Contradictory reform of the electoral system
By Viktor Szigetvári
Last week we discussed certain issues of the creation of the new parliamentary electoral system in two posts. The first post examined the question of suffrage for citizens without a permanent residence in Hungary, while the second one analysed the key points which, in our opinion, should be touched gently by the will of the majority creating the new electoral system, if it plans to preserve Hungarian democracy. The new proposal, different from the previous one, of the governing force for the parliamentary electoral system has become public during the weekend. The post below will review in short the known elements of the proposed system, analyse its potential effects on the Hungarian political and party systems and finally it will evaluate the proposal taking into account the taboos listed in last Friday’s post. We argued earlier that an electoral system can be party-list/proportional representation or single-seat electoral district/majoritarian or mixed, complex or simple, the choice of the model in itself does not influence the quality of democracy. The question is whether the changes reach a critical mass and quality which altogether destroy the quality of a democracy.
The new proposal
The proposal announced on Saturday envisages a mixed electoral system in which the electorate continues to have two votes, one for a candidate of a single-seat electoral district and one for a party-list. During the presentation of the reform of the electoral system, it was argued that the new system “will always result in a stable majority able to govern”. In the new system of nominating candidates the law continues to require “the proper national representation” of the nominating organisations. A party-list will be a single national list, as opposed to the current regional lists and that of Budapest. The national ‘compensatory’ list – collecting the fragmentary votes cast to individual candidates and to regional lists not resulting in a seat – would be abolished, by which the compensatory element of the whole electoral system would disappear. No decision has been made on the number of the elected deputies, as the government still has to publish its concept for the Hungarian citizens without a permanent residence in Hungary and for the parliamentary representation of the minorities in Hungary, which can equally influence the composition and the size of the institution. What we know today is that the cca. 200 seats would be almost equally divided between the mandates from single-seat electoral districts and those from the national lists. (As the number of seats from lists will be decreased, the abolition of regional lists is a rational decision.) As for delineating the district boundaries, the aim is to reduce the unacceptable local population inequality among the eligible voters, formed in the last two decades. The system of candidate nomination will not change, the system of voter nomination coupons remains, with the deadline for collecting them to be reduced from 35 to 21 days. The number of voter nomination coupons necessary to register a candidate in the new single-seat electoral districts, reduced in number, would rise to 1500 from 750. Only those organisations can have a national list which can register a candidate at least in one quarter of the electoral districts but at least in nine counties (including Budapest). This does not mean a significant institutional restriction. The general elections would take place in one round with a 50% turnout threshold, but the present validity threshold (at least 50% + 1 of the votes cast necessary for victory in the first round in a single-seat electoral district) would disappear. The 5% threshold of the votes cast to gain a mandate from the lists still applies.