Analysis

Hungary’s ethnic politics

Lili Bayer explains how a new voting law discriminates against Hungary’s ethnic minorities.

Victor Orban, leader of Fidesz and Prime Minister of Hungary. Photo by EuropaPont.

Victor Orban, leader of Fidesz and Prime Minister of Hungary.
Photo by EuropaPont.

Since coming to office in 2010, Hungary’s right-wing Fidesz party has transformed the country’s political system. A new Constitution, as well as a plethora of amendments and new laws changed the way Hungary is governed. Hungary’s new electoral system, however, has not received the attention it deserves.

Because of the complexities of the system and the rapid speed of changes under the Fidesz government, it has become very difficult, both for international observers and for Hungarian voters alike, to understand the implications of many of the new laws. On the surface, many analysts recognize that the new rules and regulations, which redrew voting districts, reduced the number of elected representatives, and granted voting privileges for ethnic Hungarians living abroad, may play an important role in the next elections, scheduled for the spring of 2014.

On the other hand, the potential impact of Hungary’s new election law, especially for the country’s Roma minority, is only now coming to light. Hungary uses a mixed system for electing its members of Parliament. Some members are elected through party lists under a proportional representation system, while others are elected by winning the majority vote in their districts. As a result, each constituent casts two ballots: one for a political party, the other for an individual candidate in his or her local district. The 2011 Electoral Act, however, offered a new framework for minority participation in elections. While voting for a district representative, those Roma who choose to officially register as minority voters may vote for a Roma “minority list” instead of a mainstream political party.

Vostok Cable interviewed Aladár Horváth, a Hungarian Roma rights activist, founder of the Civil Rights Movement for the Republic, and former member of the Hungarian Parliament for the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ). We asked him to explain why this new system of minority voting has been introduced and how the new law will impact the country’s Roma community. He told us that “minorities must choose between their national identity and their [Hungarian] citizenship identity.”

The danger is that minorities will be marginalised by these new laws and will not have the incentive to form effective, representative parties of their own. As Horváth tells us, “If many Roma voters register to vote as Roma, then they will not be casting protest votes or voting out of principle, but rather they will only have one choice —Florian Farkas [the National Roma Self-Government’s candidate affiliated with the Fidesz party]—which strengthens Fidesz’ numeric representation in Parliament.”

The full interview will be posted later today.

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One thought on “Hungary’s ethnic politics

  1. Sorry, but this is a very sloppy “analysis”.
    The introduction of minority-list seats is actually one of the progressive features of the changes done to the electoral system. Basically, provides a guarantee for minorities to have a representation in the parliament. In fact the threshold is much lower than the one set for the party lists. This creates a new avenue for the minorities to gain parliamentary representation (in addition to the options they had and have today to gain seats in the parliament). Minorities, that will be able to set minority-list in 2014: Armenian, Bulgarian, Croatian, German, Greek, Gypsy, Polish, Romanian, Ruthen, Serbian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Ukrainian
    I cannot possibly imagine how anyone can twist this around a present it as some clever ruse against the minority voters.
    Suggested readings:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_Hungary
    Andrew Reynolds’s report from the Minority Rights Group International on the Electoral systems and the protection and participation of minorities: http://www.minorityrights.org/download.php?id=161

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