Another miracle: Eight-party working document on Hungary’s electoral system

Today seems an appropriate time to look at much needed changes to the Hungarian electoral law. The German polls just closed, and yesterday eight Hungarian left-of-center opposition parties agreed to sit down to work out a more equitable, more proportional electoral system to replace the one Fidesz introduced to satisfy the party’s immediate political interests. They announced that they already have a rough working document and that by October 23 they intend to have the final product.

I’m sure they will study the German electoral law carefully since the 1989 Hungarian law, which governed elections between 1990 and 2010, was modeled to some extent on the German system–except it turned out to be much more complicated and a great deal less proportional. It’s high time to remedy the situation, although we know that as long as Fidesz-KDNP holds sway over the country, whatever these parties come out with in the next month will remain merely a plan, to be stashed away for later implementation.

Still, the very fact that the eight left-of-center parties agreed to work together on a piece of legislation is an important event. It was only a few days ago that the same eight parties (along with Jobbik) agreed on a “national minimum” as far as healthcare is concerned. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if soon enough a similar undertaking would address the transformation of the Hungarian educational system.

Gergely Karácsony, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Lajos Bokros at the Agora where the working document was announced

Before going into the present state of the discussion on the electoral law, I think it might be useful to share some material on the subject from the websites of the different parties.

LMP (Politics Can Be Different) published the party’s position on the reform of the electoral system in 2011, prior to Fidesz’s single-handed reworking of the system in its own favor. Nonetheless, I’m confident that the document still reflects the views of the party on the subject. Among the available material, I found LMP’s presentation of the party’s ideas on an ideal system to be the best. It is succinct and clear. LMP at that point wanted to make the 1989 electoral law more proportionate but didn’t want to drastically change the system. They wanted to retain the mixed system of individual districts and party lists. LMP, being a small party always hovering around 5%, wanted to lower eligibility for representation to 3%. Since the leaders of LMP didn’t believe that the incredibly low percentage of women in parliament would change on its own, they suggested a female quota.

Demokratikus Koalíció/DK’s program titled “Hungary of the Many” (2016) has a section called “For a Fair Electoral System.” DK is also in favor of the mixed system (individual districts and party lists) but suggests further study of an “open list system,” which allows voters to indicate their favored candidate on the party list. Otherwise, DK is adamant that “voting rights can only be given to people who are inhabitants or who spent a considerable time in the country.” DK, like LMP, recommends a quota set-aside for woman politicians.

The document of Együtt, in which the party set forth its ideas on a new electoral system, is the longest but is unfortunately quite repetitious and at places muddled. Most likely this is because, as the author of the document says, they don’t only want to have a more proportional and fairer system. “The main task of the party is a model change which would strengthen political competition through the institutionalization of compulsion for compromise (kompromisszumkényszer).” Együtt also wants to retain a mixed electoral system, but unlike such systems in other countries, the party would have an equal number of seats for MPs from the districts and from the lists. They suggest a 222-member parliament, two members of which would come from votes of the dual citizens residing in the neighboring countries. Együtt recommends the introduction of instant-runoff voting. Instead of voting for only a single candidate, voters can rank the candidates in order of preference. Együtt is in favor of an “open system,” whose introduction DK is also contemplating. Együtt also supports a quota system to ensure the fairer representation of women in the legislative process. Együtt can’t imagine taking away the voting rights of dual citizens, but it would completely rework the system governing their voting. Right now they can cast only one vote, for a party list. Együtt would create two districts with their own candidates.

I left MSZP to last because what the party has is not a program but a collection of ideas, which the party leaders offered “for debate.” The document is called “Election in Hungary: A new alternative.” As far as MSZP is concerned, there are only two alternatives: a mixed system with run-offs with compensation derived from votes on party lists and single voting by counties plus Budapest for party lists alone. MSZP would give three seats to dual citizens residing in neighboring countries. Whoever put the document together assigned the number of seats for all 20 districts. In addition, MSZP threw in several other options for discussion: a female quota on all party lists, introduction of a preferential (instant-runoff) voting system, lowering the 5% threshold for parliamentary representation, lowering the voting age to 16, compulsory voting, a second house, or just one countrywide list like in the Netherlands. I assume that MSZP isn’t seriously considering any or all of these options but is simply putting them out for discussion.

As you can see, the parties who have already offered some thoughts on the reform of the electoral system are not very far apart, and therefore I don’t anticipate serious disagreements among them. From what we know so far about the discussion among the parties, the mixed system would remain and the number of seats would be raised to 220-222. The participants are optimistic that by the October 23 deadline the final proposal will be signed and sealed.

Ferenc Gyurcsány at the time of the announcement that they already had a working document and that they would spend the month ironing out the details expressed his opinion that “the democratic opposition is in better shape intellectually and in human terms than it appears from the outside.” If there is easy agreement on as difficult an issue as the electoral system, “it is even possible that these parties and movements will govern the country well.” Gergely Karácsony expressed his opinion that this is “not the end but the beginning of something.”

The working document is not public yet, but we learned a few details. Péter Juhász of Együtt indicated that they no longer insist on the introduction of an “open party list.” Ferenc Gyurcsány said at the press conference that DK added a proviso to the document in which they stated that the party doesn’t support voting rights for dual citizens who are permanent residents of another country. Anett Bősz of the liberals added that the Magyar Liberális Párt did the same thing regarding the minimum threshold for parliamentary representation.

So far, so good. In the case of the “healthcare” minimum, it was an outsider, not a party leader, who hammered together an agreement that was acceptable to all parties. Now, a week later, a civic activist achieved the beginnings of the same for the electoral system. Perhaps the party-civic society combination has a greater chance of success than I anticipated.

September 24, 2017
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Member

If I were a woman, I’d be terribly offended if someone thought I could only make it into Parliament through special positive discrimination.

The female quota is a recipe to ensure that Parliament has more Torgyán Józsefnés and Pelczné Gáll Ildikós — unaccomplished women who become MPs because of their connections or good looks — and fewer Dávid Ibolyas and Lendvai Ildikós — women who succeed in politics because of their talents and hard work.

Reality Check
Guest

A woman might consider it a steppingstone to when quotas are not required. I do not know many minorities that consider affirmative action an insult, but rather a way to redress a historical injustice.

Member

Could be, but politics is not a corporation with HR departments, merit-based promotions, casual Fridays and sensitivity trainers . It is a dirty, cutthroat business. Anyone, woman or man, who gets put in a leadership position without spending adequate time in the trenches is going to get a thumping.

I would question the wisdom of a Gypsy quota for the same reason. As far as I know, all Roma MPs have won their seats in parliament on party lists. As far as I know, all of them have disappeared from the scene. Or, their name is Florian Farkas.

Member

Dr Eva, as a foreigner livig and studying international relations in Hungary with a great interest in hungarian politics, i cannot describe how helpful your website is, and how your time and effort cannot be thanked enough.
Thank you thank you thank you for this.

Guest

This sounds interesting – but surely there’s no chance that Fidesz will agree to it!
Maybe after “hell freezes over” … 🙂

Marty
Guest

I may be a bit of a johnny-come-lately to this one but does anybody know why is it impossible for the opposition (from Jobbik to DK) to agree on one sole local opposition candidate in each of the 106 local electoral districts but otherwise allow the voting for various party lists?

I mean if all the opposition from Jobbik to the left-wing could agree (granted this is very difficult based on poll figures) then I would guess the opposition could win in at least 70 if not 80 or more districts.

And the voters otherwise could vote along ideological lines for the party list of the their preferred parties. The leftist parties could even set one party list if this is what they really want.

I mean a this way united opposition could credibly tell the voters that they foremost want change and to hold Fideszniks accountable and otherwise they would hold another election in let’s say 6 months time.

The voters would be assured that the right and left would not govern together as this is probably unacceptable to the voters of both sides but otherwise they would work together to get rid of the Orban crime family.

Member
Because of a number of reasons. First, there is genuine support for Fidesz in most of the country; the “single opposition candidate” strategy might work in Budapest and a few other places, but not nationwide. Leftie voters are genuinely revolted by the idea of voting for a Jobbiker and Jobbikers are genuinely revolted by the idea of voting for a leftie. Most left-wing voters would prefer to stay at home or spoil their ballots than vote for Vona & Co., while Jobbikers might vote for a Fidesz candidate. Jobbik would lose all credibility among their supporters if they were to enter into a formal pact with the lefties. Their entire raison d’etre is to provide a radical alternative that will put Hungary on a new track. The left-wing parties will never be able to agree on joint candidates among themselves. LMP is especially adverse to the idea of cooperating in this manner. Finally, Fidesz will be able to run phantom candidates. They might encourage a far-right alternative such as Magyar Hajnal or a leftie alternative such as the Hungarian Social Democratic party in the hope of siphoning votes away from the united opposition candidate. They did this in the Esztergom… Read more »
Istvan
Guest
Unfortunately the roots of this unity on changing the electoral process are founded in part on a broader shared understanding relating to Hungary’s approach to the disintegration of Ukraine. I can see the new soft faced Jobbik effectively endorsing these electoral reforms at some point. As Eva points out in her essay “MSZP would give three seats to dual citizens residing in neighboring countries” in the electoral reform process and that appeals to Jobbik which would build on that provision for ethnic Hungarians. We are also seeing supporters of the democratic opposition signing the Jobbik petition for a “wage union” within the EU under the simple demand equal wages for equal work. Jobbik the spider is drawing them into its web. The disgust of Hungarian left voters with Jobbik can be mitigated to a degree. Basically there seems to be growing agreement among the democratic left on carving out a refuge for the small Hungarian population of Transcarpathia amid the potential disintegration of the Ukrainian state due to the fine and ongoing work of Putin’s agents, including in the Trump campaign particularly with Lt General Flynn who wanted to negotiate dropping all actions against Russia over seizure of Crimea and… Read more »
Guest

We have a saying in German that might apply here:
Den Teufel mit dem Beelzebub austreiben.

Casting out the demons with the ruler of the demons …
The cure would be worse than the disease is another loose translation that applys to this Orbán vs Vona problem.

Ferenc
Guest

About sayings in this case, the coming elections and the campaigns ahead, I have the feeling/hope that the following might become applicable:
When two dogs (‘Teufel’ and ‘Beelzebub’) fight for a bone, a third (Democrats) runs away with it!
Hungarian (old?) saying: Mikor két eb összemarakodik a tál felett, a harmadik könnyen jóllakik!

Looking to the billboard slogans (Ők Lopnak, GensztereK, Ők A Félelem) by one of the first two dogs, their fight might really get so dirty that they’ll only be watching each other, and then another third one might…
First the FID dog made a new law (against the fundamental law!), to try to avoid such, but the J-dog now found a way around that and has started putting up unsigned billboards. At the moment FID seems to try to underplay those new billboard slogans, but I think that they’ll not be able to stay out of the fight.

Observer
Guest

Getting rid of the Orbán mafia stranglehold is priority no 1. If Vona/Jobbik help in this, so much the better.

Marty
Guest
I disagree with you. I get that re party lists the voter would like to vote for his/her party and ideology. That’s a vote for the party and voters feel that that’s their “main” vote and that must go for the preferred party. But re the local candidate, just as it happened in Tapolca and in Veszprém voters are sometimes happy to vote for another candidate if the aim is to get rid of Fidesz. In both cases each Jobbik and the left-wingers separately opposed a Fidesz candidate and voters figured out which of the two had the better chance of defeating the Fidesz candidate and voted for that likely candidate (ie. in Tapolca for the Jobbik candidate and in Veszprém the left wing candidate) and duly defeated Fidesz. I think that could happen at other places too. What you say implies that Fidesz alone has a majority (more votes than the entire opposition combined) and that’s just not true. Fidesz may have such majority in some districts but in most districts it just doesn’t have that majority. My idea is not about a real coalition, anything to do with government and policies but strictly about getting rid of Orban… Read more »
Member
With much respect, there are two points I would like to raise in relation to your argument. First point: The idea that Jobbik and left-wing voters supported each others’ candidates in Veszprem and Tapolca is something that analysts dreamt up without a shred of proof to support the notion. In any country, by-elections are a poor measure of future voter intentions. Turnout is almost always significantly lower than in general elections because two kinds of people are likely to cast ballots: Those who are really angry at the government and those who are passionate supporters of the government. In Veszprem, turnout in the 2015 by-election was 46.9% compared with 64.3% in the 2014 general election. The Jobbik candidate took 14.1% of the vote in 2015, only slightly less than the proportion the Jobbik nominee received a year earlier. Independent Zoltan Kesz beat his Fidesz opponent because turnout in the city of Veszprem was much higher than turnout in the villages, where people tend to support Fidesz and Jobbik. In Taploca, turnout in 2015 was 41.8% compared with 60% a year earlier. The MSZP-DK candidate took 26.2%, a single percentage point lower than the percentage obtained by the “united left” candidate… Read more »
Marty
Guest

There are different sets of voters here. The middle 30-40% of voters who in the polls says he/she doesn’t know which party he/she prefers should not be mixed with clear supporters of Jobbik and the left. This group of undecideds may plausibly vote for the single opposition candidate even if he/she preferred another one.

I get that for a Jobbik supporter it would be more difficult to vote for a leftist candidate (even if the goal is only to stop the looting and get rid of Orban) especially in rural regions. But since already Jobbik is alone stronger in the polls than MSZP and many smaller parties combined in any case in about 40% of the 106 districts there would be anyway a sole Jobbik candidate opposing Fidesz. Thus many Jobbik voters would not be exposed to such a dilemma at all.

For the rest the dilemma can be explained: this is not about government but about Orban. If you prefer his corruption and incompetence vote for Fidesz, you can do that anyway – otherwise there is an opposition candidate and then in another election in 6 months time you may freely vote for Jobbik.

Marty
Guest
One more thing. I get your numbers although I could seriously debate your conclusions. But my more fundamental criticism is that there is way too much emphasis on maths and why it precludes this or that. Trump could win exactly because he wasn’t obsessed with numbers (especially data coming from the rust belt). Do you know how difficult it is to maintain a campaign when day after day you read that your chances are about 10% (at NYtimes), maybe 30% (on his best day at Nate Silver). Yet, he went on and won. All the smart, data-driven people (such as Messina etc.) said that it’s clear that WI, MI and PA will be voting Clinton. Slam dunk. Messina with his computer programs, individual targeting etc. also helped the anti-Brexit campaign and projected that voters will end up voting for stay. A Jobbik-left-wing coalition just to get rid of Orban and holding him accountable would be a totally unique, historic event, a totally new proposition to the voters. Such “game-changers” upend normally expected behavior especially since not all Jobbik voters are fanatically “anti-communist” (many were indeed MSZP voters 15 years ago) as you claim. Look, if they end up voting the… Read more »
Guest
To put it bluntly: Because Hungary has no real democratic tradition and voters wouldn’t see the logic of it. It works sometimes in other countries like Germany – you often found there that people would differentiate between the “Erststimme” (for the district candidate, say the Socialists) and the “Zweitstimme” for the preferred party, say the Greens when the CDU was the strongest party … PS: With these list systems there are several variations – the German one makes the total number of seats in parliament dependent only on the Zweitstimme which sometimes in practice means for the strongest party that only the direct candidates in the districts get elected – no one from the list. And in addition sometimes these directly elected candidates are too many, considering the proportion of Zweitstimmen – in which case the other parties get additional seats so that the number of seats in parliament gets larger than the minimum, sometimes it gets very messy and the laws regarding this have been changed several times because the results were even illogical sometimes … Google “Überhangmandate” 🙂 I almost doubt that Hungarian politicians would be able to make a logical law there! PPS: Just saw that it… Read more »
Member

Wolfi – I usually agree with your analysis, but I think you are slightly off the mark here. The majority of voters absolutely would see the logic in a “single opposition candidate” strategy, they just wouldn’t like it. Moreover, Fidesz would say that George Soros was paying off Jobbik, and people would believe them.

Hungary remains an immature democracy in which people think “democracy = majority rule, so if the majority wants a crime family to rule the country, what can we say… except… please give us our cut!!!”

Guest

See the logic but don’t like it – and don’t follow it …
Only results count in elections!
Anyway, you write “immature democracy” while I write “no democratic traditions” – what’s the difference there?

When people ask me about my experience with Hungary I usually answer:
Just like the people in the former DDR most are 50 years behind the times …
The mistake that we in the West made was imho that we thought the Eastern Block would catch up as fast as West Germany after 1945 – obviously that didn’t/ doesn’t happen. Why, I don’t know …
On the other hand there are people in Hungary who are (almost) perfect examples of modern democrats – like my wife … 🙂

Member

I was only commenting on your choice of “wouldn’t understand the logic.” Most would surely understand it.

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘an immature democracy’

It’s too bad that the auspicious start back when the Wall came down just couldn’t pick up steam within the country As we’ve seen it came only to be a road to autocracy complements of Mr. Orban who decided there was another way to set Magyarorszag on its way.

Not to dismiss electoral considerations for they obviously seem to are important in generating leaders but it would appear perhaps that another concern should also get mindful and concerned attention and that is simply the understanding that Magyarorszag’s great weakness is an almost totalitarian executive branch arguably given its power with hardly a fight.

Electoral deliberations can be discussed and changed until the cows come home but nevertheless until there is some sort of parity between the exec, judicial and legislative branches the country will be forever be bobbing around in autocracy with repression engineered by the executive. Until that gets out of the way there is no chance the country will have a truly working democracy.

Istvan
Guest

Simicska and his friends can pump vast sums to Jobbik to fight Fidesz if the oligarchs see Orban’s future is in doubt. That would be the turning point.

Member

In that event, watch Fidesz impose Hungary’s first-ever transparent campaign-finance law. 😉

Gabor Toka
Guest

So far, this is the best and most accurate description of what the 8-party deal contains:
http://elektor.hu/felfedezo/uj-valasztasi-rendszerunk-van

wrfree
Guest

OT: German elections

Gauland..AfD spokesperson ‘We will take our country back’.

Putin has a great fulcrum now to put ‘loads’ on Germany. Hope the country can handle it. Question.. will Merkel get more conservative considering the election results?

Guest

The CSU’s boss Seehofer (the Christian leader who got the secretary in Berlin pregnant and then returned to his wife – he’s the one who fights same sex marriage because” a child needs a mother and a father” – the most horrible imaginable creature …) wants Germany to become more conservative – but the Greens and the Liberals want something else and the CDU needs them.
Btw the CSU lost a lot of voters (to the AfD) which shows that German voters did not become more conservative in principle.

I just read about a typical small town in Saxonia – you might say similar to Hungary, filled with deplorables and whiners who didn’t make it after 1989 …
Those who wanted a better life left for the West – just like Hungary again …
And the citizens are against refugees – most of them probably haven’t seen one in their life yet …

bimbi
Guest

Sorry Eva, but…

Mr. Orbán Recently claimed half the cost of the razor wire border fence, materials, construction and maintenance from the EU at a cost of
€ 400,000,000.00, which means the total cost was twice that or € 800,000,000.00. Now divide that figure by the length of the fence in metres (175,000 m) and you get a price of € 4,571.42/m.

If that is the way that Orbán calculates “costs” it is no wonder his Strohmann Lörinc Mészáros is so rich. I mean, € 4 ½ thou. For 100 cm of fence !!!??? How about we see the basis of the calculation, Viktor?

Maybe there really is something in all those billboards showing the “GENGSTEREK”

Ferenc
Guest

444 made a good video about the history of the fence (aka.future scrap metal) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYsWIz4BLoY&cc=on
Note: video is provided with English subtitles / captions

Observer
Guest

Go Democratic opposition, go!
(rather than “left of center”)

Istvan
Guest

I will give Magyar Nemzet credit this article https://mno.hu/hatarontul/porosenko-elnok-alairta-az-uj-ukran-oktatasi-torvenyt-2418658 it admits that Hungarian children under the new Ukrainian education law will be able to study advanced Hungarian as a topic or subject in itself beyond fourth grade. But correctly notes that all other subjects will be taught in Ukrainian from the fourth grade on. I have not seen this explained to the Hungarian public prior to this, it was presented in the media as if no Hungarian Transcarpathian child could get any Hungarian language instruction beyond grade 4.

Ferenc
Guest

Informative interview with Ukraine ambassador at HirTV – http://hirtv.hu/newsroom/alairta-1404229

Istvan
Guest
As I posted yesterday Jobbik is effectively in the orbit of Putin and the Russian SVR. This is not a slander, it’s objective reality. The leadership of Jobbik cannot free itself from the SVR even if they wanted to, they would be murdered or destroyed with the release of Kompromat. US Lt General Flynn thought he could play the Russians from a high level and now he has been exposed and will likely face jail. The Hungarian opposition as I have noted sees its greatest threat as Orban’s undermining of Hungarian democracy or what remains of it. Fidesz and Jobbik are both deeply influenced by the SVR, a Russian named Sergei Ivanovich Naryshkin the current director of the SVR has it working all sides of the political spectrum in Hungary. In fact the SVR and its agents work all sides of the political spectrum in the USA. So we have pro-Russian left wing groupings like Workers World Party (WWP) a small communist party in the United States that sees Putin’s Russia as a progressive force in world politics (https://www.workers.org/2017/07/12/russia-a-target-not-a-superpower/ ) and at the same time we can see how the SVR’s agents have worked on the right. For example see… Read more »
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