Proposal for a Primary by the Szalay Group
The issue of democratic opposition primary was put on the agenda again in the autumn of 2015. The Szalay Group reviewed the existing international theory and practice of primaries in terms of politics and the law, analysed the Hungarian proposals in that regard, also including the one submitted by Republikon Institute. The purpose of the primary proposal is to involve the existing and potential future democratic parties and movements into a new social dialogue and a public competition before the parliamentary elections in 2018. We believe that being a democrat means that one is not afraid of any public test conducted in front of the voters. Only those candidates can credibly take part in the general elections who are willing to compete for being selected. The Szalay Group is a civilian group which has made a primary proposal to serve only the democratic voters and the public interest without favouring any party or movement. Consequently, following a detailed consideration of the alternatives, it came up with its own proposal.
Why should a primary be held?
The system of primaries has become an important concept of liberal democracies and part of the democratic political culture in the 21st century. A primary is a test of democracy and the test of democrats. As it is unlikely that Fidesz-KDNP will make the election system more proportionate or fair by the 2018 elections, the democratic political groups must apply the currently effective election rules. The primary system allows democrats to express fundamentally common yet different political sets of values, select capable candidates in a way transparent to society and an active dialogue with the voters.
What are the advantages of a primary?
The primary, also recommended by the Szalay Group, may bring a political innovation for democratic opposition parties that can also bring progress and innovation in terms of organisational, communication, democratic and political integration. With the help of the primary, parties and movements and politicians intending to become members of Parliament can compete in public in a regulated framework where voters interested in, open and committed to, democratic processes would have an opportunity to take part in this process to as previously unprecedented extent. The prime minister candidate of the democratic opposition could be selected in a primary, and then that person would be able to make a credible choice selecting the members of his shadow government and shaping his programme. The selection of the candidate members of Parliament in a primary could have a much wider base and provide an opportunity to test the suitability of the candidate.
Primary as a democratic innovation
In the former Hungarian parliamentary elections, the parties decided on their own candidates: it was often identical with the party leader’s level - the supporters of the party, and potential voters did not have any influence on who they had to vote later. Voters also have very bad experiences in relation to the “dirty bargains” of parties while appointing candidates. In the 21st century, political orientation has become easier and obtaining political information is cheaper. In Western democracies, demand is increasing for enabling voters to influence political processes more frequently, not only quarterly during the elections. A primary is a democratic tool not only against the current system of power, but also against the control monopoly of the opposition parties. Voters have a good reason to think that not only the party leaders but they are also capable of selecting their own candidates. That is why voters intend to express their opinion on which member of their own political community they see as the most capable and most attractive even prior to the actual election. The primary of prime minister candidates and members of Parliament is an ideal tool for it.
Primary as a communication innovation
In a primary, the democratic opposition would have a rare communication opportunity: the excitement of the primary, the disputes of the candidates, the voting and continuous vote counting would arouse media attention similar to that in a parliamentary election campaign which, under ideal circumstances, could be controlled by the participants themselves. Candidates would be able to prove their communication skill both in the media and on-line, in the social media.
Primary as an organisational innovation
A primary would activate voters and organisations supporting the candidates both in the prime minister candidate campaign and in the primaries of the 106 individual electoral districts: in the course of the campaign the local matters would be revealed prior to the actual parliamentary election. New parties and movements could appear in the primary, the participating voters could be recruited as potential activists and the commitment of the party members involved in the local organisation could be increased.
Primary as a political integration innovation
The change of system in 2018 is an issue that goes beyond the democratic opposition parties: the objective is also shared by trade unions, associations and NGOs who keep their distance from the official party policy and often place themselves opposite party policy. In a primary, civilians and politicians can meet each other under peaceful yet competitive circumstances, conducting a dialogue with each other on the major issues of society. A primary is an ideal tool for making NGOs and locally active public officials part of the cooperation of democratic opposition in the election without belonging any organisation and maintaining their independence and individualism.
How can a primary be organised?
On the basis of the international review of primaries it may be concluded that there is no single general primary model, it is always built on the country’s own political traditions to a certain extent. There are specific proposals for its adaptation in Hungary made by the Szalay Group and Republikon Institute: there are several options on what election method and form should be used for a primary in Hungary. All these proposals have a common feature, which is open competition, involving voters who share the values of democrats. Another common feature which is also the essential goal of a primary is to have only one candidate in each district after the process, and that candidate should be supported by the largest number of potential voters and that the prime minister should also be selected with a similar method.
Szalay Group’s proposal
The Szalay Group proposes selecting the prime minister candidate in a primary in spring 2017 in order to 1) give sufficient momentum to the democratic opposition through the election campaign of the candidate; 2) the selected prime minister candidate should have a strong character and become the credible face of the opposition; 3) give one year to the prime minister candidate to prepare his government programme, find the shadow ministers and present them to the public. We recommend all democratic forces selecting the candidates in the 106 electoral districts in a primary at the end of 2017 or beginning of 2018, in line with the parliamentary election campaign. The detailed concept of implementation is attached to this document.
With a carefully planned primary, accepted and respected by the parties and the realisation of the political benefits outlined above, the democratic opposition will be in the position of looking forward the election in 2018 with the solid election technical and organisational base.
On behalf of the Szalay Group: Péter Bárándy, László Lengyel, István Somogyvári, Zoltán Tóth.