How politics in Hungary works - the system explained

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Every country's political system is unique and Hungary is no different. Here is a brief explainer for you.

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Hang around expats in Hungary long enough and you’ll probably find yourself in a conversation about local politics. The Hungarian government has been popping up in the international news recently for all sorts of reasons, but you might be left wondering how it all actually works.

What governance system does Hungary use?

Hungarian politics operates within the framework of a ‘parliamentary representative democratic republic’. Put simply this means that there is a prime minister that runs the government, a president who serves as a mostly ceremonial head of state and a single house of parliament, in Hungary known as the National Assembly, that exercises legislative power.

Under this setup, the parliament elects the president to serve a term of 5 years. The president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and also has the power to nominate a prime minister who is in turn voted on by members of the parliament. The prime minister selects cabinet members and can dismiss them at will.

Within the National Assembly there are 25 standing committees that debate and report on newly introduced bills of law. These laws are guided by the Hungarian constitution which was last amended in 2013.

Hungary’s Constitution Court is able to review the constitution on procedural grounds but does not have the grounds to annul any law passed by a two-thirds majority. Meanwhile the Supreme Court of Hungary (Kúria) and the Chief Prosecutor have the power to order a constitutional review of new laws. The judiciary itself is independant from the government.

How do elections work in Hungary?

As a democratic country elections are held every 4 years. The last election was held in April 2018. The number of seats in parliament from is 199 and there is only one round of voting.

Of these 199 seats, 106 are single-member constituencies where the winner is elected on a ‘first past the post’ basis. The remaining 93 seats are elected on a list-based proportional representation basis.

To form a list a party must have candidates standing in at least 9 of the 19 counties in Hungary as well as a candidate in Budapest and in at least 27 single-member constituencies. As well as political parties, officially recognised minority groups such as Germans, Slovaks and Roma can form lists as well.

When it comes to voting, any permanent resident in Hungary is entitled to vote in one single-member constituency and for one party list. If the resident is part of a minority group they vote for a minority list instead of a party one. Hungarian citizens that live abroad are only entitled to vote for a party list. There is no minimum turnout for a vote to be considered valid.

When it comes to distributing the vote for the list-based seats something called the D’Hondt method is used. Simply put each party or minority with a list must get at least 5% of the vote to be represented in parliament. If two parties run a joint list then this threshold rises to 10%. Three parties raises the threshold to 15%. If a minority group misses the 5% threshold they can send a representative to parliament that can speak but not vote.

Who leads Hungary right now?

At the last election the incumbent Fidesz (Hungarian Civic Alliance) party and their coalition partners the KDNP (Christian Democratic People's Party) retained power.

The prime minister of Hungary is Viktor Orbán. He’s in his third term as prime minister, having held the office from 1998 - 2002 and then again since 2010. The current president is János Áder who took office in May 2012.