"I AM NOT AFRAID OF NEW INVENTIONS OR IMPROVEMENTS”: THE NEED FOR A NEW ELECTORAL SYSTEM
As Thomas Jefferson once put it, “I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions”, but “with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times”.(13)
This applies to changing electoral systems as well. As mentioned before, since 1990 Hungary has always had a democratic but very complex electoral system. While the core elements of the system have never been questioned, some changes to the regulations had been on the political agenda for decades. Politicians and experts had been urging for a reduction in the number of the political class: even then-Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány promised in February 2009 to halve the number of elected representatives at the national and local levels and to have a 199-member Parliament. The changes became inevitable because the Constitutional Court declared different elements of the applicable laws unconstitutional twice, in 2005 and 2010.
Several major factors served as a background for the changes:
•Unconstitutional disproportionalities between constituencies infringed the basic human right of equal suffrage. The Constitutional Court called on the Hungarian Parliament in 2005 to eliminate disproportionalities between the sizes of constituencies, as in several cases the number of voters per district varied by a factor of two or three. The Court obliged the Parliament to rectify the boundaries of the constituencies by June 2007 in order to have an election system based on equal suffrage. The Parliament, ruled by a Socialist–Liberal majority, did not do justice to the decision of the Court, thus violating the Constitution by nonfeasance.
•Unconstitutionally low level of regulation on constituencies. In 2010, the Court annulled several provisions of the then-effective election laws and a decree of the Communist Council of Ministers from 1990. The Court strictly underlined the fact that as the right to vote is part of basic human rights, the boundaries of the constituencies shall be regulated by acts of the Parliament and not by decree, as between 1990 and 2010.
•The number of MPs was reduced from 386 to 199 in 2010.
•Hungarian citizens living beyond the borders (without a permanent residence in Hungary) were granted the right to vote by the new Fundamental Law adopted in 2011.(14)
As Hungary has always borne constitutional responsibility for the fate of Hungarians living beyond its borders, the drafters decided to remove the barrier of “permanent residence” as a prerequisite to voting, thus guaranteeing suffrage for all Hungarian citizens around the world.(15) The basic idea behind the move was to involve all Hungarians in domestic decision-making.
THE ADOPTION PROCEDURE
To fulfil the criteria laid down by the Constitutional Court, MPs of the governing parties – on the basis of their mandate – introduced bills in 2011 and in 2013. The comprehensive reform of the electoral law became necessary, not only because the Constitutional Court annulled the previous regulatory framework, but also because of the demand to reduce the number of MPs. Extending the right to vote to Hungarians abroad also required changes to the law. The new electoral law was adopted in 2011, three years prior to the 2014 general election and after a month- long debate, whereas the electoral procedural law was adopted in 2013, one year before the recent election, following a seven-month-long debate in Parliament.(16) The legislator observed all constitutional requirements during the adoption procedure and the government sent the adopted electoral law to the Venice Commission and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for review. In their 2012 report, they referred to the new legislation as “a good basis for the conduct of genuine and democratic parliamentary elections” in Hungary.(17) In Freedom House’s latest annual Freedom in the World report, released in January 2014, Hungary was called “an electoral democracy” and a “free” country, with a freedom score of 1.5 out of 7 (1 being the highest possible rating) and a perfect 12/12 for its electoral process.(18) (Another 2014 Freedom House report, Nations in Transit, raised concerns about “worsening conditions” in Hungary as well as other countries of East Central Europe, but still characterised Hungary as a “consolidated democracy”.)(19)
Additionally, upon the proposal of the President, the Constitutional Court revised the procedural law a year and a half before the last election. Besides rejecting articles related to voter registration, the Court found the law generally within constitutional standards.
To be continued."