Electoral reform and assembly-size reduction in Hungary?

Bargaining is under way between Hungary’s political parties to change the electoral system and reduce the size of the national assembly, reports Politics.hu.

While the parties are agreed on key points, the smaller parties are concerned that their two big counterparts–the governing Socialist Party and the main opposition Fidesz–are attempting to squeeze them out. Currently, almost all of Hungary’s parties are in one of two broad (and mostly pre-electoral) coalitions, headed by each of the big parties. The electoral system is one of the world’s most complex: a mostly parallel form of mixed-member system, but one with some compensation for smaller parties. The single-seat districts are in two rounds, by majority-plurality. Several features of the system, including the partial compensation of the list seats, the two rounds of the SSDs, and the presence of a third-tier national list, provide room for the smaller parties to retain representation despite the overall majoritarianism of the system. (See my previous overview of the system and its majoritarian impact.)

The proposed reforms would eliminate the second round. The debate appears to center around whether the national list will be retained and, if so, how many seats will continue to be allocated in it.

With 386 seats, Hungary is currently one of a small number of democracies with an over-sized parliament, relative to the cube-root law (see graph). With a population of around ten million (and just over eight million registered voters in 2006, two thirds of whom turned out), the cube-root law would suggest an assembly size of around 200 to 215. “The parties are more of less agreed that the chamber should be cut to around 200 seats,” according to the Politics.hu report. (So how about that!)

The reduction of the size of parliament would, even without a change in the tier structure, tend to reduce the space for smaller parties. Currently the national list accounts for 58 seats (15%) and the regional lists account for 152 seats (39%). The remaining 176 (46%) seats are the single-seat districts. If those proportions were retained in a 200-seat parliament, the national list would have just 30 seats; more importantly, the magnitudes of the regional list constituencies would be sharply reduced, especially in rural counties. While the national list is currently compensatory (relative to the regional list districts, but not to the entire parliament), with lower regional magnitudes and just 30 national seats, proportionality for the smaller partners within the broad blocs could be substantially reduced.

The Politics.hu item indicates that the smaller conservative Democratic Forum would like a national list “exclusively.” It is not clear if that means it wants a 200-seat national district, or if it means it accepts a mixed-member system, but without the intermediate regional tier. (In overall context, I assume the latter.) In any case, that party is both small and in opposition, so its voice will not count for much, but it may be indicative of discussions over changing the multi-tier structure. Unfortunately, the story is not clear on details such as whether the parallel vs. compensatory dimension of the mixed-member system is up for debate.

In any case, Hungary may be in the process of simplifying its overly complex system and reducing its overly large assembly to match the estimates of the cube-root law. Those would be good developments from the standpoint of the normative dimensions of comparative electoral-systems studies.

5 thoughts on “Electoral reform and assembly-size reduction in Hungary?

  1. In practice, the number of national list seats is usually larger than 58, because any unfilled regional list seats are added to the national list. In the 1990 general election, only 120 of 152 regional constituency seats were allocated among qualifying parties, and the remaining 32 seats were added to the national list, which increased to 90 seats.

    Now, the reason why not every regional list seat is allocated is because after the initial distribution of full quota seats by the Hagenbach-Bischoff method, only remainders equal to or larger than two-thirds of the quota qualify for an additional seat; however, this procedure reduces the party’s surplus vote total, as detailed on my website’s Hungary page (which also has detailed Hungarian election results since 1990). At any rate, the gradual concentration of votes around two major parties has led to a steady decrease in the number of unfilled regional constituency seats: by 2006 only six unallocated regional list seats were added to the national list, which went up to 64 seats.

    By the way, when Hungary held its first multi-party election in over four decades back in 1990, a British newspaper, noting the complexity of the electoral system, commented that it was worthy of the nation that created Rubik’s cube. That said, it should be remembered that the current electoral system is the product of a 1989 compromise between the reform Communist government then in power (which wanted a two-round system) and the opposition parties (which favored list PR); ironically, the system’s proportional components saved the post-Communist Hungarian Socialist Party from being almost completely wiped out of Parliament in the first democratic election, thus allowing the party to remain viable and subsequently return to power.

    In any event, it will be interesting to see if the electoral reform is enacted this time around; the issue was discussed a few years ago but went nowhere.

  2. Maybe Hungary should get rid of the regional list tier system, and just have single seat districts, and a national tier only. Is that reform being discuss?

    Why not change the 2 round system to a preferential vote system like Australia? That would be really cool to see combined in an MMP system.

    A 386 member parliament is huge for a country of 10 million and should be decreased. Sweden has a population of 8 million and has a large parliament at 349 members, and the same is for Finland at 5 million people for a 200 member parliament.

    The only European country with a parliament that is too small for it’s population is the Netherlands for a population of I think 15 to 22 million.

  3. It appears that Hungary’s latest attempt at electoral reform isn’t going anywhere, at least for the time being; Politics.Hu has more information.

    Somehow, I’m not surprised.

    On a related note, I’m covering Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s recently announced departure from office here.

  4. Pingback: Hungary’s new electoral system | Fruits and Votes

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