Hungarian president sets date for parliamentary election

By bne IntelliNews January 11, 2018

President Janos Ader has set April 8 as the date of Hungary's general election, it was announced on January 11. This is the earliest possible Sunday that the ballot can be held under the law.

The election campaign will officially kick off on February 17, or 50 days before the ballot. Some eight million voters have the opportunity to cast two ballots in the single-round election deciding 199 seats.

The ruling conservative Fidesz party changed the electoral laws prior to the 2014 election, reducing the number of seats from 386 and replacing a two-round with a one-round system and redrawing the electoral maps to favour the incumbent party. 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%.

Prospective candidates must secure 500 signatures by March 5 to run in an individual constituency. A party may draw up a national list if they have at least an individual candidate in 27 constituencies in at least nine counties and Budapest.  

Parties must submit their national lists to the National Election Committee (NVB) by March 6. The threshold for parties for getting seats in Parliament is 5%. The new parliament must be formed by May 8 at the latest.

Fidesz has also changed the election rules by allowing non-Hungarian residents with  Hungarian citizenship to vote. Ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring countries can send their vote to a local constituency election office or to the National Election Office by April 7. 

Hungarian voters with an address in Hungary who reside abroad must go to an embassy or consulate to cast their ballots on the day of the election. Beforehand they must register with a local notary by March 31.  They cannot vote by mail, unlike ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring countries.

Polls show that more than 90% of ethnic Hungarians who do not have a residence in Hungary voted for Fidesz, while the ruling party has much less support among Hungarians living and working abroad, so this  clearly favours the governing parties.

The latest polls suggest that ruling conservative government of Viktor Orban will get a two-thirds majority for the third time in a row, as the party enjoys the support of more than 50% of the decided voters. The party won a two-thirds majority four years ago with less than 45% of the votes, and just 43.5% of the votes if ballots cast by ethnic Hungarians living abroad are excluded. 

Support for Jobbik, which has abandoned its far-right rhetoric and now runs on a centrist agenda, fell from 15% to 13%, the lowest level this year, based on a December poll by Republikon. The party has been targeted by Fidesz, with the state auditor levying an enormous fine of HUF331mn for alleged campaign violations. 

On Wednesday, the Economy Ministry announced that parties may choose to delay the payment of the fine after the election, but Jobbik has vowed not to pay the fine at all and is seeking legal remedies.

The Socialists as the biggest opposition party on the left took up the role of unifying the fragmented opposition landscape and offered to run common candidates with other centre and centre-left parties including Politics Can Be Different (LMP), Together (Egyutt), Democratic Coalition (DK), Momentum, Dialogue for Hungary (PM) and the Hungarian Liberal Party  in each of Hungary’s 106 constituencies. Their proposal was rejected by LMP and Momentum.

Leftwing parties are in a last-ditch effort to forge a wide-ranging cooperation before the election. The prime ministerial candidate of the opposition Socialists and Dialogue parties Gergely Karacsony, said he is ready to step aside if any other politician is capable of brokering wide cooperation among opposition parties for the spring general election. Leftist parties have ruled out supporting Jobbik leader Gabor Vona as their joint prime minister candidate.  

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