Regional Voting Trends in Hungarian National Elections 1985-2002

By Racz, Barnabas | East European Quarterly, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview
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Regional Voting Trends in Hungarian National Elections 1985-2002

Racz, Barnabas, East European Quarterly

The purpose and role of democratic elections is the establishment of representative bodies acting as legislatures. The process of voting expresses citizens' sentiments usually through political parties: the voting preferences reflect economic-historical-cultural determinants of political behavior, also often influenced by regional factors, which cut across the other components.

Hungarian national elections show diverse results among various geographical areas and this phenomenon raises the question if there are firmly embedded differences between various regions in the country. In the light of the election returns between 1985-2002, it appears that there is a more or less definite pattern, however, a closer analysis is needed in a larger perspective to more precisely explore its meaning to the political map of Hungary in the past and the future.

As main indicators of the fluctuating trends, we use mostly the territorial (party) lists which give a more accurate indication of national voting preferences than individual candidate districts and/or local elections, both of which carry an indirect distortion of voters' primary preferences by other considerations. (1)

1985: Reform Communism

Although the 1985 parliamentary elections were still under the one-party system, several studies indicate that it was meaningful: it became the system-changing legislature resulting in the later transfer of power in 1989-1990. (2) In the late 1980's the modified electoral law resulted in a unique situation in the socialist block. The 1983: III Electoral Law was first implemented in 1985 requiring compulsory multi-candidate contests in each of the 352 electoral districts (the total size of the Parliament was 387; the difference comes from the 35 national list seats). The nationwide mass organization the Patriotic Peoples Front (PPF) (3) controlled by the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party (HSWP) (4) conducted the elections and nominated at least two candidates in each district, however, additional candidates could be nominated by the voters at nomination meetings. All candidates had to accept the official PPF political programme, meaning essentially the HSWP platform.

In the nominating process 78 of 766 independent candidates were endorsed successfully and in only 80 districts were close contests with less than 10% difference of the votes. Of the total 352 districts, only 42 needed runoffs but of the 78 independents, 43 won seats. The low proportion of the independents in general, and their high party membership ratio (33 of 43) and their PPF platform would indicate a limited significance of these elections, but it was aN unprecedented development in the history of socialist elections and in hindsight if became clear that it was the beginning of substantial changes in the nature and profile of the Hungarian legislature. (5)

In the campaign competition due to the common PPF platform, the difference between competing candidates did not appear meaningful; however the conflict was mostly between personalities and their interpretation of the official programme. Especially in close races it meant a sharper competition between reformist and conservative standpoints within the ruling party and which issue subsequently became the crucial dividing point in the Hungarian politics of the 1980's.

The election reports and personal interviews indicated skepticism regarding the true meaning of the elections but increased participation including some real competition would be hard to dismiss. There were some sharp debates on nomination meetings and the number of close races and runoffs indicated uphill battles. Nonetheless the overall picture showed that the electorate predominantly looked at the election critically because of the lack of true choice. A closer analysis of the returns sheds an illuminating light on the Hungarian political map: the numbers indicate an identifiable difference between various geographical areas of the country.

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