of the positive aspects of MPs, at least some, elected through first-past-the-post, is that this tends to weed out upstart parties that are frankly not ready for prime time. If you had a completely proportional system, based only on party lists, you may see disturbing newcomers to the political stage, like the Nazi Erő és Elszántság movement, stand a chance of passing the threshold–especially if that threshold was ever lowered from 5% to 3%, which would be in the interest of many of those who have agreed to work with Gulyás…

Jean P.
Guest

“… I have misgivings about a fully proportional electoral system, one based perhaps only on party lists…”

The choice is between democratic principles and tactical considerations.

LwiiH
Guest

party lists favor appointed over elected representation. They reverse the lines of responsibility away from the electorate toward the party leadership. All those in parliament should be there because the won an election, not because they’ve been appointed. Appointed representation should have gone away with the medieval period.

Guest

the< won an election
If someone gets 30% of the vote in FTTP-system while the next candidate gets 28% – is that really a win?

The German system (there are variations in it from one state to the next) tries to consider this by not taking the party representatives in the order in which they appear on a list but using the number of votes they got – again a compromise of course.

And now for something totally OT from the Guardian – one of the best jokes of this year:
“Trump’s nothing like Hitler. There’s no way he could write a book.” Frankie Boyle

LwiiH
Guest

that no one has a clear >50% majority is a different discussion. We can talk about solutions to sort out intent. The point is, a representative in parliament should be elected and have no obligation to follow the party line. Party lists and forced voting blocks align members with “leaders”, not the electorate. There is a reason a congress person will pay attention to you where as you couldn’t get the time of day from an MP in Hungary.

petofi
Guest

Well said.

petofi
Guest

Agreed.

Guest

Christopher, I agree with you having read about the election system in the Weimar Republic which was fully proportional- if I remember correctly even without a threshold, so you had parties with only one or two representatives in parliament.
After WW2 there was an intensive discussion in West Germany about the “best election system” and we came up with a compromise which I find quite good, better than the really unjust Hungarain system or the “Winner takes all” idea of the British. This works kind of ok in old democracies maybe but even there the Liberals and the Greens e g want a better system afaik.
As a mathematician I studied different variations (a long time ago …) – there is no single optimal solution but it’s clear that systems like the Hungarian (or even the US …) have an unhealthy effect:
All votes are equal – but some votes are more equal than the others!

Istvan
Guest

The US electoral system and federal and state levels are exceedingly complex because the federal census and a phrase in the Constitution governs the apportionment of House seats and electoral votes by way of a formula which Wolfi might enjoy since he is trained in mathematics. To see it go here https://www.census.gov/population/apportionment/about/computing.html

What is called “reapportionment” has resulted in litigation over how the new districts are designed by the state legislatures, here are the cases from the 2010 census. I have seen numerous suggestions for changing this system and none will be implemented, we have what we have here. The USA is a model for no nation in relationship to our election system.

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘The USA is model for no nation..’

For sure. And there’s plenty to go around with ‘gerrymandering!’. Too many Gerry’s do much much ‘mandering’ around here. 😎

Member

The people who spoke in this video are offering themselves up for ridicule. Half of them are reading off a card. None of them come across as genuine.

They are saying, “The current electoral system was created by Viktor Orban and Fidesz. They were elected by an absolute majority of voters in 2010. These voters reconfirmed their decision with a huge plurality in 2014. However, we are too weak to compete, therefore we need a system that allows weak people to win.”

Pathetic.

Worst of all, they don’t get it. The majority of voters in any country have no clue about the differences between first-past-the-post and proportional representation, nor do they care. What they want to know is: Do I get a job, can I feed my family, can I fuel my car, can I have enough money to take a vacation next summer. This video clip speaks to intellectuals, not to the majority of voters.

petofi
Guest

The Eclipse: once in 99 years and guess what, the moronic Hungarians in charge of M1-5 showed none of it.
Was that under Orban’s orders?

(Hungarian mentality in a nutshell.)

wrfree
Guest

I guess ‘fate’ follows Magyars all over. I had the opportunity to bask in blissful totality. What we got was got rain around here and cloudy clouds blocking everything out. What a flop. But a little bor and barking at the fold helped as the sunshine got away! And at least we won’t have to buy glasses er …next time. 😎

Guest

The next eclipse in the USA will come on April 8 in 2024 …
So better luck next time, wrfree!
PS:
I saw the last one in Europe in 1999 at the Balaton – wining and dining in a little restaurant at the St Görgyhegy in the garden – marvelous!
PS:
The sights, the wine and the food too … 🙂

wrfree
Guest

Well wolfi your little tidbit on eating at the Balaton blew away everything about the eclipse as it brought back great times there at Almadi and over the lake at Siofok. Nice to sack out there on the Balaton wining and dining….I have some great memories which I cherish.

‘Let us have wine and woman
Mirth and laughter
Sermons and soda water the day after’. Byron.. a guy who knew how to have a good time..😎

petofi
Guest

Correction: a TOTAL ECLIPSE is far more rare than just an eclipse…

Ferenc
Guest

Links to “Közös Ország Mozgalom”, texts Hungarian only, it’s a Hungarian cause…
website: https://kozosorszagmozgalom.hu/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kozosorszagmozgalom/
youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChfyGA6-IHZKagniTjpNTTw

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘the force activists’

On the face of it the increased discussion of the electoral law is a step in the right direction for this ‘democratic’ country. On the other hand it can flop just as easily withpunches thrown. We’ve seen many movements that usually end when people refuse to keep their hands themselves. VO knows how far to go with this stuff but even he may be careful not to open up a potential can of worms if the jabs get really below the belt.

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest
There is a lot to be said for pure proportional representation. Mainly it means that at each election each party receives a number of mandates, which they can then cast any way they want. Thus parliamentary votes can be conducted on a single computer each party messages with its allotted votes. It requires no people, no staff, nothing. Just Party chiefs working from their headquarters. And just think: the beautiful Parliament Building on the Danube bank can be rented out and turned into a high priced catering location, luxury housing and hotel services. I personally prefer to see only elected representatives, restoring meaning to their name “representatives”. With the country divided into equally populated election districts (ridings in the UK), each of those districts have a spokesman for that district’s electors, their local problems, goals, desires. That is what true democracy means. It is interesting to note that in the United States the Congress, as first assembled during Washington’s and Adam’s presidency did not the concept of parties. Representatives acted on the needs of their districts and the Senators for their States. Only under Jefferson did the divide between his vision of the United States and Adams’ vision emerge and… Read more »
wpDiscuz