February 16th, 2009

Small parties fret over impact of proposed electoral reforms

Hungary’s small parliamentary parties broadly support plans to reduce the size of parliament and reform the electoral system, but they are concerned that reforms proposed by the governing Socialists would, if implemented, lead to their demise as forces to be reckoned with, national daily Nepszabadsag said on Monday.

The major sticking point in five-party negotiations on reforming the electoral system concerns the weight given to national lists in the mix of methods for selecting members of parliament.

Under the present system the 386-seat chamber comprises 176 members from single-seat constituencies whereas 152 are selected by proportional representation in multi-seat constituencies using regional lists, and 58 members are drawn from a national list. Voting takes place in two rounds.

The parties are more of less agreed that the chamber should be cut to around 200 seats and that the number of local governments should be reduced. Moreover, voting should happen in a single round.

But no one appears to agree on which method should be used to select MPs.

The big parties, the minority governing Socialists and the conservative Fidesz party, have both had mixed experiences of governing in a coalition. Politicians from the main parties will happily say that multi-party politics is good for the country. But few would mind if the new system quietly excluded their erstwhile coalition partners, both of which have made life difficult for their respective former allies.

Free Democrat (liberal) MP Jozsef Gulyas told the paper that the system favoured by the government would serve to strengthen the two main parties at the expense of the smaller ones. The party, which performs well in Budapest but poorly in the countryside, would favour going in the direction of streamlining the multi-list system, but not at the price of “distorting the will of the voter” by eliminating it altogether.

The Free Democrats would like to keep a direct single-constituency vote and a national list while the small conservative Democratic Forum favours exclusively a national list.

The two big parties’ positions appear to be closer together and their proposals build on their relative strengths in the countryside.

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