What’s Next?

2020-11-12

Fidesz’s sudden proposal on changing the criteria for political parties to field a party list for the general election affects the opposition’s strategy only slightly. The actual goal of the current package will most likely be uncovered in an upcoming amendment. With this proposal, Fidesz might be trying to encourage opposition parties to field one joint list, while the official explanation is combatting fake parties – which certainly will not succeed with this measure. If the rules on forming parliamentary caucuses were changed in the upcoming months, it would explain the present proposal. A new attempt at gerrymandering also seems to be approaching.

The context

The government is proposing a change to election rules. The amendments were submitted to parliament one minute before midnight on 10 November together with a series of bills and decrees that re-introduced a special legal status, tightened lockdown restrictions, initiated a constitutional amendment that helps the transfer of public money to financially unsupervised foundations, while another amendment seeks to fix the gender of mothers and fathers as female and male constitutionally.

The proposed change in the electoral system

The most important alteration is that the requirement for fielding a party list would be raised from 27 single-member constituency candidates to 50 (out of the 106). The majority of the 38-page-long text contains politically neutral, technical specifications.

Possible effects on the oppositional cooperation

The amendment’s effect on the 6 cooperating parties’ strategy is moderate. They already planned to field joint candidates in all 106 single-member constituencies in the next election in 2022, albeit they are still contemplating whether to field one or two joint lists (with all 6 parties on one list, or creating two lists, each containing 3 parties).

  • The most likely scenario is that they field one joint list with all 6 parties on it. Though some suggest the opposite, they would all have the chance to form their own parliamentary group after the elections under current circumstances. This is something that can change.
  • The “two-list model” can still be followed: a left-wing (MSZP-DK-Párbeszéd) and a Jobbik-Momentum-LMP group (or any combination of these) could field 53 single-member candidates each, and their candidates would not have to compete with each other anywhere. Thus, the modification does not make this scenario impossible but makes it less likely one.
  • If there is a party that this amendment really hurts, it is the Two-tailed Dog Party (MKKP). They started their career as a joke party. While they did not reach the 5-percent threshold in the 2018 general election, they are currently the most attractive choice for the anti-government voters who are reluctant to support the cooperating opposition parties. They were planning to field 27 candidates where they have the least effect on the government-opposition battle, but after the amendment, they would need 50 candidates for a separate list. The increasing pressure from the opposition parties may stop them from competing separately. This would hardly be a favorable development for Fidesz.

What could be Fidesz’s motivation then?

  • One option is that they want to push the opposition even more to field one joint list, hoping that the public’s dislike of ex-Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány convinces masses to stay away from the election. Last year’s municipal election results indicate that this expectation is hardly justified: a large number of the joint opposition mayoral candidates won in larger cities, which proves that most anti-government voters are willing to vote for each other’s candidates, no matter which party delegated them. Therefore, Fidesz seems to overestimate the undoubtedly existing anti-Gyurcsány attitudes.
  • Another option is that the amendment is a cautious step against pseudo-parties. The ruling party implemented small changes in 2017 that were suitable to restrict the number of fake parties contesting the elections from the hundreds to the dozens. They still do not want to do away with the pseudo-party phenomenon completely, they only seek to keep it manageable. In case they were dedicated to terminate the fake party phenomenon, they would follow our 2013 recommendations, issued jointly with Transparency International, which we have promoted consistently ever since then.
  • The third and most likely possibility is that the amendment is only the beginning of a larger package, which we will only understand after further amendments. After introducing a bill, Fidesz frequently amends it in a parliamentary committee just before the final vote, when the public debate has already suffocated. Most likely, this will be the case now as well. For instance, there is a chance that an amendment arrives that only allows MPs to gain a mandate from a joint list to form a joint parliamentary caucus. This would hit all cooperating oppositional parties hard, both financially and politically. Furthermore, it is notable that the proposal – though it was expected – does not contain plans on redrawing the constituency map. A last-minute gerrymandering attempt cannot be ruled out either.

One more amendment: Taking selfies with the ballot will cease to be illegal

A proposal stating that “the secrecy of the vote is not in danger if a voter takes a picture of the ballot for private use” caused panic in the ranks of the opposition. They worry that numerous people dependent on the ruling parties would be forced to vote as they are directed, and they would have to prove it by the photo taken in the booth. In reality, such legal breaches have been a stain on the fairness of elections in the country for decades, it will not be brought about simply by the new amendment. However, it could encourage those who want to commit electoral fraud.

Actually, the amendment is a consequence of a lawsuit MKKP won against the Hungarian state at the European Court of Human Rights. The party developed a mobile application during the 2016 campaign for the migration referendum, encouraging their supporters to cast an invalid vote and then unanimously share the photos of their invalid ballots, inspiring them to partake in a sort of creative competition. The party was fined by Hungarian authorities for this, but in the end, they won against the state in Strasbourg. The new amendment serves the purpose of further debates.

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