Just how popular is Hungary’s Fidesz?

Chris Terry, Former Research Officer

Posted on the 12th April 2018

Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party has dominated Hungarian politics since 2010. On Sunday, its dominance was confirmed, as it won its third two-thirds majority in a row, winning 134 of 199 seats. In most European countries, a hattrick of landslides would be a sign of massive popularity for the ruling party.  But Fidesz has managed to get its impressive result on 49% of the vote.

The election was criticised by the OSCE’s election monitoring mission for its intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing, an unusually strong critique for the international organisation. The election was notable for a blending and overlap of state and party resources, with the government launching ‘public information’ campaigns which used similar rhetoric to Fidesz’s campaign.

This is the latest in a series of criticisms of the Orban government. Since 2010 Hungary has often been cited as a prime example of democratic backsliding in which newly democratised countries fall back into undemocratic behaviour. The democracy monitoring organisation, Freedom House, has seen Hungary fall from their best possible score in terms of political and civil rights, 1 out of 7, to a 2.5 in 2017, putting it below the more troubled new democracies of Romania and Bulgaria for the first time. And scores of domestic and foreign observers have critiqued undemocratic behaviour by the government.

Fidesz is aided by the Hungarian electoral system, which it changed for the 2014 election. The system is a mixture of 106 Westminster-style first past the post seats and 93 seats assigned proportionally from lists. But, the list seats are not handed out to compensate for the disproportionality of the Westminster-style seats, as they are in Scotland, Wales and London, but just added on. This means that a party that has already got more seats than its share of the vote should allow from the Westminster-style seats, would get still more from the party lists.

There are definite signs of gerrymandering in the constituency seats designed after Fidesz’ first landslide in 2010. Additionally, while many countries with similar systems let votes in constituency seats for losing parties be added to their totals for calculating the list seats, to make the system more proportionate, Hungary is unique in doing this for the surplus votes for winning candidates.

The first run of this electoral system in 2014 saw Fidesz win 66.8% of the seats for 45% of the vote (133 of 199). The 2014 election result was more disproportionate than any post-war British election according to the Gallagher Index, a measure of disproportionality.

2018 saw a slightly less disproportionate victory for Fidesz – 67.3% of seats on a higher vote percentage at 49% (134 of 199), but the disproportionate results continue to speak for themselves. Fidesz won 91 of the constituency seats, almost 86%. The relatively easy to gerrymander Westminster-style elections and a natural tendency towards dis-proportionality has been used by Fidesz to create an electoral system biased in its own favour.

Around the world, political leaders look to Westminster’s electoral system when they want to take power away from voters. It is time that we stopped being an inspiration for anti-democratic forces and instead became an example of how democracy should be done.

This is part one of a two-part article. Find out how Hungary got its electoral system in part two!

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