Hungary

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections were held in 2014 under a single-round national system to elect 199 members of parliament. The elections resulted in the ruling parties gaining a second consecutive two-thirds supermajority in parliament, receiving 45 percent of party-list votes while winning 96 of the country’s 106 single-member districts, allocated through a first-past-the-post system. In 2015 the governing coalition lost its two-thirds majority in parliament following a by-election in Veszprem.

A mission representing the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) observed the 2014 elections. In its final report on the elections, the mission concluded that, while the elections were efficiently administered and offered voters a diverse choice following an inclusive candidate registration process, “the main governing party enjoyed an undue advantage because of restrictive campaign regulations, biased media coverage, and campaign activities that blurred the separation between political party and the state.”

The 2014 ODIHR election observation mission report noted that the process of redistricting constituencies was widely criticized “for lacking transparency, independence, and consultation, and allegations of gerrymandering were widespread.” The report found that the practice of transferring surplus votes of constituency winners to party lists resulted in the ruling Fidesz-KDNP coalition’s gaining six additional seats.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In its 2014 report, the ODIHR observation mission reported several problems with media influence, including the increasing ownership of media outlets by businesspersons directly or indirectly associated with Fidesz and the allocation of state advertising to select media outlets. It concluded that these factors undermined the pluralism of the media and increased self-censorship among journalists. The report also criticized the use of government advertisements that were almost identical to those of Fidesz campaign advertisements, claiming that they contributed to an uneven playing field and did not fully respect the principle of separation of party and state. The ODIHR mission noted the limited amount of free broadcast time available for candidates and the absence of paid political advertising on nationwide commercial television. It concluded that this situation impeded candidates’ ability to campaign via the media. The report also criticized campaign-financing laws that limited the transparency and accountability of political parties and expressed concern over the lack of effective redress for complaints filed during the electoral process.

Citizens living abroad but having permanent residency in the country were required to appear in person at embassies to vote, while citizens not having domestic residency could vote by mail, but only for party lists. ODIHR election observers noted that the practice of applying different procedures to register and vote depending on whether or not a person had a permanent address in the country resulted in unequal treatment of voters outside the country.

In 2015 the ECHR rejected the application of citizens living abroad but having permanent residency in the country, who objected that they were compelled to appear in person at embassies to vote, while dual citizens not having residency in the country could vote by mail. In April 2016 the Constitutional Court rejected a constitutional complaint on similar grounds and concluded that the contested legal provision was not discriminatory, since those without an address in the country could only vote for party lists.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process. Representation of women in public life, however, was very low. Women constituted 10 percent of members of parliament, and there were no female ministers. Only 13 percent of sub-cabinet-level government state secretaries were women. In May 2016 the UN Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice, in a statement following an official visit, noted “pervasive and severe gender stereotyping of women which undoubtedly contributed to their low level of political participation.” The working group expressed concern over “some public officials who legitimize and justify the low representation of women in politics.”

The electoral system provides 13 recognized national minorities the possibility of registering for a separate minority voting process in parliamentary elections. While all 13 national minorities registered candidate lists, none obtained enough votes in 2014 to win a minority seat in parliament. As a result, each nationality was represented in parliament by a nonvoting spokesperson whose competence was limited to discussing minority issues. The ODIHR report on the 2014 elections concluded that, because voters publicly registered to vote for minority lists and such lists give only one choice of candidate on the ballot, their choice was limited, and the secrecy of their vote violated. Due to privacy laws regarding ethnic data, no statistics were available on the number of members of a minority who were in parliament or the cabinet.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future