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The Laughing Fourth (& down with FPTP)

by DoDo Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 04:05:06 PM EST

The Italian elections drama took the limelight from everything else happening at the same time, so I'll wrap up the week of big surprises in/after the first round of the Hungarian parliamentary elections only now. But let's begin with the grotesque and grotesquely funny.

"There are only 2% of Hungarians in Hungary!!!"

...this is how the collapsed-into-himself leader of the Hungarian far-right party MIÉP (middle on the photo above from Index) commented another (for him) disastrous election result.

Another displeased right-winger greeted the crowd at a Socialist campaign event on Monday in a way fitting for the level of political discourse today (photo from Stop.hu):

And below is another, very very fitting comment on political discourse here (heard by a Hungarian pundit from a British businessman):

"For Hungarians, if there is a good explanation for failure, that's of equal value to success."

Regarding depressed right-wingers, given the polarisation, sadly it was to be expected in advance that a third of the country will be out of his/her mind whoever wins. Indeed on Monday morning on the tramway, I could tell who is a Fidesz (or MIÉP) voter, never saw so many long faces. And at dinner that day in a cheap restaurant, an older man started to insult and wanted to start a fight with a younger guy.

The first big surprise
(and a rare thing that, for different reasons, made everyone happy) was that, against expectations that Hungary could sadly turn the EU's first country with a two-party system, not only the governing Socialist's (MSzP) small [neo]liberal ally the Free Democrats (SzDSz) made it across the 5% barrier, but the written-off Forum of Hungarian Democrats (MDF), too (see results at bottom). MDF, a civilised right-wing opposition party, may decide who forms the next government. See the party leader, Hungary's most popular elected politician Ibolya Dávid beam (photo from Index):

The big loser was large right-populist opposition party Young Democrats (Fidesz), a party led by a cabal of a dozen yuppies around the young power-conscious leader (and 1998-2002 PM) Viktor Orbán. Due to the latter's attempt to cut up & eat MDF, there are strong animosities. So what everyone expected was long tough negotiations on the Right for the second round, with MDF asking for a high price. Instead, both leaders chose to do something not in anyone's calculations:

The dagger in the heart
Ibolya Dávid flat-out declared that, unless Fidesz withdraws its entire populist campaign platform, she won't cooperate with Fidesz (e.g. withdraw candidates who made it to the second round, so that there's only one right-wing candidate), not even if she gets to be PM!... That was it, Fidesz could kiss goodbye even to a mathematical chance at victory.

Sacrify the leader1
What neither his faithful followers, nor the other side that hated him from their guts could imagine, happened: Orbán declared he's out of the leadership race! This may have started as shrewd tactic to press Dávid with that offer she didn't expect to get, then turned an even more shrewd strategy of playing the sacrifical lamb while already preparing for an opposition role (and shifting the blame for the Right's election loss on Dávid!).

Oh, and they also dropped the man who shot a salvo in Fidesz's foot, but that's no surprise.

  1. Literal translation of the Hungarian version of chess expression Queen sacrifice.

Proportionally and first-past-the-post elected crooks
Italian and Anglo-Saxon opponents of a proportional system often argue that unlike FPTP, eliminates choice over persons, and favors the automatic entry into parliament of crooks on party lists.

I have to disagree, already theoretically: in PR you can at least choose to vote for a smaller rival of a party with crooks on the list. While in FPTP, it is still a parliamentary majority that will govern, thus I'd expect people to vote on candidates primarily by party preference - even if it is a crook.

Sadly, the present elections (it's a mixed system with both PR and FPTP vote and seats) are another proof for my theory. MSzP, SzDSz and Fidesz (but chiefly MSzP) all had candidates running for single seats who came back after political or corruption scandals - and a number of them has been elected (=they got 50%+1) already in the first round. Meanwhile, Ibolya Dávid got less than 13% in her district even though she's the most popular elected politician; similarly SzDSz leader Gábor Kuncze, also rather popular, got less than 20%.

The solutions I could imagine for this problem, whether one has PR or FPTP, involve mass participation in party life. E.g. either mass party membership, or open primaries (as practised less well in the USA, or in a better form recently in Italy). That, or switch to Single Transferable Vote (but then with multiple candidates from each party among the choices).

First round election results

Participation: 67.83% (record was 70.53% in 2002)

List votes above 0.1%, with those entering parliament bolded (percentage point change from 2002; note: back then Fidesz+MDF had a joint list, present partner KDNP is a sub-1% Christian Democrat party):

  1. MSzP: 43.21% (+1.16pp)
  2. Fidesz+KDNP: 42.03% (+0.96pp, with MDF +6.00pp)
  3. SzDSz: 6.50% (+0.93pp)
  4. MDF: 5.04% (-)
  5. MIÉP+Jobbik (far-right): 2.20% (-2.17pp)
  6. Munkáspárt (unreformed 'communist' far-left): 0.41% (-1.75pp)
  7. Centrum (nonaligned): 0.32% (-3.58pp)

Single seats:

  • MSzP(+SzDSz) won 38
  • Fidesz won 28
  • still up for grabs: 110

Margin of second-round Rightist victory needed...
  • for a MDF+Fidesz majority: at least 66:44
  • for a Fidesz majority: at least 75:35

Older diaries on Hungary:

  1. After a bizarre press vs. politicians court case, an introduction of parties & history since 1989.
  2. The workings of non-issue-based politics: the tragicomic double referendum on barring hospital privatisations and giving neighbouring countries' ethnic Hungarians double citizenship.
  3. Bush and Hungary: why the nominal centre-left (now governing) is pro-Bush and the nominal centre-right opposition anti-Bush.
  4. Campaign season opens - half a year early.
  5. Further in the campaign, October polls and nonsensical rhetoric (how can you give preferential treatment to both the elites and the poor?)
  6. The juiciest of the many storm-in-the-bathtub scandals: Mata Hari in Budapest
  7. A foray into history (not much to do with recent Hungarian politics, but some further perspective for the debate on Turkey's accession to the EU).
  8. European Dream: where would Hungarians like to live?
  9. Hungarian Orange (no relation to the Ukrainian version): on a clever opposition poster campaign and its contrast with reality.
  10. On another poster campaign by the same party - how to outsource negative campaign, and how it can be made to backfire.
  11. Of Socialists and Presidents.
  12. On the Oscar-winning film director who was The Mephisto Behind Mephisto.
  13. The Inverted Example of Spinning Jobless Statistics: doing the exact opposite of what the Bushites did.
  14. Mephisto And Informants Update.
  15. Non-partisan corruption, meta-corruption.
  16. Another foray into history: March 15, 1848 revolution.
  17. Six Weeks of Insanity: how a national celebration turns political freak show.
  18. Article Deconstruction: how a Western paper (here: DER SPIEGEL) twists facts to fit Western stereotypes.
  19. A Salvo In The Foot, or how to mobilise voters for the other side.
  20. On the art of Counting Crowds.
  21. 2006 first-round election in an Election day open thread.

The problem of crooks getting re-elected is quite complex. You cite critics of PR saying crooks can sneak in on a party list -- but they can only do that if their party wants them back...

In some cases in first past the post, an individual crook may not be wanted by his/her party (bad image), but run in defiance and win because of local popularity (which you can buy, especially when you've represented a district for many years...) There have been cases of this kind in France on both sides of the political spectrum.

So I don't see an advantage to either system on this point.

Another good diary, DoDo, thanks.

<tip> I think, though, that if FTPT means First Past The Post, it should be FPTP... ;)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 11:43:42 AM EST
Heh...even I can't explain how this typo came to be... now corrected :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 04:04:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You know what DoDo ? This deserves being front-paged ! Modesty is not a wide-spread value nowadays...
Anyhow, thank you for beng there and doing what you do.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 12:41:30 PM EST

I set out to write a short bullet-point report only good as a diary, but then it became elaborate...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 04:06:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Crooks in politics: There is no real solution except a political culture where parties do not nominate such people and voters do not elect them.

In a first past the post system (at least in the UK) party loyalty usually means neither the positive or negative characteristics of the individual candidate makes much difference to the result. Traditionally it is estimated at 1,000 votes either way in a 70,000 odd voter constituency. There have however been exceptions.

British electors will sometimes forgive sexual scandals but they tend to be quite intolerant of financial and electoral wrongdoing.

In 1997 Neil Hamilton was the Conservative incumbent for the very safe Conservative seat of Tatton. He was accused of accepting cash in brown envelopes from Mohammed Fayed. Whatever the truth of that (a libel jury accepted Fayed's evidence rather than Hamilton's) it led to an Independent candidate defeating Hamilton (after both the Labour and Lib Dem candidates had withdrawn in the Independent's favour - a quite unprecedented development in modern British politics).

Another example is Fiona Jones, a Labour MP for Newark, who was unseated for corrupt electoral practices (subsequently reversed on appeal). At the next general election in 2001 there was an above average swing against her, so she lost the seat to a Conservative.

Of course if the party rejects the corrupt candidate but the electorate re-elect them this does not help the standard of public life. I cannot, off hand, think of a British example since Horatio Bottomley (Liberal MP for Hackney South 1906-1911, disowned by the Liberal Party in 1911, lost his seat when bankrupted in 1912, re-elected as an Independent in 1918, expelled from the House of Commons in 1921, found guilty on 23 counts of fraudulent conversion and sentenced to 7 years penal servitude).

What you do not want is a party list system where the electorate have no influence over who is elected from the list. A well connected crook from a major party may be insulated from popular disapproval in such a system.

Therefore you either need a single transferable vote system or a party list with choice one (as in Denmark or Switzerland) to combine proportional representation and voter ability to discriminate against dubious candidates of their preferred party.

by Gary J on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 05:46:58 PM EST

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