A Two-Thirds Majority for Fidesz – Chances, Opportunities and Risks
Based on Political Capital’s Own Mandate Calculation
- The opposition Fidesz party is heading into the April election campaign with such a commanding opinion-poll lead that it may gain a two-thirds majority in Parliament – and with it, the power to modify Hungary’s Constitution singlehandedly. Fidesz’s chances of a supermajority are even greater now that its closest competitor, the governing Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), is mired in a corruption scandal at the Budapest Transport Company (BKV).
- There are numerous scenarios in which Fidesz could win 258 out of 386 seats, the number needed for a supermajority. Thanks to the complexity of Hungary’s electoral system, there are numerous ways in which Fidesz could accomplish this feat. Here are two possible models::
- Scenario I: Fidesz’s party list attracts at least three times as many votes as the MSZP’s listAND Fidesz wins between 145 and 155 individual mandates out of a total of 176.
- Scenario II: Fidesz wins 171 of 176 single-member constituencies (not out of the question, given the party’s runaway opinion-poll lead) AND garners slightly more than twice as many party-list votes as the MSZP.
- The MSZP needs to win at least 20 individual constituencies to have any hope of blocking Fidesz from gaining a supermajority. Given the MSZP’s current low support, 20 individual seats may be a tall order.
- Opinion polls indicate that Fidesz, the MSZP and the ultra right-wing Jobbik are fairly certain to make it into Parliament. Should the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) or Politics Can Be Different (LMP) cross the 5% threshold for parliamentary representation, Fidesz will need to pick up more individual mandates in order to secure 258 seats.
- A two-thirds majority would give Fidesz the power to do practically anything they want legislatively. However, this kind of power could pose risks for Fidesz itself:
- With a two-thirds supermajority, Fidesz could not blame problems on the opposition.
- Fidesz would be able to rewrite laws that require a two-thirds majority for amendments. The authors of these laws specifically required two-thirds because they wanted to force future lawmakers to reach consensus. Still, some of these statutes, such as the law governing Hungary’s municipality system, may give rise to squabbles within Fidesz. Others, such as the issue of granting dual nationality to ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring countries, might generate diplomatic conflicts.
- A major rewrite of the Constitution or election rules may backfire in the long run. The political landscape can change in a heartbeat, especially in a young democracy like Hungary’s. Changes that seem beneficial to Fidesz today may come back to haunt the party tomorrow.
- Consequently, it is likely that a supermajority-enabled Fidesz would limit itself to “symbolic changes” in the Constitution. The party could amend some “two-thirds” laws, such as the law on municipalities or the media law. Also, Fidesz would no longer need to consult other parties when naming justices to the Constitutional Court. This will switch off some of the “checks and balances” built into Hungary’s governmental system, but allow more efficient governance.
Background: Hungarian election system
Hungary’s electoral system is a rat’s nest of variables and algorithms that make up a political forecaster’s nightmare. It mixes elements of first-past-the-post (single-member constituencies) with proportional representation (regional and national lists). Voting takes place in two rounds: In the first round, voters cast two ballots – one for a regional party list and one for an individual candidate in the constituency where they live. The second round is a runoff for individual candidates who failed to garner at least 50% of ballots in the first round.
Fidesz, which beat the MSZP by a ratio of 3.25 to 1 in the June 2009 elections for European Parliament, needs 258 seats for a two-thirds majority. Most polls indicate that the union of Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), a tiny Roman Catholic-oriented party, currently has about three times as many supporters as the MSZP.
If we make some broad assumptions about voter preferences, it is possible to estimate whether a two-thirds majority will be within Fidesz’s reach come April.
Variables that affect the number of individual constituencies Fidesz must win in order to gain a two-thirds majority:
- The number of small parties that pass the 5% threshold for entry to parliament. There are a total of 210 list seats. If smaller parties make it into Parliament, the bigger parties will have fewer lists seats to divide amongst themselves. The Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) stands decent chance of making it past 5% on the list vote; Politics Can Be Different (LMP) cannot be ruled out.
- The proportion of votes for parties who do not make it past the 5% threshold. Such parties may include the Hungarian Communist Worker’s Party (Munkáspárt).
- The regional distribution of voter turnout and regional voting tendencies.
- Districting distortions. Hungary’s most populous voting district has almost three times as many residents as the least populous. The imbalance between constituency populations can create an outcome that is out of synch with the number of votes a party receives.
Scenario 1 – Fixed proportion of party-list votes
Let’s assume Fidesz wins 57-60% of the party-list vote, the MSZP scores 19-20% and Jobbik takes 12-13%. Depending on how the above-mentioned variables play out, Fidesz will need to win between 145 and 155 individual mandates to reach 258 seats. The two charts below demonstrate that the presence of a fourth party in Parliament increases the number of individual races Fidesz needs to win in order to reach two-thirds. A fifth party in Parliament will raise the bar even higher for Fidesz.
Scenario 1a – Three-Party Parliament: → Fidesz needs 145-151 individual mandates
Scenario 1b – Four-Party Parliament: → Fidesz needs 149-155 individual mandates
Scenario 2 – Fixed number of victories in individual constituencies
Given Fidesz’s crushing poll lead, the party could conceivably make a clean sweep of all 176 individual constituencies – especially since first-past-the-post wins in the second round. For scenario 2, let’s assume Fidesz wins all but 5 single-member constituencies (more realistic than an across-the-board victory). In a three-party parliament, Fidesz would need only twice as many list votes as the MSZP to reach 258 (For example, Fidesz wins 50%, the MSZP scores 25% and Jobbik takes 12%). If the MDF crosses the 5% threshold, Fidesz will need to improve their share of list votes by 2% in order to keep a supermajority – as demonstrated in the charts below.
171 Individual Mandates → Fidesz needs 50% of party-list votes
Scenario number 2b
171 Individual Mandates →Fidesz needs 52% of party-list votes
These theoretical scenarios indicate that 258 seats are well within Fidesz’s reach, unless voter preferences change drastically between now and election day.
Risks that May Dampen Fidesz’s Two-Thirds Dreams
- The main risk for Fidesz is that its supporters may become overconfident and not bother to turn out at the polls. Ironically, this danger becomes greater if Fidesz wins big in the first round – its voters may think there’s not much at stake in the second round.
- Fidesz’s rivals will try to spook voters with the spectre of party leader Viktor Orbán getting carte blanche to amend the Constitution. “Anti-Orbánism” may help pull disaffected Socialist voters back into the party fold during the campaign’s final stretch.
The Relevance of Two Thirds
A 66.7% majority in Parliament would give Fidesz wide room for legislative manoeuvre since there are numerous laws that require two-thirds votes for amendments. The most important issues are:
- Media law
- Local-government law
- Police law
- Electoral system, party- and campaign-finance law
- Laws on the right to assembly and free speech
- Citizenship for ethnic Hungarians who live in neighbouring countries.
Opportunities and Risks
With a supermajority, Fidesz would have the power to nominate and elect its own Constitutional Court justices, ombudsmen and state auditors without having to compromise with other parties.
Fidesz would no longer be able to blame its problems on the opposition’s unwillingness to cooperate. Fidesz politicians say they are aware that major rewrite of Hungary’s Constitution could backfire, so it is more likely that only “symbolic changes” would be implemented (for example, by inserting a reference to Hungary’s Christian traditions and the importance of family).
Changing the electoral system is dangerous. A system that is favourable for Fidesz today can end up benefitting its rivals tomorrow. This happened with MDF, which in 1994 teamed up with the opposition Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) for a two-thirds vote on raising the threshold for entering Parliament from 4% to 5%. In the past three elections, these are precisely the parties that would have benefited most from a lower barrier.
Fidesz can expect strong pressure, from both its own voters and Jobbik, to allow ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary’s borders to claim dual citizenship. But although dual nationality would serve Fidesz’s interests, it could also induce conflicts with neighbouring countries. Fidesz wants to build a Romania-Hungary-Poland axis to serve as a cooperation against Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s nationalistic adventures; dual citizenship may ruin its chances of creating the axis.
Modifications to the local government law are likely. Hungary has more than 3,000 municipalities in a country of around 10 million people. Slimming down the municipal bureaucracy would save money and help combat corruption. But while in opposition, Fidesz used to object to any reforms.