Register as Roma, vote by default for Fidesz

It can easily happen that, amid the frenzy of Fidesz legislative action over the last three and a half years, even the more observant among us misses a troubling piece of legislative action. Here is one that I at least missed. It was included in the new electoral law of 2011, officially called the Law on the Election of Members of Parliament. For the most part Law CCIII provides a description of the newly created electoral districts, and it was on these gerrymandering efforts of the framers of the bill that I initially concentrated. Yesterday a friend called my attention to an interview with Aladár Horváth, a Roma political activist, on ATV’s program ATV Start.

At the time of her telephone call I still hadn’t had a chance to see the program, but I was told that Aladár Horváth is urging his fellow Roma not to register as such because so identifying themselves will deprive them of their right to vote for party lists. The Electoral Law on the Election of Members of Parliament, ¶7§(2), reads as follows: “A citizen who belongs to a minority can vote a) for a candidate of his electoral district and b) for the list of his own nationality.” In brief, as opposed to a non-minority citizen who can vote for both a candidate and a party list, a citizen who registers as a member of a minority can vote for a local candidate and the minority list.

This is the first time that minorities in Hungary can, at least theoretically, have representation in the Hungarian Parliament. The lack of such a possibility was a major embarrassment for earlier Hungarian governments that often stood up for the rights of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries where in fact Hungarian parties do have parliamentary representation. Of course, it is also true that ethnic minorities in Hungary, with the exception of the Roma and perhaps the Germans, are too small to reach the threshold necessary to be represented in parliament.

The Venice Commission’s draft opinion on The Act on the Elections of Member of Parliament of Hungary welcomed this particular aspect of Law XXIII. “For the first time, special provisions aimed at favouring the participation of national minorities in parliament in the electoral legislation. . . therefore the Venice Commission welcomes the introduction of such provisions.” However, the Venice Commission seemed to have some concerns regarding the new situation faced by the minority voters. It recommended that “as voters have the right to choose between registering to vote for normal party lists or national minority lists, the law should allow such registration in a reasonably short time frame before election day. This would ensure that all voters have sufficient information to make an informed choice. However, it would be preferable to give to the voters from national minorities the possibility of choice on election day between nationality lists and party lists.”

I guess I don’t have to tell you that no such opportunity will be given to minority voters either at the time of registration or on election day. Moreover, it is very unlikely that the Roma population, undereducated and living in backward villages, will realize the pros and cons of opting for the party list versus the minority list. After all, even Viktor Szigetváry, Együtt 2014’s electoral expert, when he wrote about the new electoral system didn’t pay much attention to this particular provision of the new law. He did admit that voting for the minority list “in small measure will strengthen the majoritarian character of the whole system” but he obviously didn’t consider it a potentially serious problem.

I checked the number of people who registered in 2010 to be able to vote for minority lists in local elections. Their number is over 200,000. Under the 2011 law they will now be deprived of their right to vote for a party. Or to be more precise, by voting for the minority list they will de facto be voting for Fidesz.

The leading members of Lungo Drom,  the  representative body of Hungarian Gypsies, including the head of the organization, Flórian Farkas, are Fidesz puppets. So any Gypsy who votes for the current ethnic leadership will only help Flórián Farkas be reelected to parliament. It would be one more vote for Fidesz.

Flórán Farkas at the COÖ meeting in January 2011 / Népszabadág / Simon Móricz

Flórián Farkas at the COÖ meeting in January 2011 / Népszabadág / Simon Móricz

Farkas is an old ally of Viktor Orbán who has worked closely with Fidesz ever since 2001 when he was already the president of Lungo Drom. He signed an agreement with Fidesz-MDF at that time in which he pledged Lungo Drom’s support of these parties. After the split of MDF and Fidesz, Farkas stood by Fidesz and renewed the electoral agreement between the Roma organization and Fidesz. He has been a member of the party’s parliamentary caucus ever since 2002. He is known as someone who does nothing whatsoever for the Roma community even though he is also head of the Országos Cigány Önkormányzat (OCÖ or Nationwide Gypsy Self-government).

So, this is the situation to which Aladár Horváth called attention. The problem is that his message is pretty much lost in a sea of total indifference. For example, he gave a press conference which not even the reporters of the liberal-socialist press bothered to attend. Although he himself is making an effort to get to the Roma communities, it is unlikely that he and his friends will be able to enlighten the Roma minority about their choices and the consequences of their decision.

We can be sure of one thing. Fidesz doesn’t do anything that doesn’t serve its own interests. Just as they don’t really care about the Hungarian minority in the neighboring countries so they don’t care about ethnic minorities inside of Hungary. Their primary concern is to get extra votes from the mostly Fidesz sympathizers in Romania and Serbia and to ensure that by default the Roma end up supporting them. The rest is just talk.

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14 comments

  1. If the Roma are being guaranteed some seats in Parliament, it sounds as though the opposition parties will have to be a bit more active in winning Roma support for their own candidate. Or am I missing something?

  2. If minorities can only vote for their candidates, this is a racist law. Correct me if I’m wrong, but other Hungarians could vote if they wish, for a Gypsy party candidate or list. In that case there would be a difference in people’s rights according to their ethnicity.

  3. Peter/Gabriel:

    In Hungary – because we have a mixed election system – in the general elections everybody has two votes.

    One can be cast for the district candidate and one for a party list.

    Having said that, If you are a member of a minority, you may choose (by registering yourself as a minority voter) to vote for a so-called minority list, instead of voting for the party list. You will still have two votes, and one can be cast for the district candidate, but the other will be cast for the minority list, instead of the party list.

    The system is very complex. 106 district members of parliament will surely be elected and 93 MPs from the national party lists or the minority lists.

    The division of the 93 list-based places between the national parties and the minority lists will depend on the votes for the various lists.

    There is a complex methodology for the calculation of the minimum votes for any minority lists necessary to send at least one member of parliament from the minority list.

    It is likely that no minority will be able to send minority MPs from a list — except for the Romas (Fidesz, given its superior GOTV organisation, can decide whether to “run” other minority lists as well, for example the Romanian, which is currently also a quasi-Roma thing, or the German, but otherwise a minority community cannot realistically muster enough people to receive the minimum votes as a minority list).

    Now, the Roma minority list will be controlled by Fidesz (the Roma national self-government organization is just a Fidesz outlet already at present).

    Depending on how many people are registered already as minority voters (voters from the past minority self-government elections) they will only be able to the vote for (i) the district candidate and, instead of the national party list, for (ii) the Roma list, in other words for Fidesz.

    (Fidesz might want to play the good guy, so that surely minority people may elect to vote for the party list, but then you have to do something administrative, so in reality already registered minority people will likely stay minority voters with restricted voting opportunities.)

    If there are 200,000 default Roma voters registered as minority voters as prof. Balogh says, voters who will only be able to vote for the Roma list then then those 200,000 votes will be essentially cast for Fidesz — but more importantly also they will NOT be cast for any opposition party.

    For any votes cast at all in a reviewed set of voters, and cast, lets say, for Fidesz will actually increase the difference between Fidesz and other parties by twice the number of votes cast for Fidesz in such set. It’s an important phenomenon. Suppose you have ten voters voting in a 5-5 split for two parties. If you flip one person the result will be 6-4 (flipping one, you increase your advantage by two). Flipping two means 7-3, increasing the advantage by 4 instead of the flipped two. So the value of having 200,000 default Fidesz voters as opposed to voters to a varied set of parties is much bigger than it looks.

    Also, since the minimum threshold of voters necessary for a minority list to send one MP will be smaller then for a national party list, Fidesz will be able to send MPs with smaller number of voters (though that special smaller threshold will be applicable only to the no. 1 on the minority list, the rest will need the national list threshold.)

    Anyway, this is too complex for anyone to really understand it (including me), so it’s as if it does not exist at all. Fidesz is entering the election with 10-15% advantage, if you add up all those couple of percentage point advantages (from gerrymeandered districts to the the Roma list play and so forth). But hey, the elections will be free and fair since people will vote nicely and calmly all around the country, so we will get the approval from the EU.

  4. csoda.peter :
    If the Roma are being guaranteed some seats in Parliament, it sounds as though the opposition parties will have to be a bit more active in winning Roma support for their own candidate. Or am I missing something?

    I entirely agree. MSZP in particular has been particularly silent in that field, and the fall of Kolompár didn’t help. It’s time for them to show they have something to say. But do they?

    PS: I’m not a fan of the ‘minority seats’ principle, not a fan either of what Dr Balogh reports pertaining to the consequences of registration. But the Left actually engaging the Right on specific Roma issues is the only way those issues will appear less specific through time.

  5. Adam Henry :
    If there are 200,000 default Roma voters registered as minority voters as prof. Balogh says, voters who will only be able to vote for the Roma list then then those 200,000 votes will be essentially cast for Fidesz — but more importantly also they will NOT be cast for any opposition party.

    A couple of years earlier Dr Balogh mentioned an Ipsos poll according to which 80% of the Roma electorate had voted Fidesz in 2010. Ceteris partibus, shouldn’t the foreseeable loss for the opposition party lists be considered closer to 40,000 votes?

    Naturally, that isn’t nothing, yet… have the opposition parties done anything during the current legislature to seriously challenge Fidesz among those voters? My guess is they had cut that loss already.

  6. The Hungarian elections of 2014 is a rigged game in more ways than people suspect. With the exception of Gyurcsany (who’s been stabbed more times than Julius Ceasar) and his DK contingent, the others are in on the gaff–Fidesz is to rule and the others will be in on the crumbs.

    Oh, the glorious Hungary and it’s somnambulant citizenry!

  7. By the way, has it occurred to anyone that the Fradi contingent commemorating that stalwart representative of Hungary–Laszlo Csatary–had been neither arrested or evicted from the soccer game, but ‘fined’…when we all know that the government is financing the said soccer team.

    Hungarian connivance at its best…

  8. A very “nice” solution, indeed.
    Particularly, if you consider and compare to the rights of the “over the border” citizens.

    But so far nobody seem to raise for protest, so, its obviously the right thing, isn’t it?

  9. Today Bajnai & Mesterhazy fell out over the distribution of candidates challenging Orban in 2014.

    The Fidesz machine attacks Gyurcsany a lot, Bajnai somewhat less so and Mesterhazy not at all.

    This should be a giveaway to Mesterhazy to step aside – he is not dangerous to Fidesz.

    [Is it possible that M. is Orban's secret man in the opposition? - I keep asking myself]

    There should be a triumvirate [!] consisting of Vadai [!] of DK, Karacsony and Konya of E14 and Botka of MSzP. At this point both Bajnai and Mesterhazy seem to lack the leadership qualities to beat Orban.

  10. tappach: [Is it possible that M. is Orban's secret man in the opposition? - I keep asking myself]

    I also keep asking this question. The youtube (MSZP advertisement) from yesterday only strengthen it.

  11. @tappanch

    Bajnai got some bad advice: MSZP and Mesterhazy cannot be trusted. The right plan would’ve been to join with E14 and DK; put Gyurcsany in to face Orban, who’s no match for him as a speaker or debater. Mesterhazy is a Trojan–works either as the historical horse, or as a prophylactic.

  12. Tappanch, Ron:

    The current left as you imagine it will never be able to work together. Forget that dream.

    MSZP has a national network, nobody else has it, and without it you do not exist. That is the way the election system works and it is because this is exactly how Orban wanted it. He wanted to play the match with MSZP, and MSZP only.

    Mesterhazy is actually quite aggressive and has tendencies similar to Orbán, it is just that he is not that smart of a politician and has absoluetely no vision about what he would do if he ever got to power.

    (Worse still, Mesterhazy has no legal capabilities compared to Fidesz to write law quickly and time is of essence, as the longer it takes to approve a statute the higher the chances that it will be diluted through lobbying or because MSZP politicians get scared, as they always do, as a consequence of Fidesz’s media assault).

    Bajnai has no leverage whatsoever vis-a-vis MSZP (and Bajnai is not agressive or hungry enough and he never has been). DK perhaps, if they play their national network better.

    LMP or the Karácsony faction do not exist, never have. They are not a factor at all in the present election system.

  13. Thanks to Adam Henry for injecting some badly needed facts into this election debate.

    Unfortunately, most of the comments on here about the upcoming election seem to be based more on wishful thinking than reality, and even those accepting of the facts are generally missing the key point in this debate – which is that Orbán has rigged the system massively in his favour.

    First of all, the number of parliamentary seats has been reduced dramatically (and for no apparent reason – other than political ones) from 386 to 199 – that’s very nearly half the previous number of seats.

    This change alone gives Fidesz advantages. For a start, with fewer seats, the bigger parties benefit, especially the largest party – which Fidesz still is. But also, reducing the seats means redrawing the boundaries, which means the party in power at the time can gerrymander the new constituency boundaries to their own benefit (e.g. move the few Fidesz voters from the next door constituency, which is solidly MSzP, into a constituency which might have voted either way – thus replacing a ‘swing’ constituency with a solid Fidesz seat).

    Secondly, the ratio of constituency seats to party list seats has been reversed. Under the old system, the majority of seats (54.4%) came from the party list, but now the majority (53.3%) come from the constituency seats. So, Fidesz, as the party that will most benefit from the constituency voting, gets another advantage.

    Thirdly, the constituency voting system (now the majority method of electing MPs) has been changed to a straight-forward ‘first-past-the-post’ system. There is no longer a second round if the turnout was less than 50% or no candidate got 50% of the vote, and there is no longer a minimum 25% threshold for the vote to be valid. So now, whoever gets the most votes, wins – it’s as simple as that. They don’t have to get over 50%, there is no run-off, in fact they can even win if the turnout is less than 25% – just as long as they get a simple majority – even by one vote.

    And, again, this change will favour Fidesz.

    And lastly, there have been a raft of ‘minor’ changes to the system, all designed to make life more difficult for the smaller parties.

    For instance, for a candidate to be able to stand, they must now have 1,000 voters in that constituency prepared to officially (i.e. publically) propose them. Having stood in a UK local election, I can tell you that by far the hardest part of the process was getting the minimum number of proposers (and all the forms filled in exactly right – or they are rejected) – and I only had to get 20! For the smaller parties (probably even including Jobbik in this case, this is going to prove very difficult – especially in constituencies where they are not welcome. Even MSzP is going to struggle to find 1,000 people prepared to publically declare themselves socialists (and live with the consequences) in some Eastern constituencies.

    Also, in order to get candidates on the party list (the only hope for the smaller parties – and essential even for MSzP and Jobbik to get a decent number of seats), parties now need to field candidates in at least 27 constituencies (just over 25% of the total). This doesn’t sound too difficult, but these constituencies have to be spread over 9 counties (and Budapest) – i.e. the party has to put up candidates in at least half the counties.

    This massively favours the bigger parties (which these days is just Fidesz and MSzP), and in financial terms (simply because they have vastly more money), very much favours Fidesz. Smaller parties, like LMP, DK, etc, who depend entirely on the party list, are going to find it almost impossible to meet the qualifying conditions. Let’s put this in focus – to get on the list (which you simply MUST do to get any MPs), you have to have the money and resources to put up at least 27 constituency candidates (each requiring 1,000 valid proposers), spread over half the counties – including many areas where you have little or no local support, let alone organisation.

    So, in summary – there are half the number of MPs (which favours Fidesz), there is no longer any proportionality for the majority of seats (which favours Fidesz), and it’s much harder to put up candidates (which favours the bigger parties, especially Fidesz).

    Add to that the fact that Fidesz has overwhelming control of the media, and that election advertising has been massively reduced (again, favouring Fidesz, as the governing party), and you get a comfortable win for Fidesz – even on a low turnout, and even with the two main parties neck-and-neck in the polls (or even with MSzP ahead in the polls). It’s difficult to predict the impact on Jobbik, as it depends on how well they are organised nationally and on the level of donations they can get. But it pretty much means the end of the smaller parties. LMP might get one or two seats, and DK might just be able to engineer a return of Gyurcsány to parliament, but I doubt if either will happen – just a single LMP seat, at best, would be my guess.

    And, if you still have any doubts about this, consider the fact that Fidesz decided not to increase the 5% voting threshold for the party list and gave in so easily over voter registration. They simply didn’t need these ‘extras’ – they already had the system sewn up.

  14. I think the post misses an important point: pursuant to the 36 Act of 2013 on the electoral procedure (86. §) minority voters, furthermore, have the right to choose whether they want to vote at the parliamentary elections (for a local candidate and the minority list) or participate only at the elections of their non-territorial autonomous bodies (thus, they can vote for a candidate and a party list just as non-minority voters). So the number of those who will cast their votes for minority lists might be lower than those who registered themselves as minority voters at the previous minority elections.

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