Publication | Report/Paper

The Movement Toward Democratization in Hungary: An Assessment of the Government of Hungarys Electoral System


It was understandable but unfortunate that with world attention riveted on explosive excitement throughout Czechoslovakia the weekend of November 26, 1989, much of the world took less notice that nearby in Hungary a new, highly complex set of election rules were tested and an upset win scored by newly-emergent opposition parties.

That day's national referendum was the first free national election in the Eastern Bloc in decades, the first in Hungary in more than 40 years. The referendum effectively put off a scheduled presidential election, and was an upset: nearly 60% of Hungary's 7.8 million voters turned· out only after overcoming an extremely complex ballot, mild attempts to rig the results otherwise, and mixed messages from three opposing sides.

Referendum turnout and results signaled very good things for democracy in Hungary. They also verified a number of impressions gained November 12-16 during our team meetings with all major political parties and a mix of individuals who represent the nation's past, current and likely future government:

* Hungary's new election law is technically solid and fairly complex but several items important to the overall electoral system are yet to be clarified:

- The precise formula by which the government will partially fund political parties;

- The precise role of the election high court to be named early in 1990;

- How Hungary's president is to be chosen;

How fairly new parliamentary districts will be reapportioned; How effectively the extremely complex, three-tiered parliamentary election methods will be understood and accomplished by the general public; - How fairly a small bloc of proportionally-awarded seats will actually be distributed based upon parliamentary election results in 1990.

* The new system appears fairly fraud-free but may remain subject to moderate government manipulation until a new, freely elected parliament is seated.

* Electoral information regarding details of the new law both among the public and to a surprising degree among many party activists is low.

* Financial resources political savvy and initiative is heavily concentrated among a few of the existing parties specifically SDS, FIDESZ, MDF, HSP.

* Tremendous coalescing among the opposition parties is inevitable and already in the early stages. US assistance should be invested broadly at this early stage and not invested presuming the current lineup of parties is at all permanent.

* The process will be· accelerated and system strengthened if additional coalition-building and recruitment is undertaken by the parties in the agricultural environmental educational labor and other constituency communities. A.I.O. assistance could play a role here.

* After more than 40 years of communism public attitudes are more complex suspicious and lacking in confidence than the West may anticipate the need for good basic survey research benefitting all opposition parties prior to the parliamentary elections is acute.

* The need for specific focus on media aggressiveness and objectivity is also needed starting immediately and throughout the parliamentary campaign cycle.

* All U.S. assistance monetarily and otherwise to the parties and parts of the election machinery should be carefully "internationalized." as the issue of U. s. assistance versus control is sensitive and has the potential to become more so.

* A primarily discussed political scenario for 1990: Parliamentary elections elect blocs of seats for SOS. MOF, FIDESZZ, Christian Democrats, Smallholders, and HSP in roughly that order with very small numbers of seats scattered among a few other parties. Two primary working coalitions form in parliament between (1) MPF and HSP and splinters and (2) SDS. FIDESZ. Smallholders and other splinters. Political differences will distinguish the two for the first year. By 1991 policy differences will begin to do so either along a high road (whether to pursue pure or hybrid capitalism) or a low road (nationalism. antisemitism. neutrality).

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