April 9th, 2010

FACTBOX: Hungary’s electoral system

Hungarians will vote on April 11 in the first round of the sixth free general election since the country returned to democracy two decades ago. The run-off will follow two weeks later.

Polling stations will open at 6am on Sunday and close at 7pm, when a strong indication of the outcome will start to emerge as exit polls are released.

Hungary operates a mixed electoral system. MPs get into the 386-seat parliament in one of three ways.

1. First past the post. If a candidate gets more than half of the vote in an individual constituency then he or she automatically wins a seat provided that the turnout is above 50 percent. Individual constituencies send 176 deputies.

2. Proportional representation (PR). Each party puts forward a list of candidates in each of Hungary’s 19 counties plus the capital (20 regional constituencies). If, say, a party gets 60 percent of the vote in a regional ward containing ten seats, then that party sends six MPs to the chamber from that particular constituency. Regional constituencies send a maximum of 152 deputies.

3. Surplus national list. Each party puts forward a list of candidates they would like to see in parliament. Voters do not cast ballots for these candidates; rather parties are allocated seats in proportion to their surplus votes (e.g. a party gets 5.4 mandates in a constituency; the 0.4 percent represents a number of surplus votes which then go towards the national list). A minimum of 58 deputies are selected in this way.

The election takes place in two rounds.

In the first round, voters are given two tasks.

The first is to vote for a candidate from their individual constituency.

The second is to vote for a party list put forward for a regional constituency. This is called a closed list, i.e. the party decides on the order of candidates on the list.

In the run-off, voters are asked to cast a ballot in individual constituencies in which the first round was declared either invalid or unsuccessful. A vote is invalid if the turnout is below 50 percent; it is unsuccessful if no candidate manages to receive over 50 percent of ballots cast. A quarter of votes are sufficient for a candidate to win a seat in the second round.

Parties are only allocated seats from the constituencies and national lists if they have gained over 5 percent of the national vote.

Polls

Main centre-right party Fidesz could win a two-thirds majority in parliament, most polls indicate. The governing Socialists and the radical nationalist Jobbik are likely to get a similar number of seats and the green party Politics Can Be Different (LMP) could also have a chance of getting into parliament.

Pollster Tarki in its latest reading puts Fidesz support at 42 percent and backing for the incumbent Socialists at 13 percent. Jobbik party, which has seen its support surge over the past year, had 8 percent, while new-entrant green party Politics Can Be Different had 5 percent support.

Median has Fidesz on 44 percent, the Socialists on 14 percent, Jobbik on 9 percent and the other parties with around 1-2 percent each.

Szonda Ipsos puts Fidesz on 38 percent, the Socialists on 12 percent, Jobbik 8 percent and LMP 3 percent.

Szazadveg sees Fidesz with the backing of 39 percent, the Socialists 14 percent, Jobbik 11 percent and LMP 4 percent.

Past Elections

Turnout in the 2002 elections, in which the currently ruling Socialist party (MSZP) and its Free Democrat (SZDSZ) ally came to power, was 70.53 percent in the first round and 73.51 percent in the second. In 2006, when the Socialist-Liberal government retained its power, turnout was 67.83 percent and 64.39 percent respectively.

This year, the pollsters expect turnout to be around 60 percent. Whether Fidesz manages to secure a two-thirds majority or not is difficult to predict due to Hungary’s complex election system, but much will depend on turnout. A lower turnout is likely to boost Fidesz’s chances.

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  • Pete H.

    Despite the fact that the Hungarian electorate is faced with
    deciding between the lesser of three “evils”, I am reminded
    that this is the “sixth free general election since the country
    returned to democracy two decades ago”.

  • PiP

    Not an overly complicated electoral system which is guaranteed to be unpopular with voters (2 votes in 1st round, run-off voting several weeks after the 1st round) in any way…(note to sarcasm deficient types – I am being sarky)

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