The conflict of partisan interests and normative expectations in electoral system change. Hungary in 2014

Réka Várnagy, Gabriella Ilonszki


The expanding literature on electoral reform has proposed a comprehensive approach towards electoral system change arguing that going beyond the simple logic of maximising gains for the dominant political elite allows for assessing normative drivers behind the change (Hazan-Leyenaar, 2014). Indeed, electoral systems tend to fulfil normative expectations like providing fair representation and stable government.  More nuanced, practical concerns such as making elections cheaper or more intelligible are also regarded as their assets. At the same time these normative goals are intermingled with the rule makers’ political interests. The delicate balance between normative goals and strategic partisan goals becomes highly visible at the moment of electoral system change. Academic literature is divided on the importance of the normative versus the partisan background of electoral systems change. Rational choice literature argues for the supremacy of partisan interests in the formation (transformation) of electoral system design (Benoit, 2004; Colomer, 2005), claiming that seat maximisation is the parties’ main interest. Others (Shugart, 2001) focus on normative claims: if the electoral system does not bring representative demands to the surface or prospective government formation remains unidentifiable for the voters in the electoral process or the mandate majority counters the voters’ election majority the electoral system is unbalanced and would require modification on this normative ground.

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ISSN: 2062-087X

DOI: 10.14267/issn.2062-087X