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Debate over electoral reform

July 13th, 2011

The presidium of Fidesz have unveiled their plan for electoral reform, prompting sharply opposed views in the press. Left wing analysts believe the reform is an attempt by the governing conservative party to ensure it will rule over Hungary forever,  while a pro-government commentator believes it could constitute the basis for free and fair elections.

The model outlined by the Fidesz presidium last Saturday introduces a “first past the post”- system for about half of the mandates and a proportional representation system for the other half. An important change from the existing system is that losers in individual constituencies would no longer be compensated on the party-lists. Individual candidates would have to gather 1500 supporters instead of the current 750 before running for election. Electoral analysts conclude that the new proposal will make life very difficult for small parties, and result in big gains for the winner.

In a sarcastic comment, János Dési, deputy editor-in-chief of Népszava suggests instead that Fidesz draft a law  “consisting of only two paragraphs; the first should state that PM Viktor Orbán is the only acceptable winner, while the second should say that, if by any chance he does not win, then paragraph one should automatically come into force.”

Nevertheless, Dési believes, in the long run a strong and well-organized  opposition could  profit from the same rules. In the meantime,  he urges the opposition to come up with counter-proposals of their own – “if they ever want my vote”.

Anna Kulcsár, a frequent editorial-writer at Magyar Nemzet says the new rules will make the elections simpler and voters will surely welcome the fact that they will only have to go to the polling stations once, since under the “first past the post”-system there will be no second round. This will also make it impossible for parties to surprise their voters with strange but rewarding second round alliances.

“Before the new bill is submitted, there is plenty of time and room for amendments,” Kulcsár remarks. In response to  the critics of the proposal, she suggests that various differing systems can be equally democratic, “provided the ballot is direct, secret and equal.”