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Hungarian opposition bill seeks to loosen Orban's grip but likely to fail
October 17, 2017 / 1:23 PM / 2 months ago

Hungarian opposition bill seeks to loosen Orban's grip but likely to fail

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian opposition parties, in a rare display of unity, submitted legislation on Tuesday to rewrite electoral rules they say entrench Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s hold on power but the bill looks unlikely to pass.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends a news conference with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc (not pictured) at the Government Office in Hanoi, Vietnam September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Kham/Files

Six months before elections are due, the right-wing Orban’s Fidesz party is the runaway favourite to win a third straight term and is widely expected to use its strong parliamentary majority to foil any electoral amendments.

Hungary’s eight biggest left-wing and liberal parties introduced a bill they said would change electoral rules to help ensure no party can grow far bigger than its actual vote share, approximating Germany’s proportional system.

In 2014, Fidesz scored a two-thirds majority in parliament with only 44 percent of the votes cast, aided by electoral rules designed to turn out strong majorities and avoid democratic deadlocks that can hinder policy-making and investment activity.

“The main danger facing democracy in Hungary today is not an inability to govern but an excessive concentration of power,” the bill text reads. “In view of that, the bill strives for a very proportionate election system.”

Marton Gulyas, an opposition activist who initiated and coordinated the electoral bill, has threatened civil disobedience if parliament fails to approve it.

The largest opposition party, the radical nationalist Jobbik, was not among the authors of the bill, but Fidesz’s big majority is enough on its own to shoot down the measure.

Representatives of Fidesz and Jobbik did not reply to questions seeking comment.

The opposition’s longtime fragmentation has undermined efforts to mount a unified challenge to Orban.

Under Orban, Fidesz has gained an iron grip on the courts and news media, critics say, and drawn strong European Union criticism for a perceived erosion of civil and intellectual liberties in Hungary. He says the courts and media remain free.

The opposition bill leaves intact the basic election system - a single round of two votes for an individual candidate and a party list - but introduces several new aspects to voting.

It raises the number of deputies to 222 from 199 and lowers the threshold of entry for parties to four percent of the vote from five percent now. It also proposes to ban gerrymandering.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; editing by Mark Heinrich

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