Parliamentary elections to be held in the spring of 2010 carry constitutional and political risks due to an outdated election system. On the one hand, the institution of casting a ballot abroad may be repealed, which would be an unprecedented decline in the short history of the post-transitional Hungarian democracy. On the other hand, imbalanced constituencies violate the principle of equal voting rights. In both areas the Parliament perpetuates a state of wilful constitutional default.
Political risks derive from the problems with the election system
- If the problem of disproportionality of the constituencies keeps being unsolved, the legitimacy of the next government may be questioned by the losers of the election (especially radicals) and their supporters, referring to unconstitutional practices. While legal complaints are expected after the next elections, elimination of election results by constitutional bodies is improbable. This phenomenon fits into an unfavourable tendency of the Hungarian political system: more and more public institutions and fields (the municipality system, jurisdiction, central administration and bureaucracy, civil and human rights like freedom of speech and assembly) seem poorly and inadequately regulated, and the lack of reforms in these fields leads to the dysfunctional operation of the state.
- Any doubts articulated regarding the constitutionality of the elections can deteriorate Hungary’s (still damaged) reputation abroad, and can affect the reactions of the international financial markets. Hungary may face the risk of appearing as an EU-member country that fails to organize elections in line with its Constitution, thus suffering governance and leadership uncertainties.
- Losing the right to vote abroad for Hungarian citizens (provided the re-legislation of voting at embassies, consulates or diplomatic missions is delayed) would be an unprecedented setback in democratic evolution of Hungary. As the number of citizens going abroad to study or work is constantly increasing after joining the EU, the problem can grow further.
The main troubles with the system raising constitutional uncertainties
- Domestic migration in the last twenty years resulted in an extreme imbalance in the number of voters in different constituencies. The Constitutional Court (CC) in a 2005 decision stated that “it is contrary to the principle of equal voting rights – under any circumstances – when the number of voting citizens registered in the list of voters pertaining to a single-member constituency is twice the corresponding figure of another single-member constituency”. At present time this disproportion in the number of voters is approaching the triple. The CC also claimed that the Parliament had caused an unconstitutional situation by not fully providing the statutory conditions securing the enforcement of the constitutional requirements resulting from the principle of equal voting rights, and called upon the Parliament to meet its legislative duty by 30 June 2007. Since the legislature still has not fulfilled its obligation, plenty of objections against the election results are expected to be articulated following the 2010 elections. The main problem with the current regulations is that the constituency system does not follow the changes caused by domestic migration. A solution for this problem could be introducing independent institutes similar to the Boundary Commissions in the United Kingdom that could regularly revise the boundaries and change their borders if necessary.
Number of people eligible to vote in the 8 most and least populous constituencies (according to 2006 parliamentary elections data)
- The regulation that allows voting abroad for Hungarian citizens will be repealed by 31 December 2009, and the Parliament seems reluctant to re-legislate this issue. The difficulty arises from the fact that current legislation cannot be prolonged, since the CC held that some elements of the law are unconstitutional. The electronic vote could solve all legislative and technical problems of voting abroad, but Hungarian politicians seem distrustful with this solution. If the parliament fails to create the new act and re-regulate this issue, Hungarian citizens will lose their recently obtained right to vote abroad.
This is an abstract of a comprehensive study by Political Capital Institute on the problems of the election system in Hungary with some recommendations for the members of parliament to solve these problems. Since 2006, PC has released several analyses and studies to raise alert for the risks deriving from the outdated (and is some points, unconstitutional) election system, provoking debate between analysts and journalists, representatives of constitutional bodies and political players. Some of our initiatives have already affected the regulations, but the two most significant problems (imbalanced constituencies and lack of casting a ballot abroad) remained unsolved.