Jobbik ‘wins first seat’ and other journalistic foot-in-mouthisms on Hungary

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Hungary’s extreme nationalist party, Jobbik, won a tightly-contested by-election on Sunday. In Hungary’s mixed-member majoritarian system, a little over half the seats are elected by plurality from single-seat districts (before 2014, a two-round system was used). The by-election was held to fill one of these seats, previously held by government party Fidesz.

If you read the BBC’s headline, you could be excused for thinking this is a major political breakthrough for Jobbik: “Far-right Jobbik party takes first seat in Hungary”. This is of course not the case; Jobbik has been represented in parliament since the 2010 election, where it secured about a sixth of the vote, consequently growing to more than a fifth of the vote in 2014. In both elections it was unsuccessful in winning any constituency seats, so all its MPs (23 out of the total 199 in 2014) were elected from the party list. The text accompanying the video-article is more accurate, but is probably still confusing to those unfamiliar with Hungary’s electoral system:

The far-right Jobbik party in Hungary has won its first ever individual constituency in parliament, taking the Tapolca seat with a majority of just under 300 votes. It is now the most successful nationalist party in Europe and will challenge the governing Fidesz party in parliamentary elections due in three years’ time.

The video doesn’t offer any clarification. One might wonder, if this is really only its first-ever seat, how exactly its the most successful party of its kind, and how such a small force might challenge Fidesz for government.

Of course, being able to win a constituency seat is a great achievement for Jobbik and indicates it may even be in the running for first place in 2016; considering its political position, however, it will almost certainly only enter government if it wins a parliamentary majority. This is however rendered more likely by the change in electoral system from two-round to single-round plurality, which means Jobbik can benefit from the split in the vote for its more mainstream rivals, as it did in Sunday’s by-election.

Jobbik’s win is a further blow to Fidesz, whose approval ratings have tanked since winning the general election last year. It has already lost a seat in another by-election in February, causing it to lose its two-thirds majority required to unilaterally amend the country’s constitution. Strangely, this was reported by some news outlets as being a loss of its three-quarters majority. One truly wonders how such a detail could be lost in translation.

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