Hungary Ruling Party Seeks Rule Change for Budapest Vote

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s party proposed new electoral rules for Budapest council elections in October, drawing criticism from the opposition, which said the changes would be tantamount to election fraud.

The proposal to be submitted to lawmakers is to scrap party-list voting in the election, Antal Rogan, the parliamentary leader of Orban’s Fidesz, told reporters in Budapest today. Instead, the Budapest council would be made up of the directly elected mayor and the heads of the city’s 23 districts, plus nine seats awarded as compensation to parties nominating losing candidates, he said.

Orban last month retained a constitutional majority in parliament after an electoral overhaul that his opponents said also improved Fidesz’s chances. While the party was weaker in Budapest than in the rest of the country, it has a chance of capturing district mayoral posts against a fractured opposition.

“Budapest is the only place where the opposition would have a real chances of winning and creating an alternative power base,” Tamas Boros, director of Policy Solutions, a research institute in Budapest, said by phone today. “This is a radical step to weaken the next mayor of Budapest and the city council in favor of district mayors.”

Since coming to power in 2010, Orban has clashed with the European Union over an erosion of checks and balances as he amassed more power than any of his predecessors since the end of communism. The election-law changes before the April vote, along with the government’s dominance of public media, gave Fidesz an “undue advantage,” according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

‘Democratic, Efficient’

“The new system will be cheaper, simpler, more democratic and more efficient,” Rogan said.

In the parliamentary election, eight of the 10 constituencies won by an opposition coalition were in Budapest. Socialist Party President Attila Mesterhazy, the alliance’s candidate for prime minister last month, resigned yesterday after also losing in the May 25 European Parliament elections.

The rule change may force opposition parties into an alliance again, Boros said. It may also result in bigger districts, more supportive of the opposition, having the same weight in the city council as smaller ones, he said.

Demokratikus Koalicio and Egyutt-PM, the two parties that joined the Socialists in challenging Fidesz in April, both said the proposal amounted to an attempt at electoral fraud, the state-run MTI news service said. If it becomes law, former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany’s DK wants to challenge it in the Constitutional Court, MTI cited Szabolcs Kerek-Barczy, a member of the the party’s board, as saying.

Fidesz “is trying to tilt this playing field toward itself as well,” Kerek-Barczy said, according to MTI. The proposal “ignores and humiliates the citizens of Budapest.”

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