While the coronavirus crisis is peaking in Hungary and the healthcare system is nearing its limits, the government not only controversially moved to change the Fundamental Law, it also set to amend the election law- something that most view as Fidesz-KDNP’s latest step to diminish the opposition’s chances at the upcoming elections and to consolidate power.
According to the amendment submitted by deputy PM Zsolt Semjén only one minute before midnight, “a party may set up a party list only if it has nominated candidates in at least fifty single-member constituencies located in at least nine counties and the capital.” This would almost double the minimum number from the original twenty-seven.
FactAccording to the electoral system, 106 seats are obtained in the single-member constituencies (first past the post) while the remaining 93 seats are allocated by proportional representation from country lists, with 5% being the entry threshold for one party, 10% for an alliance of two, and 15% for a coalition of three or more.
Following the 2018 defeat, opposition parties have begun to coordinate and discuss potential ways of cooperation to fight ruling Fidesz-KDNP in the the 2022 elections. Last year’s local elections was the first occasion when a comprehensive opposition cooperation was realized, eventually resulting in important victories nationwide.
For example, they had previously agreed to field one joint candidate in each single-member constituency, while national lists (whether to run on one joint list, or each party on its own) were still a matter of discussion. This latest governmental proposal, however, narrows down and makes their room to maneuver more difficult, since if they really want to run one joint candidate in each constituency, they have to field one joint national list (or maximum two), otherwise their candidates would have to fight each other in the single-member constituencies. The Hungarian opposition parties have quite different values and probably the only meeting point is that they want to end the Orbán era. Therefore, it has been a matter of serious debate whether to have only one party list or more, but with only one opposition candidate in each district. The Orbán government’s plan to change will make three or more lists impossible.
According to the amendment’s presenter, Justice Minister Judit Varga, the growing number of fake parties (that abuse funds) popping up around the elections, confirm the move, so that “only parties with legitimate social support could set up a national list.”
As a matter of fact, this goes against earlier governmental promises denying that they would make a major change in the election law. In addition, its timing is also a debated one, as recently announced restrictions made the organization of demonstrations impossible, for example.
Opposition parties angered
Opposition parties are harshly criticizing the government, who in their view, instead of trying to handle the high fatality rates and the peaking coronavirus, try to consolidate their power, and additionally are abusing the state of emergency, voted in with opposition votes.
According to Momentum leader, Fidesz has begun to worry about the 2022 elections. They are amending the electoral law seeking to divide and destroy the opposition, András Fekete-Győr argued. Jobbik leader Péter Jakab has stated that in the middle of the pandemic,
“human life doesn’t matter, jobs don’t matter, election law does” for the government.
Moreover, former PM and leftist Democratic Coalition’s leader Ferenc Gyurcsány labeled these steps “desperate and hopeless attempts” to cover up the incompetence of the government, something for which Hungarians will pay the price.
Analyst: “definitely a power grab by the government”
Hungary’s most well-known and perhaps most prominent political analyst Gábor Török commented that the amendment, put on the agenda just one and a half years before the elections, is
“undeniably and unquestionably a pure trick engineered to gain power.”
Török explained to nyugat.hu that strangely enough the amendment would simplify the opposition’s situation: if they want joint individual candidates, they can only think in terms of a common (country) list, no other option virtually remains. Moreover, opposition voters may accept the common list more easily, if afterwards they say that Viktor Orbán forced them to do so, he argued.
Meanwhile, Political Capital in its lenghty analysis, suggests that the amendment could potentially soon be followed by additions. The liberal-leaning think tank also argues that the move “cannot be extracted from its context” and the circumstances in which it has been tabled “indicates that Fidesz can reshape election rules any time when it deems necessary.”
featured image illustration via Péter Komka/MTI