The Municipal Election System in Hungary

Just some days before the elections of local councils in Hungary, this contribution aims to give a brief overview from the current Hungarian regulation of municipal elections, with special regard to the main changes in 2010, and afterwards. This article gives the opportunity for any interested foreign stakeholder to be informed from the different levels of the Hungarian municipal system, and from the legal framework of the forthcoming elections to be held on October 13 2019. [1]

  1. The municipalities in Hungary

In Hungary, the whole municipal system was restructured, when the Fundamental Law and the Act CLXXXIX of 2011 on Local Governments(hereinafter: Mötv.)came into force.[2]Before expounding the municipal electoral system, we consider it important to summarize the most crucial novelties that affect the local and regional governments. Furthermore, we would like to highlight the newly-formed system, in which the officeholders who receive their mandates through the elections – perform their tasks, and how their competencies have been rearranged.

 

I.1. Municipal autonomy

Legal Innovation Day

Ismerd meg, milyen jövő vár a jogi piacra!

Firstly, it is worthy for consideration, how the municipal model has changed during the system of theMötv. in comparison with the previous period.

In Hungary, during the democratic transition of the 1990s, the soviet like local councils had been abolished, and instead of that, a democratic municipal system was established. During the initial period, self-governments had a broader margin of movement, than recently. The previous constitution of Hungary declared, that the right to self-governance shall amount to a fundamental right, and the competences related to the local public affairs was not tied to the framework of acts. [3]

On the contrary, the Fundamental Law broke up with this point of view, and the Constitutional Court of Hungary declared in the ruling No. 3105/2014. (IV.17.), that self-governments do not have fundamental rights anymore, so they are not eligible to submit a constitutional complaint.[4]In comparison with the model based on municipal fundamental rights,it is much more possible to restrict the competences of the self-governments.[5]Moreover, the Fundamental Law declares, that municipal powers must be exercised within the framework of acts.[6]

 

I.2.      Regional municipalities

The Hungarian municipal system is distributed to two levels. It means, that regional (county) and local (city, township, district)governments work in parallel.[7] The Mötv. brought changes with de-emphasizing the regional governments. Before 2011, counties provided general public services, while in the ruling of the Mötv. declared a so-called enumeration model, according to which counties have limited functions, defined explicitly by acts. [8]In conclusion, it can be stated, that regional government is a public sector body that does not have general competences anymore, counter to local governments.

 

I.3.      The role of the municipal council

The council of the self-government is called the body of the representatives in the cities, in the townships and in the districts. In the capital and in the county, it is denominated as an assembly.

The city council is the supreme authority of the local government. The electors take part in discussing local matters of public interest in two ways: through electing the local representatives and through a local referendum. Consequently, the body of representatives plays a central role in the right of self-governance, the indirect democracy on the local level is applied mainly through this body. [9]

The regulation – in connection with the representatives – has not been changed significantly in comparison with the previous model. The central authority of the local government is the body of representatives, which has legal personality. It is allowed to make decisions in its own right. [10]Its mandate is generated as a result of local elections, which has been held in every five years since 2014.

The significance of the body is demonstrated by the fact, that it has regulatory competence – counter to other bodies in the self-government- , so it is able to enact municipal decrees besides individual and normative acts.[11] The legal competence has its limits: it can be created in favour of managing local public matters, and it cannot be exercised in conflict with acts.[12]

The head of the body is the mayor, who has the competence of convening and leading the body of the representatives. [13] The role of the mayor has become really significant with the ruling of the Mötv.,so this topic will be conceptualized in an independent subpart of the article.

 

I.4.      The role of the mayor

The mayor had its importance in the model of Act LXV of 1990 on Local Governments(hereinafter: Ötv.)as well, but when the Mötv. came into force, it became even more significant in operating self-governments.

Its mandate – similar to representatives – is generated directly, as a result of local elections. It works as a local actor of power– if the body of the representatives entrusts its competences to the mayor – and authority linked to the state as well. The mayor is especially responsible for implementational and administration tasks, but he/she is also involved in making decisions with one vote, as a member of the council. [14]

The strengthened role of the mayor might be noticed in two main areas: the competences in connection with the body of representatives and administration.

The mayor has a veto against the decisions of the council. If the mayor found a decision to be against the interests of the self-government, he/she has the right to initiate re-negotiation. As a result of the veto, the decision can only be adopted with the qualified majority of the representatives, which means the absolute majority. [15] The role of the mayor is also reinforced by the fact that between two sessions of the council, he/she is allowed to make decisions – in municipal authority affair – in his/her own right, instead of the council. Furthermore, he/she also has the right to make independent decisions in budget issues. [16]

In connection with the administration, the mayor has the employer’s right over the head of the local bodies. He/she also leads the mayor’s office in cooperation with the notary of the self-government, but it is important to be mentioned, that the notary is not independent of the mayor, because of the fact that the mayor also has the employer’s right over the notary. [17]

 

  1. The new legal framework of the Hungarian local electoral system

A lot of significant novelties have occurred relating to the Hungarian local electoral system due to the recodification of the law on municipal elections in 2010. These changes will impact the forthcoming election of local representatives and mayors in Autumn 2019 as well.

 

II.1. Reduced number of mandates

First of all, the significantly decreased number of obtainable mandates is considered to be one of the most worth-contemplating change. The number of county councillors was reduced nearly by fifty per cent.[18] Due to any movement of population, the amount of the members is variable now from election to election in proportion to the current number of residents.

II. 2. Budapest

As for the Budapest Assembly, sixty-six councillors could obtain a seat in the past, then since 2010, the number of them depended on the population, one seat was given per 50,000 residents. As a result of a further amendment in 2014, thirty-three councillors can get a mandate in three different ways. Budapest Assembly’s twenty-three members get their mandates as a result of the mayor’s election in the districts of the capital city, and nine members from the compensational list based on surplus votes. The Lord Mayor is also a member of the Assembly. The compensational list may be set up by the nominating organization that set up mayor candidates in more than half of the districts of the capital, and this list includes the Lord Mayor candidates and mayor candidates of the nominating organization. Therefore the members of the Budapest Assembly obtain their seats as a result of the elections in the districts. In the past, voters could vote on a list of the capital council, so the Budapest Assembly was elected directly. Because of the new method, voters get one less ballot sheet than earlier.[19] Owing to the new electoral method, the political support has increased, political communication has evolved, as a consequence, the effectiveness is much higher. In addition, the election has become cost-effective in this way. However, the number of residents is different in the districts, which leads to disproportionality.

 

II.3. Smaller townships

The drop rate in respect of municipal councillors of smaller towns and villages is less significant: 3 to 13 councillors were elected before 2010, after the new electoral law, the amount of the members is only 2 to 8. Before 2010, the determination of the number of the municipal councillors was distinguished in six different groups by population,now there is only four of them.[20] The electoral method remained the same in regard to the municipalities under 10,000 inhabitants. The regulations of reduction also apply to the national minority self-government not only the county but also the municipal councils.

 

II.4. Larger weight for the majoritarian path

As regard to municipal councils, in electoral districts with more than 10,000 residents, the number of councillors has decreased by more than fifty per cent. So the number of individual constituencies had to be reduced as a consequence of the reduction of the number of mandates, thus the constituencies were rearranged. Moreover, a shift in proportion can be observed in the new system. The disruption of the balance between the two election method, the mixed election system and the majority election system, is quite significant. The number of local representatives who obtain their seats from the compensational list has decreased by more than fifty per cent.

Regarding the county councils, changes of the electoral districts have a huge impact on the proportionality of elections. The division into two electoral districts formed by municipalities in the county below 10,000 and over 10,000 residents was abolished. That framework was disproportionate in counties with only one town over 10,000 residents and a lot of smaller ones. Since 2010, one county constitutes one electoral district, which contains all the municipalities of the county, except the capital city and towns with county status. This system can still cause a problem of distortion because some counties include more than one county status towns.[21] Although, the number of their inhabitants are taken into account to determine the number of the county councillors. County councils’ role is mostly symbolic, they are less relevant since the marginal changes of 2010.

 

II.5. Preconditions for standing candidates and lists

Hungarian or EU citizens may be a local representative candidate and a mayor candidate if they meet the legal conditions and domiciled in Hungary. For being a candidate, it is required to collect an appropriate number of recommendations through a recommendation sheet. A change has also occurred with regard to recommendation, stricter conditions were established. Before the law amendment, the voters could recommend only one candidate or one list. But for now, more candidates can be recommended by one voter. Candidates have only sixteen days to collect supporting statements, instead of the thirty-five day period before 2010. In addition, the required number of signatures is much higher now. As a consequence, smaller organizations have less chance for the nomination. For standing a county list, organizations need a recommendation from 1 per cent of voters, instead of 0,3 per cent. As a more crucial change, for standing a compensational list in the mixed election system, nominating organizations and parties have to stand candidates at least in the half of the individual constituencies. Before 2010, it had to be only a quarter of them.[22]

As far as I am concerned, most of the changes have the biggest impact on the smaller nominating organizations. The decreased number of obtainable mandates, the shift in proportion in the mixed election system, as well as the stricter conditions of the recommendation system. These novelties bring the larger political parties in a more favourable position, whilst it is almost impossible for small parties to nominate candidates. All in all, the county councils, Budapest Assembly, and the towns with more than 10,000 residents are affected by the changes in the most significant manner, because of the latter, the proportion is remarkably higher in the new election system.

  • Several types of Hungarian elections of mayors and local councils: the election of (1) mayors, (2) local assemblies and (3) county assemblies.

 

III. 1. Mayors

To start with the single-member electoral division of the Hungarian municipal elections, the mayors (of all towns, cities, districts of Budapest, so as well as Lord Mayor) are elected by the system called first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting method. The simplest voting system this is, usually called winner takes all, the candidates only need to receive the highest number of votes (relative majority) to win, so the absolute majority is not required in the election of mayors.[23]There are no electoral thresholds relating the proportion of participating electors. To sum it up: The voting system of mayors is direct, one-round, single ballot and relative majority based, without any electoral thresholds as regards the number of participants.[24]

 

III. 2. Towns with less than 10000 inhabitants

Assembly members of towns and smaller cities (below 10 000 inhabitants) are elected in a special way, called „single non-transferrable vote system” (multiple-member election). On the single-ballot list, the names of the candidates who had collected the required number of supporting statements, are listed in alphabetic order. In a multiple-selection ballot, voters cast (up to) the same number of votes equal to the number of positions to be filled (the number of the members of the local assembly).[25]Candidates with the highest numbers of votes are elected.[26]

Number of members in local assemblies in towns and cities under (no more than) 10.000 inhabitants (elected by the method “multiple selection ballot”):[27]

  • under (no more than) 100 inhabitants: 2 members,
  • under (no more than) 1000 inhabitants: 4 members,
  • under (no more than) 5000 inhabitants: 6 members,
  • under (no more than) 100 inhabitants: 8 members.

Connection to the mayors’ election: if a candidate (listed on the ballot) is elected to the mayor, then they must be deleted from the single-ballot list, and the candidate with the next most received votes get elected to the local council.

A significant example (fictive town):

A number of inhabitants in the electoral register: 5000.

Number of members in local council: 4[28]

 

III. 3. Cities over 10.000 inhabitants

In cities over 10.000 inhabitants and in the districts of the capital, the assembly members are elected in the mixed voting system, there are single-member constituencies and compensational lists in every city.

A number of members in local assemblies in towns and cities over (more than) 10.000 inhabitants (elected by the method “mixed voting system”):

  • under (no more than) 25000 inhabitants: 8 members from constituencies, and 3 members from the compensational list,
  • under (no more than) 50000 inhabitants: 10 members from constituencies, and 4 members from the compensational list,
  • under (no more than) 75000 inhabitants: 12 members from constituencies, and 5 members from the compensational list,
  • under (no more than) 100000 inhabitants: 14 members from constituencies, and 6 members from the compensational list.
  • In a city with over 100.000 inhabitants, the number of seats from single-member constituencies must be increased by one after every 10000 inhabitants, and the number of seats from a compensational list must be increased by one after every 25000 inhabitants.

Voters are only voting for one candidate in their electoral district, so voting on the compensational list is not possible. In a single constituency, the seat is given by the method first-past-the-post, which means that the candidate with the most received votes is elected only. Consequently, the compensational lists are filled by votes from the voting in single constituencies, which do not result in any mandate. A candidate gets elected from the compensational list if their list has enough votes for at least as many mandates as the candidate’s serial number. From compensational lists the seats are distributed by Sainte-Laguë method (using only the odd numbers in increasing order). On compensational lists the names are in optional order, so the order matters a lot due to the system of distribution of mandates. In the compensational list division, the number of votes on the lists must exceed the 5% of all the votes (electoral threshold) to be active in the distribution of mandates. If two nominating organizations stand a common compensational list this number is increased to 10 %, in case of three or more nominating organizations it amounts to 15%.

This system is similar to the previous one in connection with the election of mayors: if a candidate (listed on the compensational list) is elected to the mayor, then they must be deleted from list, and the candidate with the next most received votes get elected.

 

III. 4. The members of county assemblies

The members of county assemblies are elected in a proportional voting system. Every county is an electoral district when electing the members of county assemblies. The voters choose from county-lists, which are getting mandates by d’Hondt formula.

The number of members in county assembly is depending on the number of the county’s inhabitants:

  • under (no more than) 400.000 inhabitants: every 20.000inhabitants mean one member in the county assembly, but the lowest number of the council members is 15.
  • under 700.000 inhabitants: 20 members, and this number must be increased by one after every 30.000 inhabitants over 400.000.
  • over 700.000 inhabitants: 30 members and this number must be increased by one after every 40.000 inhabitants over 700.000.

 

  1. The City Council of Budapest

 The City Council of Budapest is unique in the way it is formed, and the election process, which raises a lot of questions. But first, what is the City Council of Budapest and how is it formed?

IV.1. The electoral process in Budapest

Budapest has two levels of local governments. Each district has it’s own mayor and it’s own council, and Budapest as a whole got a council of her own. The City Council is responsible for carrying out tasks connected to city planning, budget and city organisation. It is made up of 33 members: the lord mayor, the23 mayors of the city districts and 9 members from a compensatory list. [29]

The election process for all three groups differs remarkably. The lord mayor is elected directly by the citizens of Budapest, whereas the 9 compensatory list members are selected from lists put forward by parties, or other nominating organisations, who had mayor candidates in more than half of the districts. The votes gained by candidates who did not become mayors are compiled for each party, and the mandates are distributed using the d’Hondt formula. The 23 mayors, however, are selected in a quite different way.

Whereas the citizens vote for the lord mayor, and their votes are taken into account during the distribution of the compensatory mandates, they are not voting on the 23 mayors who get to sit on the City Council, from the City Council’s perspective at least. The candidates automatically become members of the Council upon their election as mayors, which leads to a situation in which nobody is running specifically for a seat on the City Council only for the position of mayor and the citizens are electing a candidate for two positions at the same time.

This method raises questions as the fundamental principles of elections are concerned, namely the principles of direct and equal vote. The Constitutional Court tackled the issue in decision 26/2014. (VII. 23.).

 

IV. 2. Direct voting.

The Constitutional Court argued that direct voting means citizens voting directly for candidates, whereas in case of indirect voting the citizens vote for electors, who then vote for the candidates in their name, and with their authorization. Since in the case of the City Council the citizens do not select electors, but they support by their votes the candidates themselves, even if by electing them. Mayors, who are elected become also members of the City Council. The Court also stated, that according to the Fundamental Law nothing prevents the legislative power to create a system in which the citizens elect a candidate for two positions at the same time. The Constitutional Court found that the goal of integrating the mayors into the Council, thus making the management of Budapest easier is a legitimate reason for the aforementioned structuring of the election system of the City Council. [30]

 

IV. 3. Equality of votes

The Court stated that the principle of the equal vote is made up of different requirements. Firstly, each citizen shall have the same amount of votes. Secondly, each citizen’s vote shall have the same weight, affect the election the same amount. Since the difference in population between the districts of Budapest can be as much as 120 000 people the matter of equality presented a real concern. The Constitutional Court found the solution in the unique voting system of the Council. The Council implements a special double majority rule. To pass a decree in the Council it needs both the majority of the members and the majority of citizens represented by the members. The Court argued, that this system is beneficial as it has the historical aspect embedded in it, with the mayors representing the traditional districts of Budapest, and it also fulfils the equality criteria by requiring the support of both the majority of mayors and citizens represented by them for the enactment of a decree.

 

IV.4. The assessment of the constitutional court ruling

All in all the Constitutional Court ruled, that the legislation concerning the Council of Budapest is in compliance with the constitution. The arguments of the Court leave a lot to be desired however especially in connection to the principle of direct and free elections.

The Constitutional Court interpreted the principle of direct voting narrowly, however, the election of the members of the Council could be also considered as indirect voting in a broader meaning. The mayoral candidates, who upon election automatically become members of the Council are just exactly mayoral candidates. They run for the position of mayor, their campaign targets to obtain mayoral position, those goals and projects, which would be pursued if they would be elected. The citizens themselves allocate their vote on the basis of mayor considerations. In this system, if someone would be elected as mayor does not necessarily mean, that he/she would be also elected as a member of the City Council.

This membership correlates with the district mayorship which is based on what the candidate would do in the district concerned. In this way, we vote for mayors directly, and as a side note we get them as Council members, but we cannot divide our vote based on who we would like to see in the seat of mayor, and the seat of councillor. This makes one of our votes indirect since we either voted for someone based on what they would do as a mayor or a council member and just getting on terms with the fact that he would gain both mandates. The question of dividing votes brings us to the second principle, the principle of free voting.[31]

Since we cannot divide our vote we don’t have the freedom of movement to elect both mayors and council members based on our preferences, one will necessarily make a compromise. Since the question of mayorship is much more affected by local factors, than any other elected position, the compromise will generate larger impact on the council member, since their function has a greater national political relevance than that of the mayor. This situation which puts the citizen into a position that does not allow him/her to express his/her preferences to the fullest extent possible brings up the question of violation of the principle of free elections.

As a consequence, the City Council of Budapest, it’s formation and proceedings bring up a lot of questions, that have not been discussed inadequate magnitude, and bring up the question of constitutional compliance from time to time.

This brief contribution has provided a general overview from the Hungarian municipal system, and targeted to produce such a helpful material, which might ease for any foreigner to access to the basic information about the current Hungarian system of local elections. Hopefully, the publication of this article during the last stage of the preparations before the local elections might ensure a useful point of reference for those, who look for any short, but systematic English description of the electoral framework.

 

[1] This article is written by the demonstrators of the Constitutional Law Department of the Eotvos Loránd University, and supervised by Boldizsár Szentgáli-Tóth, junior research fellow of that department.

[2]Csörgits Lajos: A magyar helyi önkormányzati rendszer átalakítása. A demokrácia, a helyi közügyek és a helyi önkormányzás egyes kérdései. [Transforming the municipal system of Hungary. Democracy, public matters and questions in connection with self-governing.] Prospero Könyvei Kft, Budapest, 2014. 32.

[3] Fazekas Marianna: Közigazgatási Jog. Általános rész I. [Administrational Law. General part.] ELTE Eötvös Kiadó, Budapest, 2017. 259-260.

[4]ConstitutionalCourt of Hungary. Ruling No. 3105/2014. (IV.17.) [7]

[5]Topuzidu Laura: Önkormányzatok: változások után, választások előtt. [Local Governments: After the alterations, before the elections.]

see more here: https://arsboni.hu/onkormanyzatok-valtozasok-utan-valasztasok-elott/

[6]Art. 32. (2) of theFundamental Law of Hungary [25.04.2011]

[7]Art. F. (2) of theFundamental Law of Hungary [25.04.2011]

[8] Balázs István: Az önkormányzatokra vonatkozó szabályozás átalakulása. [The changing of the rules in connection with the local governments.] MTA Law WorkingPapers, 2014. 3. sz. 2.

[9] Balázs: i.m. 7-9.

[10]Art. 33. (1) of theFundamental Law of Hungary [25.04.2011] andMötv. 41.§ (3) bekezdése.

[11]Art. 32. (2) of theFundamental Law of Hungary [25.04.2011]

[12]Art. 32. (3) of theFundamental Law of Hungary [25.04.2011]

[13]Mötv. 68.§ (1) bekezdése.

[14]Mötv. 65. § -a.

[15]Mötv. 68.§ (1) bekezdése.

[16] Fazekas: i.m. 287 -288.

[17] Fazekas: i.m. 288.

[18]Halász Iván: Változó vagy konzerválódó önkormányzati rendszer? A helyi önkormányzatok és a 2010. évi országgyűlési választások utáni változások. In: Jogi Iránytű, 2010/1., p.1-2.

[19] Övt. 6. §; Árva Zsuzsanna: Helyi önkormányzati választások – módosuló választási jogszabályok [online]

see more here: https://jogaszvilag.hu/napi/helyi-onkormanyzati-valasztasok-modosulo-valasztasi-jogszabalyok/

[20] Övt. 4. §; Act LXIV. of 1990 on the Election of Local Government Representatives and Mayors 8. §

[21] Szentgáli-Tóth Boldizsár: Mi és miért változott? Az új önkormányzati választási rendszer háttere [online]

see more here: https://arsboni.hu/mi-es-miert-valtozott-az-uj-onkormanyzati-valasztasi-rendszer-hattere/

[22] Szentgáli-Tóth: i. m.

[23]Övt. 12. § (1) and (2)

[24] Dezső Márta – Tóth Zoltán: Választás és választási eljárás. Rejtjel. Budapest, 2002. 109.

[25] Kiss Barnabás: Helyi önkormányzati rendszer. In: Trócsányi László – Schanda Balázs (szerk.): Bevezetés az alkotmányjogba. HVG ORAC. 2016. 452-453.

[26]Övt. 13. § (1) first sentence.

[27]Övt. 4. §

[28]Övt. 4. § b)

[29]Mötv. 23. §

[30]26/2014. (VII. 23.).

[31]26/2014. (VII. 23.) ruling of the Hungarian Constitutional Court

***

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