Constitutional Court upholds Budapest municipal election law

July 21, 2014

Stumpf István; Bragyova András; Szalay Péter; Pokol Béla; Szívós Mária; Bihari Mihály; Balogh Elemér; Lenkovics Barnabás; Kovács Péter; Kiss László; Holló András; Paczolay Péter; Dienes-Oehm Egon; Balsai István; Lévay Miklós

According to a decision published by the Constitutional Court on Monday, Budapest district mayors’ election to the capital’s city council is in line with the Fundamental Law, but the court nullified the law’s provision for a proportionate compensation list.

The court ruled on a petition submitted by 57 MPs criticizing the newly adopted system of Budapest elections. According to the complaint, the new method for electing Budapest city council members infringed on the principle of direct voting and violated the Fundamental Law in that Budapest district mayors are automatically to sit on the Budapest city council.   The Constitutional Court disagreed, ruling that “it cannot be derived from the Fundamental Law that legislators cannot make a duly substantiated election system that allows for voters to elect the same person for two separate positions with one vote”.

Two elements of the complaint were upheld by the court.  Consequently it nullified the introduction of a so-called “weighted” compensation list, saying that it would overemphasize inequalities between districts.  However, it called the legal practice of accepting a council decision only when the representatives of at least half the population support it a “sufficient guarantee”.

The Constitutional Court nullified a law restricting access to personal data recorded on candidate endorsement sheets after the nomination of the candidate has been finalized.

Parliament adopted the law of June 10 ending separate city and district council elections in Budapest, and delegating elected district mayors to the city council. According to the original structure, besides the 23 district mayors, 9 additional seats would have been distributed according to a compensation list. The new law abolished the previous system whereby Budapest city council members were directly elected from party lists. Critics of the new law claim that the new system gives equal representation to less and more populated districts, thus favoring the governing Fidesz party.

In the 2014 general elections the opposition alliance won 8 constituencies out of the total 18 in Budapest, including the more densely populated ones. The new legislation favors Fidesz because it would give the same power to smaller, less populated, right-leaning districts than to their larger, left-leaning counterparts.

Eight constitutional judges, all Fidesz appointees, voted for the decision.  Seven voted against it.

Commenting to the Beacon, constitutional lawyer Csaba Tordai said: “With this decision – voted for exclusively by Fidesz-appointed judges – the court took an open detour from its previous practice. While earlier the court stated that it goes unconditionally against the Fundamental Law if the population of one constituency is twice that of another, according to its recent decision this prohibition is not absolute as the specificities of the capital can justify such a deviation.”