This is the first edition of Split Ticket’s World Report, an article series devoted to covering foreign elections. Today’s edition will focus on Serbia, Hungary, and Costa Rica. Particular attention is being paid to Serbia, where Freedom House has observed “democratic backsliding” toward authoritarianism since President Aleksandar Vučić‘s controversial election in 2017.
World Report will be published before each important international race on this year’s calendar. Other countries with high-profile contests coming up in the next few months include France, Brazil, Australia, and the Philippines. Split Ticket is excited to finally get this series off the ground.
Serbia had competitive two-round presidential contests on three occasions between 2004 and 2012. That streak ended in 2017, when Aleksandar Vučić held the Presidency for the populist Progressive Party with 55% of the vote against scattered opposition. He was criticized abroad following his win for having suborned Serbian media into bolstering his campaign.
Virulent protests have been ubiquitous throughout Vučić‘s tenure, with the harshest dissent arising against state environmental policy relating to the company Rio Tinto. Supporters of the various opposition parties have primarily focused their wrath on Vučić‘s administration, which has been accused of improprieties akin to de facto electioneering.
Opinion polling puts the incumbent in a strong position for reelection, suggesting another victory without the need for a runoff. Even if Vučić is held below the aforementioned threshold, Split Ticket would expect him to win in the 2nd round. While all opposition candidates have more or less been able to conduct their campaigns and participate in debates, the same lingering criticisms regarding the Serbian media’s expedient role in the Vučić campaign remain.
Resulting from a series of high-profile negotiations, Vučić‘s SNS party merged with Serbian Patriotic Alliance and the Socialist Party last year. The alliance solidified the coalition that had won the President a supermajority in parliament in 2020. Besides the presidential contest, Serbia’s 250 seat National Assembly will also be up for election. Vučić had previously called for snap elections.
Hungary & Costa Rica
Despite the attention they have drawn thus far, the Serbian elections are not the only important contests that will be decided today. Voters in Hungary and Costa Rica are also going to the polls to make their voices heard. Without further ado, let’s take a look at where the campaigns in both countries currently stand.
Much like its ostensibly-democratic southern neighbor, Hungary’s current government has been criticized by international observers for consolidations of power consistent with “democratic backsliding”. Long-time Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a polarizing figure both at home and abroad, has borne the brunt of this criticism for quite some time, despite remaining politically-secure in Budapest.
The most significant changes to the status quo took place in 2020, when Hungary’s National Assembly voted to raise the minimum national constituency candidate requirement from 27 to 71. Because parliament is dominated by Orbán‘s Fidesz-KDNP bloc, the wider world perceived the modification as a power grab meant to cripple the various opposition parties.
Following the restriction, Hungary’s top five opposition parties banded together to form a united front against Orbán called United for Hungary. Numerous smaller factions opposed to Fidesz also joined in, emboldening the Everybody’s Hungary Movement. The alliance is standing behind Péter Márki-Zay for Prime Minister. An independent, Márki-Zay won his country’s first-ever opposition primary earlier this year.
Hungary is a parliamentary democracy, meaning the leader of the majority party in the National Assembly is responsible for forming a government as Prime Minister. Orbán‘s bloc currently holds 133 of the unicameral chamber’s 199 seats, meaning the unified opposition must net 44 seats to assume control.
Only 106 districts are determined by single-member FPTP voting. The remaining 93 seats are assigned by proportional representation pursuant to a national party list, an allocation process known as the d’Hondt method. You can read more about thresholds and ethnic considerations here.
Current seat projections show Fidesz-KDNP maintaining a majority in the National Assembly by a slightly-reduced margin. Orbán‘s faction has polled better over the last few months, tempering the hopes of the opposition alliance. Generally speaking, Split Ticket expects the incumbent government here to be sustained just as it is expected to be in Serbia.
In addition to the parliamentary election, Hungary will also be voting on a series of referendums dealing with LGBT issues that have been brought to the fore by Fidesz this cycle. The four questions up for consideration all focus on the LGBT relationship with education:
- Do you support holding information events on sexual orientation to minors, in public education institutions without parental consent?
- Do you support the promotion of gender-reassignment treatments to minors?
- Do you support the unrestricted exposure of minors to sexually explicit media content, that may influence their development?
- Do you support showing minors media content on gender changing procedures?
Assuming the referendum results align with Orbán‘s social positions, all of which are well-expressed by past state legislation widely condemned as anti-LGBT, international consternation regarding Hungarian social policy on behalf of the European Union can be expected to grow.
In Central America, Costa Ricans will go to the polls to determine their next President. In 2018, left-leaning candidate Carlos Alvarado comfortably defeated unrelated conservative hopeful Fabricio Alvarado during in a runoff. This year’s election is also being decided by a 2nd round of voting.
*Nominees only need 40% of the vote to avoid second rounds*
The most notable change ahead of this year’s race deals with the absence of the Citizens’ Action Party (PAC), which has won the last two presidential races and formidably competed in at least the 1st round of each contest since 2002. Unpopularity has supposedly crippled the once-vibrant party, signaling a significant change in the Costa Rican political landscape. In the latest canvass, PAC’s official standard-bearer received just 0.7% of the popular vote.
Voting was predictably contentious in the first round. The New Republic and Social Christian Unity parties, two large conservative factions, both failed to make the 2nd round. That outcome pitted the centrist Social Democratic Progress party against the left-wing National Liberation movement.
The runoff candidates are ex-Finance Minister Rodrigo Chaves (PPSP) and former President José María Figueres (PLN). In addition to seeking the Presidency, both nominees also represent their parties in the national legislature – also up for election. All 57 members of that chamber will be determined using closed list proportional representation with gender considerations.
Notable issues from the Presidential campaign included unemployment, corruption, Covid-19, and economic reforms. According to 2nd round polling data, Chaves has amassed a consistent lead over Figueres. It should be noted, however, that the high undecided rate from the surveys could be distorting the actual state of the race.