Hungary’s Progressive Alliance
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s official residence in the Castle District of Budapest. Photo by author
Progressive Alliance to Challenge Orbán’s Government
A very unusual progressive alliance in Hungary plans to fight FIDESZ (Hungarian Civic Union), the right wing ruling party of Orbán Viktor, in the next election on 3 April 2022.
I have retained my Hungarian citizenship, despite having left Hungary at the age of eight, as up to now it had not had any impact on my everyday life. However, in order to keep my freedom of movement as an EU citizen, I applied for a Hungarian passport in 2020, which I received last year. This means that I will be able to cast a vote in the next elections, so I set out to examine the voting system and available choices in order to make an informed decision.
Registering to Vote
There is no general voter registration, but I will have to register to vote, since I don’t have a Hungarian address. The registration will be valid for 10 years or until a change of address and will be automatically extended when I vote. Voters have to show ID and or a residence registration card, which every Hungarian citizen possesses. Citizens living outside Hungary have to re-register only if they don’t vote in two successive elections, or if they change their home address.
Democracy in Hungary
Since the 1989 fall of the Iron Curtain, Hungary has again become a Parliamentary, representative, democratic republic. The Prime Minister is the head of government of a pluriform multi-party system, whilst the President is the Head of State and holds a largely ceremonial position. Executive power is exercised by the government.
General elections are held for members of the National Assembly as well as Local elections for local authorities. In addition, every five years Hungary holds European Parliamentary elections.
Hungarian Parliament Building from across the Danube on Buda Hill – photo by author
System of Voting for the National Assembly
Since 2014, Parliamentary elections are now conducted under a one-round, two-ballot system. The 199 members of the National Assembly are elected by two methods: 106 are elected in single-member constituencies by a First-Past-the-Post system. The remaining 93 are elected from a single, nationwide constituency mostly by proportional representation. The electoral threshold is set at 5%. However, this is raised to 10% for coalitions of two parties and 15% for coalitions of three or more parties.
The second vote for the 93 party-list national seats is based on the sum of second ballot list votes and wasted votes from the first ballot. Wasted votes are votes that were for unsuccessful candidates or also surplus votes for winning candidates. Thus, national seats are allocated through a cross between a parallel mixed system and a compensatory mixed system
|Hungarian Liberal Party||MLP||Liberalism||Anett Bősz|
|New World People’s Party||ÚVNP||Liberal conservatism||József Pálinkás|
|New Start||UK||Conservative liberalism||Krisztina Hohn|
Results of Elections
“In the case of the 106 constituency seats, the candidate that receives the most votes (not necessarily more than 50%) in the given constituency, obtains the constituency seat and will be responsible for that local region in the National Assembly. In the case of the 93 party-list seats, parties receive seats in proportion to the votes received out of all the party-list and minority-list votes. These numbers of seats obtained by the parties are calculated according to the D’Hondt method after checking out whether the party has reached the 5% threshold out of all the party-list votes and whether the minority has reached the 5% threshold out of all minority votes. If a minority-list cannot obtain at least one seat then the first candidate on the minority-list will be minority spokesman, who has right to speak in the National Assembly but is not allowed to vote.”
A Candidate May Not Take Two Seats!
It is possible that the same person is both a constituency candidate and at the same time a party-list candidate. If this candidate has obtained the seat in their constituency and would also obtain a seat because of the party-list that they are listed on, then the next candidate in the party-list replaces the candidate that has already obtained a constituency seat.
So, for example, someone being the 50th on a party-list can obtain a seat in the National Assembly even if their party has only won 30 party-list seats, if at least 20 candidates listed earlier than them win in their local constituency. (This rule has been simplified, as there is no county level between the constituency level and the national level.)
Generally, big parties place their most important (national level) politicians on the party-lists only to deal with national-level issues (like becoming a minister). They represent citizens who voted for their parties and not the citizens of their local community, which is the responsibility of those MPs that obtain constituency seats. On the other hand, leaders of small parties usually qualify both on their party-lists and in their local constituencies because of maximizing votes; the leader of a small party might be much more famous or much more popular than an ordinary local politician of a big party.”
Are Hungarian elections free and fair?
The elections are free in as much as people cast votes freely and votes are counted according to international rules.
A BBC News report of 2013 describes how changes brought in by Orbán have undermined the Hungarian democratic system. In the 2010 election, a conservative coalition consisting of Mr Orbán’s Fidesz party and the Christian Democratic People’s Party gained the 2/3 powerful majority to push through several pieces of controversial legislation.
They limited the power of the Constitutional Court and stopped its right to amend any laws already enshrined in the constitution. They lowered the retirement age for judges which critics say is designed to weed out the non-pliable, experienced judges. One of my cousins in Hungary is a lawyer and her friend and University colleague has appealed to the International Law Association to examine how judges are appointed in the country. The government employed tactics to put in government-friendly judges undermining the independence of the judiciary.
The government also brought in an article which restricts election campaigning to state media. A blatant curb of freedom of expression. Some provisions curtail civil liberties, like the requirement for students who received state grants to stay and work in Hungary for a certain period of time after graduating. Alternatively, they have to pay back the cost of their tuition to the state.
Another controversial article states that priority should be given to traditional heterosexual family relationships. This anti LGBT stance declares that marriage and the parent-child relationship form the basis of the traditional family.
Hungary’s Progressive Alliance
Since the political landscape of Hungary is dominated by FIDESZ with an absolute majority, the largest opposition party DK (Democratic Coalition led by former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány) realised that it could not defeat FIDESZ in the next election. Only an alliance of opposition parties stood a chance.
The founder parties of the alliance Unite for Hungary at its formation were an unlikely alliance of the Hungarian Socialist Party, Gyurcsány’s Democratic Coalition, Movement for a Better Hungary(Former Jobbik far right part now centre right), LMP (other Politics is Possible) the Green Party, Dialogue for Hungary and the Momentum Movement.
The alliance planned to nominate one candidate against the current FIDESZ coalition candidate in each of the 106 individual constituencies and to co-govern on the basis of commonly agreed principles and common programme.
Opposition parties will not merge, as the goal is not to eliminate differences. The plan is not only a change of government, but to create a lasting “liveable” Hungary where differences can be negotiated and resolved.
The progressive alliance held a Hungarian opposition primary between 18 and 28 September 2021 (1st round) and 10–16 October 2021 (2nd round). It was to select the candidate for Prime Minister of Hungary representing the Unite for Hungary political alliance to compete in the 2022 elections. It was the first countrywide primary election in the political history of Hungary. The parties had also selected common candidates for single-member districts.
Gyurcsány’s DK joined forces with the Hungarian Liberal Party and came first by number of constituencies (32) and votes. Its candidate for Prime Minister, Klara Dobrev, won the first round but lost the run-off to a surprise independent candidate Péter Márki-Zay, the mayor of a small town in the South East of Hungary by 57% to 43%.
My First Vote in Hungary
The above summary does not mean to cover all of the complexities of the Hungarian electoral and political system. I will carry on observing developments building up to the 3 April elections. After careful considerations I opted for membership of LMP, one of the two green parties. I plan to travel to Hungary in March to experience the election on the ground and hopefully be a witness to the change needed to bring down one of the far right autocratic systems.
Does some of the Hungarian political land scape remind you of what is happening in the UK? Voices demanding a progressive alliance between opposition parties are getting louder. Can we Unite for Britain?