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Neoliberalism's failure state
May 20, 2014 11:58 PM   Subscribe

Orbán combined Germany’s much-criticized rules for drawing electoral districts with Britain’s highly disproportionate first-past-the-post rules for constituency elections, and topped it off with the widely used d’Hondt system for deriving proportional representation from party-list votes, a system that marginalizes small parties and bulks up plurality ones. The 2014 Hungarian system also allowed for blatant gerrymandering, an unusual new system of vote aggregation, and double and even triple standards in the way that different categories of citizens were treated (see my “Hungary, An Election in Question” and “Legal but Not Fair” for details). Those who supported the government found it easy to register and vote from abroad, while those who opposed it had to contend with red tape and misleading instructions circulated by new Fidesz-installed election officials. Unless the allied opposition had garnered at least 6 percent more votes than Fidesz, it could not have won even a bare majority of the parliamentary seats. All told, the election system had been altered to turn a bare plurality into a bare supermajority—hence Orbán’s apparent landslide..
Kim Lane Scheppele explains in The Nation how Hungary has been made over into a one party state and how powerless the European Union is to do anything about it.

Kim Lane Scheppele earlier wrote about Hungary in Paul Krugman's NYT blog (which The Nation carefully failed to link to):

Hungary an election in question, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, written before the Hungarian elections of 6 April explaining why Fidesz would win them.

Legal but not fair: how 45 percent of the popular vote turned into a two-thirds supermajority for Fidesz.
posted by MartinWisse (39 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a great article, there was a good post about that damn statue previously.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:26 AM on May 21


"...Germany’s much-criticized rules for drawing electoral districts..."

Are we talking about gerrymandering here?
posted by pseudocode at 2:36 AM on May 21


I like the article's discussion of the political usefulness of "targeted austerity," through which a governing party can punish its political and cultural opponents while hiding behind the supposedly neutral face of "market forces":
not all austerities are created equal. In some, budget cuts fall across the board (think: sequester), but in most cases they are dictated by elected officials. Politically guided austerity comes in two varieties. Governments may decide in a high-minded way where to invest their scarce resources to overcome the crisis or buffer its effects, or they may simply choose to reward their friends and hurt their enemies. The latter is the new weapon of neoliberalism.
This has certainly been happening in Britain and the recent Australian budget arguably represents another example of "targeted austerity" at work. This is just another example of the authoritarianism that's inherent within neoliberalism.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:40 AM on May 21 [13 favorites]


Orbán has indeed carefully and deliberately corrupted the political system so that he, and his party FIDESZ, will be in power for the foreseeable future. Of this there is no doubt and Scheppele has argued the case for this as consistently, cogently and factually as is possible. She is to be applauded for doing this. The articles of hers linked in this great post will stand the test of time and be a true testament to those who believe in democracy, pluralism and diversity for Hungary.

Orbán's constitutional take-over can only end in tragedy for Hungary. We know this because power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. While I can admit that in his own mind Orbán's thinks he is doing what is best for Hungary he has displayed no understanding of history or the corrupting nature of power. People are already afraid to speak out for fear of repercussions. Self-censorship in the media is rife and the only way to get ahead is to have the right friends - the so-called "kiskapu" - literally the little gate, or loophole - broadly the system of getting what you want through connections and using the "back door". Some of this has long existed in the Hungarian political and social systems but what is unique about the current quasi-dictatorship is that it has taken place in the framework of the European Union which, in theory at least, values freedom, democracy, plurality and the rule of law.

This is the challenge for the EU. If you examine the rhetoric of the far right JOBBIK party you will find not only anti-Semitic and anti-Roma prejudice, but also anti EU and anti-democratic sentiments. Not unlike the UKIP. JOBBIK draws its main support from the young and educated who are disaffected with the modern institutions of a supposedly democratic EU country. Orbán has drawn on this disaffection and used it to bolster his quasi-dictatorship.

Don't get me wrong: I love Hungary and are a Hungarian citizen - courtesy of Orbán's enfranchisement policies. I am due to visit there shortly and will again take enormous pleasure in meeting old friends - who openly and gladly support FIDESZ - and, I hope, drink great quantities of pálinka. But it pains me beyond words to see the evil Orbán is doing and I fear the lasting influence of his corrupt legacy upon the land of the Magyars.

[Minor edits for grammatical errors.]
posted by vac2003 at 2:45 AM on May 21 [8 favorites]


what is unique about the current quasi-dictatorship is that it has taken place in the framework of the European Union which, in theory at least, values freedom, democracy, plurality and the rule of law.
Perry Anderson has just written a piece for the LRB that discusses in detail the staggering levels of political corruption now overtaking EU member states. Just how sustainable is all this?
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:57 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]


Perry Anderson has just written a piece for the LRB that discusses in detail the staggering levels of political corruption now overtaking EU member states. Just how sustainable is all this?

That looks like a great read Sonny Jim, thanks for posting. I will need time to digest it but I can see the basic point as you say: Europe is corrupt. Very sad and disappointing to say the least. The 'European ideal' must remain strong and at the forefront of the continent's energies. The consequences of a retreat into corruption and nationalism are too awful to contemplate given the past and the horrific cost of Europe's tribal wars, especially in the first half of the twentieth century.
posted by vac2003 at 3:25 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


*Germany’s much-criticized rules for drawing electoral districts *

I am puzzled by this. I am german and I have volunteered in elections (mostly vote counting, etc) for many years and at least at my granular level I never heard criticism when it comes to districting. our districts never changed much, were usually areas of a city that seemed to make sense and were combined only when too few people were left in an area or the election budgets were cut by the federal government. (i.e. there used to be two schools you could vote in, now there is one.)

I am totally unaware of gerrymandering like in the United States and while I am not saying there isn't criticism I do have to admit I am totally unaware of it. what is so bad about our system?
posted by krautland at 3:27 AM on May 21 [5 favorites]


I'm similarly confused, krautland. The 5% rule is criticized often, but I have never heard of criticism of electoral district boundaries.
posted by dhoe at 3:32 AM on May 21


and what is unreasonable about the 5% rule? I don't see what having splinter groups represented in parliament would achieve. they can't affect anything with that few votes.
posted by krautland at 3:34 AM on May 21


Well, you can set it at different levels. It's just 2% in Denmark and sometimes they do affect the overall balance of the political scales. In the 1994 election a man without a party was elected and since the two political blocks ended up tied at 89-89 he was the deciding factor for the next four years (much to his own dismay, since he was running as a joke).

</derail>
posted by brokkr at 3:55 AM on May 21 [4 favorites]


pseudocode, the issue here is that the result are hunreliable.

I disgust myself sometimes.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 3:59 AM on May 21 [4 favorites]


they can't affect anything with that few votes.

There are several small parties in the dutch House of Representatives and the Senate that have been vital in reaching majority votes on some issues.

They were able to get significant parts of their reason for being implemented in return for their support.

So, depending on the distribution of the rest of the votes, yes, they can have influence far beyond their size.
posted by DreamerFi at 4:04 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


That LRB piece is both depressing and infuriating. No difference at all with the political sewers down here in Latin America, then, it's just that these EU guys are major cases of hypocrisy and probably use all that preaching about other countries cleaning their administrations as a diversionary smokescreen. Fuckers.
posted by Iosephus at 5:07 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]


pseudocode, the issue here is that the result are hunreliable.

Couldn't we krautsource a solution then?

I just googled some criticism about both Germany and Hungary, and it seems that the author was most likely talking about overhang seats ("Überhangmandate"). Recently declared unconstitutional in Germany, but it seems that Hungary has some version of that.
posted by pseudocode at 5:07 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Knowing nothing except that "the system has changed" and "the Government got 2/3 of the seats with 46% of the vote" then this doesn't look like a huge problem to me. The Labour Party in the UK won the 1997 election with 43.2% of the vote and got 63% of the seats. And 50.1% of the seats lets you re-write the British constitution too. To continue the parallel, the article complains that the opposition must get 6% more of the vote to win a bare majority: here in the UK the ruling Conservatives must get 7% more than Labour to do the same. (Daily Telegraph article)

Of course, if you don't like the guy who got elected, you tend to dislike the system that elected him. And he might well be a corrupt nasty man.

But having an electoral system that delivers a clear mandate to one party doesn't horrify me from a British point of view, and we've been having successful democratic elections for a long time. Some systems have lots of little parties and do their deals after elections, some systems have two big parties and do their deals within the party.
posted by alasdair at 5:12 AM on May 21


The Nation article wasn't particularly clear on what was done to make the election less fair; if you're really curious about how all the changes were made, look at the NYT blog posts, which are clear -- district boundaries were redrawn (as had to be done), but there is a huge gap in population in those districts; different out of country voters have different options, allowing the likely right-leaning voters to vote by mail, without id while requiring the likely left-leaning voters to vote with id at consulates only; there's some weird stuff about compensating parties with free floating seats so that instead of trying to get similar to the distribution of votes cast by the electorate, it seems to magnify the FPTP aspects; there's something incredibly bizarre about the Roma that I didn't totally follow.

There are other details about advertising and changing from runoff voting to FPTP voting.
posted by jeather at 5:18 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


The latter is the new weapon of neoliberalism.

New? The Atlantic Fleet used to be headquartered in Newport, Rhode Island - it's the deepwater base closest to the major shipping lanes, and very close to the submarine pens in Groton, CT - but this was before RI was one of two states to vote against Nixon. Now it's all crammed into the Hampton Roads area in Virginia. It took two decades for Newport to re-invent itself as a tourist destination and an advanced R&D center.

The rest of RI really never recovered, and when the fish stocks collapsed at the same time the large banks consolidated at the same time small-piece manufacturing all went overseas at the same time the housing bubble popped, well, it's a bit like Detroit East out here, now. Unemployment is still above 8%.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:20 AM on May 21 [5 favorites]


What worries me is that Republican state legislators in Arizona and North Carolina are probably looking at articles like these and harvesting them for new ideas.
posted by jonp72 at 6:05 AM on May 21


Knowing nothing except that "the system has changed" and "the Government got 2/3 of the seats with 46% of the vote" then this doesn't look like a huge problem to me. The Labour Party in the UK won the 1997 election with 43.2% of the vote and got 63% of the seats.

This doesn't mean that there is no problem in Hungary, but rather that there is also a problem in the UK and you have become inured to it.
posted by biffa at 6:11 AM on May 21 [17 favorites]


First past the post is not obviously a problem. It means that you vest government in the largest stable organized faction, rather than relying upon inherently unstable coalitions, or second best choices. It enables rapid and rather dramatic changes in policy direction where majoritarian systems tend to suppress it-- Attlee could take the UK social democratic in one fell swoop, and when it went to far Thatcher could do a 180 on it in the same amount of time. Now maybe you don't think that these are necessarily good things, but they're far from obviously bad things.
posted by MattD at 6:22 AM on May 21 [4 favorites]


New? The Atlantic Fleet used to be headquartered in Newport, Rhode Island ...

This is true. There's nothing "neo" about rewarding your allies and punishing your opponents. It's the same old "to the winner belongs the spoils," just dressed up now with an ideology of economic necessity.

Now maybe you don't think that these are necessarily good things, but they're far from obviously bad things.

Best fortune cookie wisdom ever.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:34 AM on May 21


But having an electoral system that delivers a clear mandate to one party doesn't horrify me from a British point of view, and we've been having successful democratic elections for a long time.
That depends on how you define "successful," "democratic," "elections," "for a long time" (and "British," for that matter).

Why should a party with a bare plurality of the vote (let alone the total population) then get a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, allowing it to enact any policy it pleases? That's not "a clear mandate"; that's electoral dictatorship. UK-style First Past the Post is probably the most unfair form of representative democracy there is.
[FPTP] enables rapid and rather dramatic changes in policy direction where majoritarian systems tend to suppress it ... Now maybe you don't think that these are necessarily good things, but they're far from obviously bad things.
I grew up in New Zealand in the '90s. I don't think it's any coincidence that New Zealanders voted to get rid of their FPTP voting system and replace it with German-style MMP after experiencing the most comprehensive form of IMF-mandated neoliberal shock treatment ever tried outside of Chile, implemented successively by a government of the left and right, neither of which said a word about their intentions before actually getting elected.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:34 AM on May 21 [9 favorites]


Yeah, the best you can say about FPTP is that it's very easy to understand and that it could be worse.
posted by jeather at 6:42 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


it's pretty cool how people will argue over first-past-the-post while Fidesz uses its permanent majority to systematically remove dissenters and their family members from the work force
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:43 AM on May 21 [6 favorites]


It might seem like a bunch of Brits navel-gazing about the idiosyncrasies of their voting system, but actually I think it's perfectly cool to talk about first-past-the-post, given it's one of the ways Fidesz has concentrated power.

If you're a government with dictatorial ambitions, FPTP is an awesome tool because of its power to disenfrachise huge swathes of the voting population.
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 7:08 AM on May 21 [7 favorites]


Actually you can confidently state two things from the collected wisdom of voting and social choice theory.

First, no voting scheme can ever be fair or neutral. This makes it almost impossible to usefully compare voting schemes.

Second, that's except for FPTP. FPTP truly sucks a dog's butt.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:17 AM on May 21 [4 favorites]


It might seem like a bunch of Brits navel-gazing about the idiosyncrasies of their voting system, but actually I think it's perfectly cool to talk about first-past-the-post, given it's one of the ways Fidesz has concentrated power.

I agree. I meant my comment more as a rebuke against people focusing on rebutting criticisms of first-past-the-post in general rather than on rebutting the linked articles' claim that Fidesz has used its victory to subvert democracy and entrench itself specifically, not just "the biggest party," in power.
The Fidesz constitutional “reform” has spawned a Frankenstate, a form of government created by stitching together perfectly normal rules from the laws of various EU members into a monstrous new whole. The component pieces of the Hungarian Frankenstate might have operated perfectly well in their original contexts, but combined in a new constitutional system, these once-normal rules produce abnormal results. As government spokespeople have said every time there is criticism of a particular aspect of the new constitutional order: that rule exists in Greece. Or Germany. Or the United Kingdom. It’s normal. End of story. But nowhere do all those rules exist together, except in the Hungarian Frankenstate.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:25 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Sorry if it's in TFAs, but what is the smoking gun that ties (conceptually) neoliberalism to these voting policies besides who happens to be using them?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:32 AM on May 21


Part of the problem of electoral politics is that as countries have grown and electoral systems haven't, it gets harder and harder to see how you can make a difference. Take for example California. To get your views elected in the US Senate, in the 2012 election, requires the agreement of 14.4 million voters. The house? A little bit better. You only need on average the agreement of 545,000 voters. In most countries the populace is criminally underrepresented and it's compounded by winner-takes-all districts which eliminate other views if they're not the dominant view of an area.

The US for instance, needs to increase its House representatives by a factor of about 20 and the Senate by god knows how much since it's a clusterfuck and a relic of electoral tradition. Don't even bother redrawing the lines. Just allocate 20 representatives to each district and run it STV and all of a sudden it becomes a lot easier to see views aligned with you in Washington. It'll fix the primarying and gerrymandering problems in a single blow.
posted by Talez at 8:09 AM on May 21


H'm, d'Hondt is used in the EU elections for MEPs (tomorrow!) in proportional representation within electoral area. From my understanding (wikipedia first few paras!) seems fair.
posted by maiamaia at 1:30 PM on May 21


that annoying historian who did 'the end of history' (neil ferguson?) on TV explained tyrant 'came from the ancient Greek tyrannos, but tyrannos meant a popular powerful man of the people: usually someone who went to the countryside and got lots of support (i think from the plebs who couldn't vote - i know not called plebs - but non-citizens, enslaved or working peasanty worker sorts) and then marched on the city of the city-state (probably size of a village now) and did rabble-rousing in the squares and basically staged a coup or took over power through a mixture of huge rabble and getting everyone to side with him by speeches and stuff.' I know there's a proper modern name for this, apart from demagogue. But i've found the concept very useful ever since, and i think Orban etc is genuinely very popular and a 'tyrannos' rather than just a dictator. (Dictators can inherit and be genuinely unpopular for instance.) Chavez was sort of half-tyrannos (and not a dictator). I mean, i hate them, but i'm trying to be fair.
posted by maiamaia at 1:35 PM on May 21


that annoying historian who did 'the end of history' (neil ferguson?)

The End of History was Francis Fukuyama, but it sounds like you're talking about professional oppression apologist Niall Ferguson, who never found a subject he couldn't be wrong to the benefit of Anglo power about.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:38 PM on May 21


Voting districts were outmoded with the telegraph and it was probably a holdover from feudalism. Classes of voters are described by occupation, gender, income, rural or urban, etc. A planned district always favors a strategy. I doubt there is an honest argument for a voting district. In most retellings, it was conceived to allow local representation away from the political nexus. But any such locality would be the victim of drawn lines for the same reason that those localities threaten the nexus and the nexus gets to draw the lines. As for those localities, they are often left with carpetbaggers because of the strategic effect of boundaries on local populism.
posted by Brian B. at 3:49 PM on May 21


I've mentioned the situation in my state of Missouri a few times previously. Just a couple of data points:

* 2008 state senate election in Missouri, Republicans won 48.5% of popular vote and 67% of senate seats.

* 2012 congressional elections in Missouri, Republicans won 55% of the popular vote and 75% of Congressional seats.


At this point, Republicans have ~veto-proof majorities in both the Missouri House & Missouri Senate (about 2/3 majorities), despite having only a slight majority of voters (generously, 55%).

I'm sure there are worse possible situations (uncertainty, no stable government, whatever) but this is certainly not a good situation to be in. For one thing it tends to undermine people's faith in governing institutions.
posted by flug at 4:11 PM on May 21


At least in the US, people by and large don't have faith in their governing institutions. Largely because they just don't like democracy very much and just want to have a decider do all that annoying deciding.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:24 PM on May 21


At least in the US, people by and large don't have faith in their governing institutions. Largely because they just don't like democracy very much and just want to have a decider do all that annoying deciding.

I don't think this is even close to true. Americans, from my perch, seem pretty inclined toward self-governance.
posted by MetalFingerz at 10:00 PM on May 21


"If you're a government with dictatorial ambitions, FPTP is an awesome tool because of its power to disenfrachise huge swathes of the voting population."
You don't need FPTP for that. In Ireland Fianna Fáil, having lost a referendum to replace its own STV voting system with FPTP, figured out that it could achieve much the same result by having multi-member constituencies with only three members each. In a system with more than three parties (nowadays, lots more), you can pretty much guarantee that you'll get 2/3 of the seats in every 3-seat constituency simply by outpolling the party in second place. All you have to do next is make sure the boundary commission -- appointed by and given guidelines by you -- ensures there as many 3-seater constituencies as possible. Except call it something else, like "respecting historic county boundaries".

Or in other words, successive governments in Ireland used a proportional voting system to engineer a massively-disproportional outcome, and they haven't stopped yet.

Those UKers above saying "looks familiar" didn't really read the article. It's not about having something that exists elsewhere. It's about combining the worst elements of other EU states to deliberately create a one-party state.

Does the UK fire tens of thousands of civil servants because of how their family members vote? No. Does the UK allow incoming parties who take control of local governments to sack *everybody* who works at the Town Hall? No. Is the UK situation equivalent? No. Should you maybe stop being quite so glib? Probably.
posted by genghis at 10:17 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


I don't think this is even close to true. Americans, from my perch, seem pretty inclined toward self-governance.

I'm paraphrasing actual no kidding empirical research. A series of works by Hibbing and Thiess-Morse. They're about as depressing as you'd expect.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:30 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I recall Timothy Garton Ash writing in Granta about I think the Czech Republic post-Berlin Wall. There was some gala evening with a favourite folk singer, and all of the country's post-Community elite were gathered on stage. The highlight of the evening was the giveaway of an Opel car or something, and how embarrassing it all was, that this was the fruit of their titanic struggle, their revolution: a compact car.

As someone with Estonian roots, it's interesting to consider that the revolutions in the former Soviet bloc countries were driven by people with free market aspirations, not socialists and other progressives like in the West.

And I guess Hungary is one logical conclusion of those revolutions. But for every Hungary there's also an Estonia or a Poland, a country that gets it - civil society is based on the rule of law and free markets.

If Russia doesn't invade them, I'm looking forward to how countries like Poland and Estonia lead the way out of this "end of history" defined by ultra-nationalism on one side, or "socialism" on the other side.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:51 PM on May 26


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