Last weekend’s parliamentary elections in Hungary should have been a major event, at least within the European Union and the United States. Over the past four years the E.U. and the United States have criticized the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for its authoritarian, conservative and nationalist tendencies. These were institutionalized in the new constitution, which the government rammed through the toothless Hungarian parliament, in which the national-conservative Fidesz-KDNP party coalition held a constitutional majority. Scores of domestic and foreign observers have highlighted the many problematic parts of the constitution, although very little has been changed as a consequence of these critiques. But these are not ordinary times. The United States is preoccupied with the situation in Ukraine, while the E.U. is crippled by the lingering economic crisis and fears of an anti-European backlash in European elections next month. As a consequence, the Hungarian elections received little special attention from the E.U. and U.S. elite, despite widespread fears that another victory for Orbán, dubbed the “Viktator” by domestic critics, could lead to permanent damage to Hungary’s still-young liberal democracy.
So, what happened in the Hungarian election? Well, first of all, the rules of the game were changed significantly prior to the election. The one-chamber legislature was almost halved, from 386 to 199 seats. Moreover, the parliament is now elected under a new electoral system, designed by Fidesz, which is fairly similar to the mixed-member system in Germany. The majority of seats, 106, are elected as single-member districts, while the remaining 93 are distributed proportionally by regional list vote with a national threshold of 5 percent. While Hungary had been encouraged by international observers to change its opaque electoral system, and the new system is basically in line with the recommendations, critics warned that it would significantly favor Fidesz, almost guaranteeing the party a majority in seats, even if it did not get close to a majority in votes.