December 2011

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Alan Renwick

In Part 1 of this post, I outlined the basics of Hungary’s new electoral law.  Now I turn to the question of what we should make of the changes introduced.

Before I get going, I should say that others have been following Hungary’s electoral reform debates over recent months and years more closely than I have.  I offer my impressions here partly because I know many non-Hungarian-speakers want to know more than they can at present about what has happened, and partly in the hope of initiating conversation with those in Hungary who know much more than I do.  I hope you will point out errors, omissions, and points that I ought to think about in more detail.

The key question in thinking about an electoral reform concerns whose interests it is designed to serve.  Is it imposed by the government to protect its own interests (what I have elsewhere called elite majority imposition)?  Is it agreed among politicians more widely (elite settlement)?  Or does it reflect pressure from below, which politicians feel compelled in greater or lesser measure to accommodate (elite–mass interaction)?

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Alan Renwick

While most of us have been preparing to hang up our stockings, Hungary’s parliamentarians have been hard at work: on Friday alone they passed fourteen new laws.  One of these was a new electoral law – the first significant overhaul of the Hungarian electoral system since the country’s first post-communist democratic elections in 1990.  In this post – the first of two on the new electoral law – I will outline the changes that have taken place.  The second post will analyse the politics underlying the new law and consider what it tells us about the state of Hungarian democracy.

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Alan Renwick

Last week, as promised in the coalition programme, the government published its proposals for allowing voters to recall MPs who are found guilty of serious wrongdoing.  The draft bill and accompanying white paper set out procedures whereby a recall petition will be opened either when an MP is jailed for up to twelve months (longer jail sentences already lead to automatic expulsion) or when the Commons itself decides that a miscreant MP should be censured with the threat of recall.  The petition will be administered by returning officers.  If at least 10 per cent of eligible local voters sign the petition within an eight-week period, a by-election will be held.  The sitting MP will be allowed to stand in the by-election, but will have to prove his or her continuing local support in order to retain office.

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Richard Wood, who graduated with first-class honours in Politics and International Relations from Reading last summer, is now working as a research assistant on Alan Renwick’s project looking at changing patterns of debate over political reform.  In this post, he reflects on some striking findings regarding the rise of talk about human rights in British political discourse.

“Human rights” is a term we hear often when listening to our politicians. It’s now used when discussing almost any political subject: international relations, immigration, crime, healthcare and the legal system, to name just a few. The Human Rights Act, in force since 2000, is now a cornerstone of our legal system, though some would like to abolish or replace it.

But new research shows the extent to which this level of debate is a fairly recent phenomenon. As part of Alan Renwick’s wider research project into changing patterns of debate about political reform in the UK, I have been looking through Hansard records of parliamentary debates since the Second World War.  From analysis of all bills, debates, questions and statements in the House of Commons and the House of Lords from 1945 to 2005, a remarkably clear and consistent trend towards talk about human rights emerges. In the 1940s, the terms “human right” and “human rights” were used in Parliament around 15–40 times every year. As the graph below shows, by the 2000s, this had increased to 400–600 times – a huge change.

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Patrick Porter

Finally after a busy teaching term I’ve got a chance to add some thoughts to the great post and articles by Jon Western and Joshua Goldstein on humanitarian intervention.

Bottom line: I think Jon and Joshua make a robust case that not only can intervention work, but that the international community is learning effectively how to go about it. As they argue, it is a technique of statecraft that is being refined and better understood. It might not necessarily transform societies on every metric of human well being, but prompt military action combined with due attention to the rule of law, security and institutions can fend off predators and give oppressed peoples a chance – a breathing space - to rebuild. East Timor, Sierra Leone, and who knows, maybe even Libya testify to this.

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