Viktor Orbán and his minions have no shame. They fear their opponents and hence are once again ready to change the electoral law.
What am I talking about? Municipal elections will be held in October, and Viktor Orbán is afraid that Fidesz may not have clear sailing in Budapest. Although Fidesz won the city at the national and the EP elections, both times there were signs that the opposition might stand a chance of winning the city back from current Budapest mayor István Tarlós, who is Fidesz’s man. And as far as Viktor Orbán is concerned, that must not happen. The easiest way to guarantee a Fidesz victory is to change the electoral law that until now governed the elections and the functioning of the municipal government of Budapest. It was announced that within the shortest possible time parliament will discuss the matter and naturally, with the help of their two-thirds majority, the bill will become law by the middle of June.
The structure of Budapest’s municipal government does need reforming, but the desired changes point to more centralization. In the current system the districts have far too much power and the lord mayoralty does not have enough authority. In the first place, it is ridiculous to have twenty-three district mayors, their numerous deputies, and their separate councils for a city with a population of less than two million. Especially since these mini-kingdoms have such wide powers that they can even decide on parking fees and regulations. Thus, it can easily happen that parking fees and traffic regulations are different on the right side of the street from the left. Moreover, Fidesz further weakened the power of the center by allowing districts to keep certain taxes deriving from tourism. This benefited Antal Rogán’s 5th district enormously since it is that district where most tourists enjoy the sites and spend the most money. Under such circumstances, it is exceedingly difficult to have rational, comprehensive city planning.
As for the election law, voters currently elect the lord mayor and the twenty-three district mayors directly, but they also vote for party lists on the basis of which members of the city council are elected. For some time Fidesz has been toying with the idea of making the lord mayor a less important position; in 2011 there were talks about getting away from direct voting for the mayor of Budapest. Instead, they suggested a setup that would allow the twenty-three mayors to vote for the lord mayor from among themselves. That idea was eventually dropped.
The latest suggestion, which I fear will soon be law, still allows direct voting for the lord mayor, but it completely changes the composition of the city council. The city council would be comprised of the twenty-three district mayors and nine people from the compensation list. That is, from among those who ended up second in the election for district mayoralties. There would be no party lists. According to Lajos Kósa and Antal Rogán, the two MPs who presented the bill, this new electoral law would be much more democratic because in the new system the members of the council would be directly voted on by the electorate as opposed to having an arbitrary party list put together by the different parties. Moreover, Rogán added, it would be much cheaper to run the new council because members of the city council would get no salaries. Being a member of the council would be included in the duties of each district mayor.
Although the claim is that the suggested system will be more democratic than the one now in effect, that is not the case. On the contrary. It is less democratic and, according to constitutional lawyers, might even be unconstitutional. First of all, the members of the city council must represent the entire electorate and not just parts of the whole. After all, only people who live in a particular district are eligible to vote for that district’s mayor. As the quick analysis of Political Capital, the well-known think tank, pointed out, the Fidesz constitution states in Article 35(1) that “voters shall exercise universal and equal suffrage to elect local government representatives and mayors by direct and secret ballot, in elections allowing the free expression of the will of voters, in the manner defined by a cardinal Act.” But if this bill is voted into law, the representatives of the local government, i.e. the city council, will not be elected by all the voters. And there is a second problem that probably makes the new law unconstitutional: the huge differences in population between districts. Political Capital points out that in District I (the Castle district) there are only 20,949 eligible voters while in District XIV there are 92,806. In fact, the Constitutional Court several times ruled on the issue of electoral districts that were in the judges’ opinion too divergent as far as their populations were concerned. By abolishing the party lists, Fidesz prevents the opposition parties from accessing their support across the city as a whole.
In the April parliamentary election Fidesz received 39% of the votes, the United Alliance 37%, Jobbik 12%, and LMP 12%. Portfolio figured out that with the same percentages and under the current rules Fidesz and the United Alliance would both have 13 mandates, Jobbik 4 mandates, and LMP 3 mandates. In the new system, however, Fidesz would have 17 seats on the council, which amounts to 70% of all the available mandates, while E14-PM, DK, and MSZP would have to share 6 mandates. LMP and Jobbik wouldn’t even have seats on the city council. If Fidesz is generous and there is still compensation, assuming 10 more seats and the old “list system,” Fidesz would have 21 seats, Együtt-PM-DK-MSZP 10, LMP 1, and Jobbik 1. No matter how Fidesz fine tunes the law, it will make sure that it dominates the council and controls the fate of Budapest.
The opposition parties are up in arms. The most straightforward and hardest hitting criticism came from DK, Együtt14-PM, and Gábor Fodor’s liberals. They call it what it is: electoral fraud. DK is seeking remedies at the Constitutional Court, but by now Fidesz-appointed justices are in the great majority on the thirteen-member body. MSZP’s Csaba Horváth focused more on the negative results of decentralization, which was not the most effective response to this latest Fidesz coup. The others are right: Fidesz just figured out a way to make sure that they will win in Budapest regardless of the strength of the left.
Just as I said at the beginning, Viktor Orbán and his friends have no shame. They no longer even try to hide their plans to deprive their opponents of their rightful representation. Hungary is marching rapidly toward a one-party system.