Could Primaries Mean the Change of Government in Hungary?

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Andrew Shiva || Wikimedia Commons

There has been plenty of talk about the electoral system in Hungary since it has been changed in 2014 – especially among the left-liberal parties, politicians, researchers and academics. As of today, four major motions have been presented concerning the establishment of primary elections that seem to be presented as the only solution for the new electoral system.

There are several reasons why the idea of primary elections between the leftist parties emerged in Hungary. Firstly, the already mentioned change of the electoral system and secondly, the increasing need for participatory democracy. In this article, let us however focus only on the former as the proposals to be presented refer to it as to a major motive behind the necessity for the new system.

The electoral system change involved the decrease in the number of parliamentary representatives, gerrymandering the electoral districts and switching to a single round election. During the 2014 elections instead of electing 368 Members of Parliament this number was decreased to only 199. Secondly, due to the decrease of the seats in the parliament, the constituency borders have been changed. This means that those districts that are mostly dominated by the opposition were increased adding more of pro-opposition voters, while districts with no clear majority favoring the government were increased with areas more clearly pro-government.

Nevertheless, the change that hurts the leftist parties the most is the abolishment of the two-round system. This is due to parties having the chance to collaborate before if no absolute majority was achieved. In the new single round system, one can win even with a relative majority. According to the Republikon Institute, 85 constituencies would have carried out a second round in 2014 if it were for the previous system. All these changes hinder the chances of the disunited left-liberal parties to gain considerable number of seats in the parliament or win the elections.

Therefore, the success of the elections depends on whether the left wing parties of Hungary decide to collaborate in order to present a strong enough force to change the government. As collaboration did not seem possible in 2014, the Republikon Institute, Zoltán Tóth, Szalay kör and Párbeszéd Magyarországért (Dialogue for Hungary, later referred to as PM) all seem to argue that the only way to show unity is through the establishment of primary elections among the left-liberal parties. This way no consensus is needed prior to primaries, only the main directions have to be laid out and individual candidates can debate over the details throughout the campaigns.

Zoltán Tóth was the first to suggest the implementation of primary elections, followed by a more widely defined proposal by the Republikon Institute. This proposal was used as a basis by the PM party to come up with their own interpretations on how to carry out primary elections among the left-liberal parties. Szalay kör did not present a comprehensive proposal on the implementation of such an election and instead focused on why this institution would be beneficial for Hungary and its left-wing parties. The previous three proposals agree on why primary elections are needed, that all parties should cooperate in order to succeed and as far as the most basic outlines of the implementation are concerned.

These three suggestions all point to the need deriving from the new constitution – especially the previously described change of the electoral system. They agree that the modification changed the realities of the Hungarian political sphere and deterred the possibility of the change of the government. This, of course, is also a reason behind the state of the left-wing parties. Since the 2010 defeat of the main left-wing party MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party), many politicians left the organisations, while some others emerged and established new parties hoping to be able to compete with the right-wing Fidesz-KDNP coalition. Instead, it lead to the fragmentation of the leftist voters.

As concerns the implementation, there are minor differences between the three proposals but they show rather flexibility if primaries were to take place. Both Republikon Institute and PM imagine a cross-country campaign during which they could introduce their candidates and at the same time carry out the voting procedure. While the Institute imagines voting taking place on prime ministerial candidates as well as the 106 constituency seats, PM added voting on the party lists among the other two suggestions.

Another major issue of the primaries is how to carry out the voting – especially due to its high financial costs. Republikon Institute introduces the idea of having a HUF 200 (approximately EUR 0.60) registration fee, which would not only cover some of the expenses but also ensure that only those supporting a left-liberal party participate. This is also guaranteed by personal voting and signing the Declaration of Values outlining the main directions taken by the parties. PM adds that involving citizens in questions concerning their lives increases the chance they will contribute financially to the right cause. While they agree with Republikon in having a registration fee, they do not necessarily require personal voting as they believe it should be also possible to cast a vote online.

Thus we can see that there are no major differences in the proposals, various suggestions rather build on the previous ones and try to perfect the possible implementation to make it fair and acceptable to all left-liberal parties and be ready to present a strong, united force against the Fidesz-KDNP coalition in 2018.

Zsofia Zador
Republikon Institute