Legal but not Fair: Viktor Orbán’s New Supermajority

von Kim Lane Scheppele

with Miklós Bánkuti in Princeton and Zoltán Réti in Budapest*

Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party coasted to a clear victory in last weekend’s Hungarian election, as expected. The governing party got 45% of the vote, but the new “rules of the game” turned this plurality vote into two thirds of the seats in the parliament. A continuing two-thirds parliamentary majority allows Orbán to govern without constraint because he can change the constitution at will. But this constitution-making majority hangs by a thread.

Orbán’s mandate to govern is clear because his party got more votes than any other single political bloc. What is not legitimate, however, is his two-thirds supermajority. Orbán was certainly not supported by two-thirds of Hungarians – nowhere close. In fact, a majority gave their votes to other parties. Orbán’s two-thirds victory was achieved through legal smoke and mirrors. Legal. But smoke and mirrors.

The International Election Observer Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was extremely critical of the election. The election monitors found that in many different ways “[t]he main governing party enjoyed an undue advantage.” They reported numerous violations of international standards, including a failure to separate party and state, a biased media environment, a partisan Electoral Commission, lack of transparency in determining the electoral districts, and a generally un-level playing field. These, too, contributed to Orbán’s success.

In this post, I will explain why a plurality result in the polls turned into a constitutional supermajority and why that supermajority is due more to Fidesz’s self-dealing than to popular will. I will also show that Fidesz’s supermajority was so close that it depends on every one of the new tricks that the party inserted into the electoral system to benefit itself. One seat less, and the supermajority would be gone ...

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