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Elections in Hungary: fight over absolute power and greens

by DoDo Sun Apr 25th, 2010 at 10:00:50 AM EST

On Sunday, Hungary holds the second round of a general election that redraws the political landscape. In the first round (see Delayed Warsaw Express arriving in Budapest):

  • right-populist Fidesz won a punchout victory: over half of the party list votes, and 119 out of 176 individual constituencies won in the first round;
  • an outright fascist party (with hate focus on Gypsies, but also Jews and gays and liberals for good measure) got every sixth vote;
  • the totally discredited governing Socialists fell under 20%;
  • the two main forces of the 1990 regime change, lately allied on a neolib platform, disappear from the parliamentary stage;
  • a new liberal-centrist green party made it across the 5% margin with surprising ease, and beat the fascists in the capital Budapest.

The only question of the second round is whether Fidesz can win two-thirds of seats in parliament -- the qualified majority for decisions like modifying the constitution; in effect, absolute power. To achieve this, Fidesz needs to win c. 49 of the remaining 57 constituencies -- but it has chances to nab every single one of them.

The two-thirds calculations suddenly put the greens into the focus of the main competitors, who rolled out some nasty campaign techniques. Meanwhile, issues were nowhere to be seen, while another silly scandal took the headlines.

First round results

Party% list
vs 2006
Fidesz (right-populist)52.73%+10.70206
MSzP (ex-reformed-communist centre-'left')19.30%-23.9128
Jobbik (far-right)16.67%+16.67
LMP (green)7.48%+7.485
MDF (centre-right, now neolib)2.67%-2.37
CM (right-wing anti-corruption movement)0.89%+0.890
Workers' Party (communist)0.11%-0.300
MSzDP (social democrat)0.08%+0.080
Join-Together Party (party of a local mayor)0.05%+0.050
MIÉP (far-right)0.03%-2.17*0
* In 2006, a MIÉP-Jobbik alliance got 2.20%.
† Liberal SzDSz (6.50% in 2006) ran no list in 2010, but had joint candidates with MDF.

Hungary's next prime minister: Fidesz leader Viktor Orbán. Photo at international press conference from Index.hu.

What about the economy?

For the main parties, the past campaign was even more radically issues-free than the 2006 one.

Fidesz won an absolute majority of voters while its only specific promise was tax cuts to boost the economy -- but in the past week, one member of Fidesz's inner cabal (a bunch of cynical ideology-free yuppies) declared that tax cuts won't be possible in the near future.

Also after the first round, business lobbies right and left sang the same tune in chorus: Fidesz should use its majority to push through unpopular reforms! ...capitalist democracy, aint' it wonderful.

So far Fidesz did not comment these calls in significant ways. But, they did offer their views on where they would want to use a two-thirds majority first: changing the election system, local governments, media law, and citizenship for ethnic Hungarians abroad (most of whom live in large blocks in neighbouring countries). Further modifications were announced regarding the immunity of MPs, and the subsidy system of public transport. Before the elections, they also indicated that they don't like the present three-tiered justice system, and want to ban election commercials(!).

Greens in the crossfire

As I wrote two weeks ago, LMP is not a party seeing itself on the left like most Western siblings, more a centrist one with ecological conscience -- and a campaign rhetoric and party name ("There can be Another Politics") focused on honest civilised talk. With such a mindset, I fear they will have trouble weathering the nasty hardball tactics of the other parties -- which already began.

First there were the Socialists, who vowed to prevent Fidesz's two-thirds majority. But, that is difficult for a party that has one single candidate who was ahead of Fidesz's in the first round in the 57 constituencies still without a winner, and a party that amortised its political capital in government.

Worse, the one party still with candidates in the race who could be withdrawn for MSzP's, LMP, doesn't want to talk about any alliance. LMP has good reasons to avoid the Socialists' embrace: the Socialists attacked them as wasted vote before, there is the danger of turning into a satellite party, and voters won't follow the party.

MSzP solved the problem its own way: it unilaterally withdrew four candidates for the benefit of LMP candidates. What's more, one Socialist candidate still standing hijacked LMP's slogan ("There can be another...") on new billboards. (LMP sued but lost.)

Meanwhile, also in Budapest, fake LMP leaflets were distributed that advised green voters explicitly against a vote for MSzP candidates. Perpetrators unknown; but the who benefits? question would lead to Fidesz.

By inheriting the urbanite-cosmopolitan vote from the liberals, LMP also inherited the far-right's hate for liberals, especially after defeating Jobbik (12.81% to 10.84%) in Budapest (there were big boos from Jobbik's campaign headquarters). I saw an effect when travelling across town last week: apparently a far-right graffiti commando smeared the initials of the liberal party across several LMP posters.

Florida on the Danube

The main subject the parties fought over in the past two weeks was none of the above, but the scandal of voters standing in lines well past the designated end of the election at 19h.

Hungarian election law allows citizens to vote in the constituency of their temporary residence, too. However, the constitutional court ruled a few years ago that if someone contributes to a first-round victory with her first-round vote, but then votes in another constituency in the second round, that is an unconstitutional double vote. So, parliament sat down to re-regulate away voting in a stricter way.

Part of the new regulation was to concentrate away voters to one single precinct in each constituency. With that, the problem was pre-programmed: with up to 2000 away voters in some urban constituencies, the number of voters to process more than doubled for the designated precincts...

When the predicted mess came (ther last voter voted around 01:30), the parties jumped on the chance to play a big blame game. The problem was that, as usual, everyone was responsible: the law was introduced by the present PM when he was a simple minister, the precinct-concentrating clause was added by a Fidesz MP, the whole idiocy was approved by a supermajority of parliament, warnings were ignored, and the electoral commission didn't prepare for the situation.

But, that was just the base level of the mudfight: the parties also accused each other of organising away voters to jam the system in advance, on purpose. Or at least organising them to influence the results.

This rhetoric backfired on the Socialists, when tapes were leaked on which their second-best candidate is calling for the invitation of pro-Socialist away voters himself...

There was a change in far-right Jobbik's campaign, too. Before the first round, they kept threatening (and racist) rhetoric to speeches, and kept campaign posters folkish-patriotic. But now they have a new poster out, showing two hands in a handcuff, with a slogan that this awaits "political criminals". Well, given that I consider Jobbik's members political criminals, that's just right with me...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Apr 24th, 2010 at 01:16:56 PM EST
How many seats total? 386?
So 2/3 majority would be 258 seats, no?

Fidesz already has 119 from 1st round; if it gets another 57, that's 176: what am I missing?

by Bernard (bernard) on Sat Apr 24th, 2010 at 03:54:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
List votes :-) With those, as indicated in the table, Fidesz already has 206 seats. But I still messed up a number in the article, soon to be corrected.

I note that regarding list votes, it's a bit complicated: on one hand, Hungary is divided into 20 regions, parties run lists in each. The seats from these are handed out after the first round. Then the fractional list votes from the first round are added up with the votes of losing constituency candidates, and proportionally to this 'fractional vote' total, further seats are allotted from countrywide lists. So the party that sweeps constituencies gets very few seats from the countrywide list.

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

by DoDo on Sat Apr 24th, 2010 at 04:09:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK I get it: so part of the seats are alloted by list votes and the remainder by individual constituencies, like we are used to in France and in the UK. Thanks.
by Bernard (bernard) on Sat Apr 24th, 2010 at 04:12:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, a mixed system with two votes per citizen, but the FPTP part is not (almost) fully balanced like in Germany or Austria.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Apr 24th, 2010 at 04:18:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Effectively its Supplementary Member with regionalised (as well as a national) list.  And looking at the results, its clearly highly disproportional and therefore unfair.
by IdiotSavant on Sat Apr 24th, 2010 at 07:15:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I hate that unfair disproportionality; but note that the end result will be more balanced than what you see in the table now: the compensating "fractional vote" seats are awarded after the second round.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Apr 25th, 2010 at 03:43:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Overall results here.  Compensation seats here.  Massive disproportionalities, and the idea that a party can get a two-thirds majority with 50% of the vote is simply obscene.
by IdiotSavant on Sun Apr 25th, 2010 at 07:47:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With counting well progressed, it appears Fidesz secured its two-thirds majority, winning all but three of the individual constituencies:
  • the Socialists managed to win in two constituencies in Budapest;
  • the four LMP candidates for whom MSzP withdrew their candidates got only 35-40%;
  • the racist major and MP of Edelény, who left Fidesz and ran as independent (see previous diary), and who benefitted from the withdrawal of Jobbik's candidate, beat Fidesz's 42% to 40.5%...

In his victory speech, Viktor Orbán told one (hard to translate) conciliatory thing: "the winner is not being right, but being entrusted with duties". Then he declared that the election was the overthrow of a system (what!?), about daring to be big and being the record holders of the free world (huh!?), railed against 'oligarchs' (who!?), and declared that national cooperation will be the measure of everything (who needs an opposition?), a national cooperation including ethnic Hungarians beyond borders (who will vote Fidesz too, if they get citizenship?).

Strange times are coming indeed.

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

by DoDo on Sun Apr 25th, 2010 at 03:32:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you only find it hard to translate his conciliation because you translate directly to English. If you had translated to English via Newspeak instead, I don't think there would have been any trouble understanding it: It sounds exactly like a call for Bipartisanship from all Serious People in order to enact Reform.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Apr 26th, 2010 at 03:22:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nnnno, if you read that, the original meaning really lost in translation :-)

  • What Orbán meant to convey is that instead of proudly proclaiming that the election confirms that he is right (as he did back in 1998 -- and, without batting an eye, as he continued yesterday), he should humbly get down to business and serve the country. But the grammatical structure used in Hungarian to turn this into a short slogan doesn't exist in English.

  • Will Orbán do the business lobbies' bidding and just do another round of neolib reforms? That's not certain. He had his party attack the previous government with leftist rhetoric when it tried neolib reforms (Fidesz is even less ideologically consistent than grandstanding Sarko), and voters can be lost very quickly with such U-turns. And IMO what really matters for Orbán is power, even against Big Business. But, given the hair-raising schemes they tinkered with in 1998-2002, or the Bush-style tax cut plans they just shelved (or delayed), whatever economic policy they come up with, I have no high hopes.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Apr 26th, 2010 at 05:02:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and want to ban election commercials(!).
Hehe, just when we are legalizing them over here...

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sun Apr 25th, 2010 at 12:29:30 PM EST

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