On April 11 and 25, 2010, the Republic of Hungary held its sixth parliamentary election since 1989, when the country made a peaceful transition to democracy after more than four decades of Communist rule. The electoral system used to choose members of the National Assembly - Hungary's unicameral legislature - from 1990 to 2010, and the new system introduced in 2011 are both reviewed here.
National- and regional-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following parliamentary elections:
The election statistics presented in this space come from official results published by Hungary's National Election Office.
Hungary's unicameral Parliament, the National Assembly, is currently composed of 386 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a four-year term of office. From 1990 to 2010, a total of 176 seats were filled in single-member constituencies by the runoff voting system, while up to 152 seats were distributed by proportional representation in twenty regional, multi-member constituencies - Hungary's nineteen counties plus the capital city of Budapest - and at least 58 seats were allocated on a national list to compensate parties for disparities between the distribution of votes and National Assembly constituency seats. Electors cast two votes: one for a single-member constituency candidate, and another for a regional party list; the votes were cast on separate ballots. Regional party lists were closed, so electors could not choose individual candidates in or alter the order of such lists; no votes were cast for the national list. Political parties submitted lists of candidates in regional constituencies where they had candidates in at least one-quarter (but no fewer than two) of the multi-member constituency's single-member constituencies. Likewise, parties with lists of candidates in at least seven regional constituencies could submit a national list.
Single-member constituency candidates who obtained an absolute majority of valid votes cast were elected in the first round. Otherwise, a runoff election was held two weeks later among candidates polling at least fifteen percent of the vote; if no candidates met this requirement, the runoff was held between the top three candidates. In the second round, the candidate that obtained the largest number of votes was elected to office. Meanwhile, regional constituency seats were allocated by the Hagenbach-Bischoff method among parties polling at least five percent of the nationwide vote; for joint party lists, the threshold increased to ten percent for lists established by two parties, and to fifteen percent for lists presented by three or more parties. In each regional constituency, an electoral quota was calculated by dividing the total number of valid votes by the number of seats to be allocated plus one. The number of votes polled by each party was then divided by the electoral quota, and the result, disregarding fractions, was equal to the initial number of mandates allocated to the party. If one or more seats remained unfilled, qualifying parties with a remainder equal to or larger than two-thirds of the quota received an additional seat; any remaining seats were transferred to the national list.
However, constituency results (single-member or regional) were not deemed valid unless a minimum percent of registered electors took part in the election. First round results were invalidated when turnout stood at fifty percent of the electorate or less; in such instances, a second round of voting was held in the constituency, in which all candidates or lists that took part in the first round could participate. Meanwhile, second round results were deemed invalid unless the turnout rate was more than twenty-five percent of the electorate. Single-member seats in constituencies with invalid runoff results were subsequently filled in by-elections, while unfilled regional seats following an invalid second round of voting were added to the national list.
Finally, national list seats were distributed by the largest average method (also known as the d'Hondt rule) among parties that qualified for the distribution of regional constituency seats, according to their surplus vote totals; these were equal to the sum of votes cast in the first valid round of voting for single-member constituency party candidates who were not elected in either round, plus unused party list votes from the first valid round (or first round totals for regional constituencies in which both rounds were invalid), minus the difference between the full quota and the party's unused list vote total in regional constituencies where a seat was allocated under the two-thirds quota provision.
Under the new electoral system introduced in 2011, the National Assembly will be reduced to 199 seats, of which 106 will be filled in single-member constituencies by the plurality or first-past-the-post method, and the candidate obtaining the largest number of votes in each constituency will be elected to office. Meanwhile, the remaining 93 mandates will be allocated on a national list. Electors will continue to cast two votes: one for a single-member constituency candidate, and another for a national list. National list seats will be distributed by the d'Hondt rule among qualifying parties according to the sum of their national list totals and their surplus votes, that is votes cast for their single-member constituency party candidates, minus part of the votes obtained by winning constituency candidates - specifically, the number of votes obtained by the second-placed constituency candidate, plus one.
Hungary's present-day party system began to take shape in late 1987 and early 1988, when the country was still under the long rule of Communist leader János Kádár. However, under Kádár - who had come to power after Soviet troops crushed the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, a popular uprising against Communist tyranny - Hungary had gradually developed a relatively open (albeit by no means democratic or pluralistic) political environment, and this trend accelerated under the policy of glasnost (openness) promoted by then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Consequently, Hungarian authorities tolerated the emergence of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) to the right-of-center and the radical-liberal Federation of Young Democrats (Fidesz) as de facto opposition parties, although no official recognition was initially extended to either group.
Meanwhile, Hungary's economy was in deep crisis - the country was on the verge of bankruptcy, burdened by the largest per capita foreign debt in the Communist world - which further undermined the political legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party, officially known as the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party (MSZMP). Thus, by early 1989 new opposition parties had been formed, such as the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), while several parties that had operated in the years between the end of World War II and the subsequent Communist takeover were re-established, including among them the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKgP), the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) and the Social Democratic Party of Hungary (MSZDP). More importantly, a reformist faction within the ruling MSZMP wrestled control of the party from Kádár's successors (an increasingly senile Kádár had been replaced as party leader the preceding year) and opened negotiations with seven opposition parties in the summer of 1989 - the National Roundtable Talks - to arrange a transition from Communism to democracy. The Round Table negotiations, which also included trade unions as well as satellite organizations of the Communist Party and continued until the autumn, paved the way for the establishment of a Western-style parliamentary form of government, with a largely ceremonial president as head of state. The Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party then recast itself as the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), but Communist hardliners split from the party and re-established MSZMP.
It should be noted that beyond pressure from Western lenders in favor of political reform, other external factors contributed decisively to Hungary's peaceful transition to democratic governance: unlike in 1956, the Soviet Union encouraged the political reform process taking place in Hungary; moreover, Poland - another Soviet satellite country up to that point - had successfully embarked on a similar course earlier in the year, albeit in a far more cautious manner. As it was, the developments in both Hungary and Poland unleashed a political chain reaction that brought about the collapse of the Communist regimes in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania in November and December of 1989.
Meanwhile, parliamentary elections in Hungary were scheduled for March 1990, under an electoral system that emerged as a compromise between the government and the opposition parties. Initially, the Communist Party expected to win the elections - hence its willingness to negotiate with the opposition - and proposed a runoff voting system in single-member constituencies with a national compensation list, while the opposition parties favored a mixed electoral system featuring both runoff voting and party list proportional representation components. However, after suffering humiliating defeats in a series of parliamentary by-elections in July and August of 1989, the government embraced the mixed system put forward by the opposition parties, albeit with the addition of the national compensation list. The resulting three-tier mechanism for allocating National Assembly mandates has been often described as the world's most complicated electoral system, but it remained in place for more than two decades with only minor modifications.
At any rate, the erstwhile Communists' shift to a more proportional electoral system proved to be a wise choice. In the March 25, 1990 parliamentary election's first round of voting - Hungary's first free and fair election in forty-five years - the Hungarian Democratic Forum and the Alliance of Free Democrats emerged as the two largest parties, while the Hungarian Socialist Party was soundly defeated: it finished in a distant fourth place, narrowly behind the Independent Smallholders' Party and just ahead of the Federation of Young Democrats and the Christian Democratic People's Party. The Socialists fared particularly badly in the single-member constituency races, where they won just two seats (out of 176), while the Hungarian Democratic Forum scored a decisive victory in the April 8 runoff election, in which it came well ahead of the Alliance of Free Democrats. However, the proportional representation components of the electoral system - regional constituency and national list seats - increased Socialist representation in the National Assembly to a more respectable total of thirty-four seats (of 386). Meanwhile, the hard-line MSZMP fared even worse than MSZP: it fell just short of the four percent proportional representation threshold and won no seats in Parliament. The Social Democratic Party of Hungary won no parliamentary mandates either, having finished just below the four percent threshold as well.
In all, the outcome of the 1990 parliamentary election left Hungary with six major political parties represented in the National Assembly: MDF, SZDSZ, FKgP, MSZP, Fidesz and KDNP. After the election, the Hungarian Democratic Forum formed a majority coalition government with the Independent Smallholders' Party and the Christian Democratic People's Party, headed by MDF leader József Antall. However, Prime Minister Antall's coalition government was slow to introduce reforms to move Hungary from a centrally planned to a market economy; instead, it was much exercised in bringing the media - especially radio and television - under its control. The increasingly unpopular government suffered a further blow in December 1993, when Prime Minister Antall died in office; he was succeeded by his Interior Minister, Péter Boross.
However, Prime Minister Boross did not remain in office for long, as the Socialist Party staged a major comeback in the 1994 parliamentary election and won an outright absolute majority in the National Assembly, while the ruling center-right parties were trounced. The Hungarian Democratic Forum was hit particularly hard - it dropped to third place, losing nearly half its voters and more than three-quarters of its parliamentarians - but the Independent Smallholders' Party suffered a setback as well; only the Christian Democratic People's Party managed to increase its share of votes and National Assembly seats, and just slightly at that. Meanwhile, both the Alliance of Free Democrats and the Federation of Young Democrats lost ground in the election, while the Workers' Party (MP; formerly MSZMP) as well as the Social Democratic Party of Hungary fell further behind the proportional representation threshold (which by now had increased to five percent) and remained outside Parliament. Finally, the new Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP), a radical right MDF breakaway headed by István Csurka, also failed to secure parliamentary representation, and the number of major parties represented in the National Assembly remained unchanged.
Although the Socialist Party could have chosen to rule alone, the prospect of a post-Communist party back in power so soon after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe was viewed with uneasiness by some Hungarians; moreover, there were doubts as to how the West, which had substantial investments in Hungary, would react to such a development. The Socialist Party leadership was also worried about the reliability of some of its left-wing parliamentarians when it came to enacting unpopular economic measures. In order to address these concerns, the Socialists chose instead to form a coalition cabinet with the Alliance of Free Democrats, a party with clear pro-Western leanings and a well-established record of opposition to Communist rule. In addition, the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition government, headed by Socialist leader (and former foreign minister) Gyula Horn, had a majority of more than two-thirds in the National Assembly.
The Socialist-Liberal coalition government held office until 1998, when Fidesz - which by then had recast itself as the right-of-center Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Party - won a plurality of seats in the National Assembly, running in coalition with MDF in the single-member constituencies; the latter dropped below the five percent threshold in the regional constituency vote, but continued to be represented in the National Assembly by securing single-member mandates in coalition with Fidesz. Meanwhile, the Socialists' share of the vote held steady: the party won a plurality in the regional constituency vote, despite the unpopularity of an austerity program introduced in 1995 and a number of high-profile corruption scandals over the privatization of state assets. However, the Alliance of Free Democrats faltered and came in a distant fourth place, well behind the Independent Smallholders' Party, which recovered from its 1994 election setback and polled its best result ever. Finally, the far-right MIÉP secured parliamentary representation for the first time ever, but KDNP lost all its seats in the wake of a damaging split the preceding year.
Following the election, Fidesz leader Viktor Orbán formed a center-right coalition government with MDF and FKgP. He remained in office until 2002, when the Socialist Party and the Alliance of Free Democrats secured a narrow, ten-seat parliamentary majority over a coalition of Fidesz and MDF, while both FKgP and MIÉP lost all their seats, which reduced from six to four the number of parties represented in the National Assembly. Socialist leader Péter Medgyessy subsequently formed a Socialist-Liberal coalition cabinet, although Orbán and Fidesz (as well as MIÉP) initially refused to acknowledge the election outcome (and thus the legitimacy of the new government), insisting that election fraud had taken place and demanding a recount. However, the National Election Commission (NEC) rejected the request for a recount, while a delegation of observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) concluded the vote had been conducted "in a manner consistent with international standards and commitments for democratic elections."
In 2004 Ferenc Gyurcsány replaced Péter Medgyessy as both Prime Minister and leader of the Socialist Party, after the latter lost the confidence of the ruling parties. Under the leadership of Gyurcsány, a former Minister of Children, Youth and Sports, the ruling MSZP-SZDSZ alliance convincingly defeated both Fidesz (this time around in coalition with KDNP) and MDF (which ran alone as a moderate conservative party) in the 2006 parliamentary election, and became the first Hungarian government to secure a second term in office since the fall of Communism.
However, Gyurcsány's victory turned out to be short-lived. In September 2006 a leaked tape revealed that the prime minister had lied to the public about the state of public finances in order to win re-election. The revelation - which was followed by widespread protests that erupted into violence - was a devastating blow from which Gyurcsány's government never managed to recover. The Socialist-Liberal coalition came apart in 2008, following an opposition-called referendum in which a large majority voted to repeal fees for university tuition and doctor and hospital visits, which had been introduced by the government as part of an austerity program to stabilize the economy and reduce Hungary's large budget deficit (the highest in the European Union as a percentage of gross domestic product). Gyurcsány then fired his SZDSZ-nominated health minister, and as a result the Liberals pulled out of the government, but the highly unpopular Gyurcsány clung to office as head of a minority cabinet until April 2009, when Economy Minister Gordon Bajnai succeeded him as prime minister; shortly afterwards, Gyurcsány also stepped down as leader of the Socialist Party.
Nonetheless, the Socialist Party went on to suffer a crushing defeat in the April 2010 parliamentary election, in which Fidesz-KDNP won by a landslide and secured an absolute majority in the National Assembly in the first round of voting. Fidesz-KDNP went on to win a parliamentary majority of more than two-thirds in the runoff election, capturing all but three out of 176 single-member constituency seats, while MSZP had its worst election result since 1990. Both the far-right Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik) and the environmentalist Politics Can Be Different (LMP) gained representation in the National Assembly for the first time (the former coming in a strong third place, just behind the Socialist Party), but MDF and SZDSZ were wiped out. Three weeks after the election, Fidesz leader Viktor Orbán was named prime minister by Hungarian President László Sólyom.
Copyright © 2008-2012 Manuel
Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.