Hungary’s governing party, the right-wing Fidesz, proposed a plan this week to alter their country’s electoral system. Fidesz’s draft law would end the second round of voting in the National Assembly, cut the number of lawmakers from 386 to about 200, and abolish the system of compensation seats. Currently, Hungary has a unique system where compensatory seats are allocated to parties for non-winning candidates and party lists. The draft law would also allow Hungarians living abroad to vote, and guarantee ethnic minorities without representation a non-voting member in the National Assembly.
This is a pretty disturbing development although not shocking given the governing style of Fidesz since they’ve taken power. Opposition parties argue that the proposed changes would benefit Fidesz, while hurting smaller parties, which is competely true. Unfortunately, there is not much anybody can do about it as Fidesz captured two-third of seats in the last election, which is enough to change the constitution unilaterally. Two-thirds is a lot, but it hides the fact that the party only managed 53 percent of the popular vote. Hungary’s system is parallel, not proportional, so its ordinal tier doesn’t really address any discrepancies that may arise from the nominal one. Abolishing the second round for district-based seats, and removing the compensatory seats, however, is a big deal. Everyone who looks at the 2010 election results agree that Fidesz would have performed even better if the proposed rules were in place.
I’m a bit puzzled by the move to abolish the system of compensatory seats, which was useful for ensuring some ethnic minority representation. I was always under the impression that Hungary was keen to provide minority representation because there were so many ethnic Hungarians living as minorities in neighboring countries. I don’t know what the optimal way to ensure minority representation is but non-voting members doesn’t really seem to cut it. I know here in D.C., Eleanor Holmes Norton doesn’t feel she has much clout, and I imagine it is the same everywhere. I would be curious to know though: are floor debates important in any legislative chamber any more?