A shameful verdict: The Court finds the new Budapest electoral law consitutional

Now that Viktor Orbán has seen the light and convinced Péter Szentmihályi Szabó to shelve his ambitions to be the next Hungarian ambassador to Rome, I am returning to the domestic scene, which is not pretty either.

Although hardly a day goes by without some horrendous attack on Hungarian democracy, this week’s greatest abomination was the 8 to 7 decision of the Constitutional Court affirming the constitutionality of the new law governing elections in Budapest. Once, back in May, I wrote about Fidesz plans to completely change the electoral system in Budapest. Why? Simple. After the April elections it looked as if Fidesz’s position was not secure in the capital. And naturally, in Fidesz’s view, no election can ever be lost. By hook or by crook they will win. The party and its leader will march resolutely from victory to victory for time immemorial. And so a devilish plan was devised to ensure victory.

Since I went into the details of previous system in May, here let me just summarize it briefly. In the past the lord mayor (főpolgármester) was elected directly by all the eligible voters in Budapest. District mayors were chosen only by the inhabitants of the 23 districts. In addition, there were party lists on the basis of which the 32-member city council was elected. What particularly bothered Fidesz was that the opposition might get a majority on the city council given the fact that numerically more Budapest people voted for the opposition parties than for Fidesz. After some clever mathematics they came up with a solution: simply abolish the city council as it exists today and replace it with a body composed of the 23 district mayors. This body could then be joined by nine people from the so-called compensation lists of the losers. Thus, including the lord mayor, it would have 33 members, just as it has now.

But from day one it was clear that this scheme is glaringly unconstitutional because it violates the one person, one vote principle that is fundamental in a functioning democracy. This disproportionality is due to the varying sizes of the districts. Here are some examples. While District I (the Castle district) has 24,679 inhabitants, District III has 127,602.  District V (Antal Rogán’s domain) has 26,048 while District XIII has 119,275. I guess you will not be terribly surprised to learn that the smaller districts lean heavily toward the right. Thus, the Castle District where no socialist or liberal has ever won will be represented on the city council by one person as will the socialist District XIII.

As soon as this problem was discovered–and it didn’t take long–the Fidesz “election experts” started to tinker with the proposed law and introduced all sorts of amendments that were supposed to remedy the situation. Their attempts eventually made the system extremely complicated without satisfying the constitutional requirements. In a very rare moment of unity, all parliamentary members of the opposition–including Jobbik and LMP–turned to the Constitutional Court for a ruling on the issue. That was in June. On Monday at last the judges handed down their decision. It was a very close vote, especially considering the composition of the court: 8 out of the 15 judges found the law, by and large, constitutional.

One ought to keep in mind that the majority of the judges were appointed by Fidesz after the “court-packing scheme” was introduced. In addition, there are two judges who were put forth by Fidesz earlier. Currently there are only three judges on the court who were nominated by MSZP, one of whom will have to retire in September and two others in March 2016.  After that time there will not be one member of the court who was not a Fidesz appointee. As it is, seven out of the eight judges who were nominated by Fidesz since 2010 found the law constitutional; the one exception refused to concur because he couldn’t agree with the majority on the one side issue it found unconstitutional. So, this is where we stand.

A rather telling picture of the current Hungarian Constitutional Court Source: Népszabadság

A rather telling picture of the current Hungarian Constitutional Court. Source: Népszabadság

Several judges wrote separate opinions. Perhaps the  hardest hitting was that of the chief justice, Peter Paczolay, who is considered by legal experts to be conservative. He was endorsed by both parties and since his term will be up next February I guess he doesn’t particularly care what Viktor Orbán thinks of him. He pointed out that “the present case does not merely touch on constitutional issues but on the right to vote that is the very basis of democracy.” According to him, this Fidesz-created law “is entirely contrary to the fundamental principle of equality.” Moreover, he added that some of his colleagues did not fulfill their professional duties and instead wrote a decision that was dictated by the interests of a political party. Pretty tough words.

András Bragyova (MSZP), who will be leaving the court in September, had nothing to lose either. In his opinion the new “council will not be an elected body although the constitution states that Budapest must have its own self-government.” It is an unconstitutional creation. Moreover, he noted that while the constitution demands self-government for the city as a whole, the election of district mayors is not specifically mentioned in the constitution. As he wittily remarked,  “from here on instead of Budapest having districts, the districts will have a capital city.”

The behavior of István Stumpf, an old Fidesz hand and Viktor Orbán’s former college professor who doesn’t always toe the party line, was the strangest. He voted this time with the slim majority, but he wrote a separate opinion in which he objected to changing the electoral law only months ahead of the election.

NGOs such as the Hungarian Helsinki Commission and TASZ as well as independent electoral law experts are appalled by the poor quality of the opinion that was written by Béla Pokol. Viktor Orbán chose him to serve on the court despite the fact that he is opposed to the very existence of a constitutional court. His judicial views are also extreme.

Csaba Horváth (MSZP), who ran against current lord mayor István Tarlós in 2010, declared that this decision demonstrates that the last bastion of democracy, the Constitutional Court, has been captured by the enemies of democracy. Some people contemplate boycotting the election but most are ready to face the music. Between Fidesz and the totally incompetent opposition a huge Fidesz win seems to be shaping up for October 12.

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23 comments

  1. Where are the other bloggers to accomplish the same job like the Hungarian Spectrum?

    Hungarian Spectrum deserves a Josephus Flavius, Herodotus, or Thucydides price.

  2. I am not shocked and I am holt surprised. Everything is going according the script of Orban. Orban / Fidesz and their gang brought shame to Hungary. Winning fair is not about wining at any price, but about winning in affair game. Unfortunately according to his own wife, Orban cannot win fair, and is ready rewrite the rules as he goes even when he is involved with innocent games. (Eva or someone else posted about this a while ago.) You do not even have to imagine what will he do in real life. He is doing it in real life, and he has a whole bunch of grown man and woman helping him to win this game.

  3. Number of voters in the different districts (May 2014)

    smallest: 23rd= 17,573
    largest: 11th = 107,476 —-> 6.1 times the smallest!!

    http://valasztas.hu/dyn/ep14/vertaj/hu/M01/v2t.html

    The basic scheme works like this.

    It is enough for Fidesz to win 8 small districts out of 23 districts in Budapest.

    It can be only second in 15 districts, including the 9 largest ones,

    Fidesz will have 9 compensation votes + 8 regular votes = 17 votes, i.e. majority in the Budapest Assembly.

  4. District #;
    Fidesz % – Left Alliance% w/o LMP in party list votes in April 2014;
    weight of a vote= (district 11)/(this district) [eligible voters]

    01; 47.0%-32.4%; 5.13
    02; 44.5%-36.4%; 1.59
    03; 37.6%-37.6%; 1.07
    04; 35.1%-38.4%; 1.34
    05; 44.8%-34.5%; 5.21

    06; 38.1%-38.0%; 3.75
    07; 36.9%-37.4%; 2.50
    08; 39.5%-34.9%; 1.93
    09; 38.4%-35.5%; 2.41
    10; 35.5%-37.9%; 1.82

    11; 42.0%-36.2%; 1.00
    12; 46.7%-33.6%; 2.34
    13; 31.1%-45.6%; 1.18
    14; 36.8%-39.4%; 1.16
    15; 36.8%-36.5%; 1.65

    16; 41.3%-34.1%; 1.90
    17; 40.2%-32.9%; 1.53
    18; 37.0%-35.7%; 1.34
    19; 35.9%-37.6%; 2.22
    20; 36.7%-35.7%; 2.06

    21; 34.1%-37.1%; 1.74
    22; 42.8%-32.9%; 2.52
    23; 37.3%-32.3%; 6.12

  5. Suppose the toss-up districts went to the opposition in October.

    Largest 9 districts: 3 for Fidesz, 6 for the opposition
    Remaining 14 districts: 8 for Fidesz, 6 for the opposition

    That would give 11 seats for Fidesz and 12 seats for the opposition.

    But with the “compensation” seats, largest 9 districts: 9 for Fidesz, 9 for the opposition
    Total : 17 for Fidesz, 15 for the opposition

  6. @Petofi

    Weighted votes – dictatorship, Hungarian-style

    Multi-party election does NOT equal democracy.

    May I remind the young in the audience of the surprising fact that Communist East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Bulgaria all had multi-party systems nominally?

  7. All journalists write about an 8-7 decision, but apparently nobody checks it.

    It’s not 8-7, it’s 9-6 (at least).

    One of the dissenting opinions was actually dissenting only because he was not even agreeing with the only repeal point 1 of the resolution, i.e. the only part of the decision which seemed to agree with the petitioners. This was Laszlo Salamon a long-time MDF/Fidesz soldier, one of the most die-hard fideszniks available. He argues that the court was to amenable to the petitioners, and he demanded more (party) discipline from Béla Pokol who wrote the decision. Pokol is probably the most ardent enemy of László Sólyom’s work and his a right-wing fanatic who had several harebrained ideas with respect to the constitution, but I am sure he will look moderate when in Fidesz will appoint 3-4 judges in the coming year.

    So the number of judges voting for the shameful decision was more like 9-6 (and let’s not get into the difference between the dissents, Lévay is rather close to the majority).

    Paczolay should have resigned long ago. This is not a court any more, but a Fidesz party branch.

  8. @Rrr53456:

    Thanks for that piece on Russia and its “birthing troubles” with Ukraine – it’s hilarious, sad and really enlightening!

  9. No surprise. According to the great leader V.O. (in Tasnádfürdö) the liberal democracy is finished. And Orbanistan will be the shining example for the new authoritarian system.

  10. tappanch: as socialdance.tumblr.com aptly said: What did Orban say? Something with which 95% of his party, 98% of the party cronies, 95% of the voters and 100% of Jobbik supporters agree?

  11. “95% of the voters”

    95% of Fidesz-Jobbik voters wouldn’t know what democracy is if it hit them fullsquare on the head…
    still it’s nice of the Chief Shepherd to confirm the reality. He is a fascist dictator and proud of it!

  12. @Karl

    At the end of the day the situation is that Hungary is being financed by Germany via the EU funds.

    Without those net transfers (which by the way end up in the coffers of fideszniks who in turn finance Orban’s campaigns and the all-encompassing media-ideology machinery) Hungary would have been broke years ago.

  13. @Song: the sum of FR + UK net contributions to the EU budget is superior to Germany’s (roughly 9.5 > 7.5 bn).

    Why don’t you write that “Hungary is being financed by France & the United Kingdom via the EU funds”?

  14. Reichsadler memorial caricatures:

    “It was the others, we were not even there”:

    Archangel Horthy:

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