Today I will share Paul A. Shapiro’s introductory remarks of February 26, 2014 at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Ambassador György Szapáry organized an event to mark the publication of The Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a Genocide, the latest in a series called “Documenting Life and Destruction” published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The book is authored by Hungarian Holocaust scholars László Csősz, Zoltán Vági, and Gábor Kádár. They belong the younger generation of historians dealing with the subject of the Hungarian Holocaust. Gábor Kádár wrote several books together with Zoltán Vági, one of which was translated into English: Self-Financing Genocide: The Gold Train–The Becher Case–The Wealth of Jews, Hungary. In Hungarian, one of their important contributions is Hullarablás–A magyar zsidók gazdasági megsemmisítése and their latest, A végső döntés: Berlin, Budapest, Birkenau 1944. László Csősz is an associate of the Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center and is interested in the anti-Jewish laws and their economic consequences.
Paul Shapiro is the director for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the Holocaust Museum in Washington. This is not the first time his name has appeared in Hungarian Spectrum. A year ago I published his testimony on the growing anti-Semitism in Hungary before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. This time his remarks were delivered before a small gathering in the Hungarian Embassy, and I thought they deserved a larger audience.
But first I would like to say a few words about the standoff between the Hungarian government and Mazsihisz (Magyarországi Zsidó Hitközségek Szövetsége/The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities). As you know, Viktor Orbán postponed the erection of the controversial statue that would have depicted Hungary as an innocent victim of German aggression and thus innocent of the Hungarian Holocaust.
Since then not much has happened except that ever more local religious communities are refusing to accept money from the Hungarian government for events connected with the memorial year. Among them is one of the more important synagogues in Budapest, on Leó Frankel Street. Apparently it is well attended by mostly young and highly educated people. A statement was released by the Frankel Synagogue Foundation a couple of weeks ago:
The Frankel Synagogue Foundation, in agreement with the Frankel synagogue community, does not wish to use the financial support it has won through an open tender from the Hungarian Government Civil Fund for the memorial events marking the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust.Our aim is to draw attention to the government’s presentation of the Horthy era in a positive light, the appearance of Arrow Cross writers on the national curriculum and its qualification of mass murders as an “alien citizens’ procedure” as well as several other manifestations that are incompatible with granting support for memorial events that pay tribute to the victims of mass murders or an honourable way of thinking.Naturally, we will still hold our memorial events. But do not wish to use support from a government that displays turncoat behavior, arousing the indignation of the majority of Hungary’s Jewish community as well as the democratic international community.
Paul Shapiro–Introductory Remarks
The Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a Genocide
Embassy of Hungary
February 26, 2014
Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. I want to express appreciation to my friend Ambassador Szapary and the Hungarian Embassy for organizing this program and for hosting us here this evening.
Having been asked to say a few words of introduction, I would like to offer some comments regarding the book that we will hear about this evening, and then share a few words about why we feel this book is important, and why it is particularly important at this particular moment, during a year that marks the 70th anniversary of the deportation by Hungarian government and police authorities, acting in cooperation with a small band of Adolf Eichmann’s men and with the knowledge and assent of Regent Miklós Horthy, of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to their deaths at Auschwitz-Birkenau; during a year that marks the 70th anniversary of the crude crimes and murders perpetrated during the Arrow Cross (Nyilas) regime, which cost the lives of additional thousands of Jews; and during a 70th anniversary year that will be followed by Hungary’s assumption of the Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
First, about the book.
Many of you know that one of the mandates that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum received at its founding from the Congress of the United States is to assemble at the Museum archival collections that will enable scholars and educators to undertake serious research and to teach about the Holocaust based on the authentic historical record as reflected in original documentation from the years of the Holocaust itself. Our archives contain tens of millions of documents collected from some 40 countries worldwide, including Hungary.
Most of this documentation, of course, is not in English. And again in response to our Congressional mandate, “to educate about the Holocaust,” one of the projects we have undertaken in recent years, through a publication series that we call “Documenting Life and Destruction,” is to make available to English-speaking audiences worldwide authentic documentation of the Holocaust in English translation, so that it can be studied and used in teaching. The Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a Genocide is the newest volume in that publication series.
What is special about this particular volume. The content of the volume, of course, is powerful—a story of mass murder that took place when it was already clear that Hungary and her Axis allies would lose the war. The Holocaust in Hungary is the story of one of every 10 Jews murdered during the Holocaust, and the book reveals through the original documents that it presents to the reader, the prejudices, anti-Semitism among cultural and other societal elites, political calculations and decisions, and absence of compassion that produced that horrible death toll of innocent victims. Also special, all three of the authors of this important volume are young Hungarian scholars, each a Ph.D. and exceptionally well trained. All three have been visiting fellows at our Museum, having succeeded, on the basis of the quality of their work, in winning fellowships through the very rigorous international competition that we organize each year. Two of the authors were on the four-person design team of experts that created the extraordinary and historically accurate permanent exhibition at the Holocaust Memorial Center on Pava Street in Budapest a decade ago; and the third author, László Cősz, is currently the Senior Historian at that very special Hungarian institution. So we know that the volume is of high quality. That Randolph Braham, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the City University of New York and one of the rare survivors of the Hungarian Jewish Labor Service, has provided a foreword to the book further adds to its authority. Thus, this book, on its merits, deserves special attention, and again, I want to thank the Embassy for this opportunity to present it.
Now, why do I stress the importance of this book at this particular moment? The answer lies not in our archives, not at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at our Museum, and not in Washington, … but in Hungary.
Last year, the Hungarian Government announced an extensive set of programs and projects that it intended to sponsor during this 70th anniversary year of the tragic, murderous 1944 events to which I have already made reference. Some of the projects were controversial, and were perceived to suggest a continuation of disturbing trends that might result in distortion of the true history of the Holocaust. But the Government promised consultation, inclusion, and transparency, and solicited advice and recommendations, even from my own institution. Some of our recommendations were included in my testimony before a Congressional Committee nearly a year ago, and thanks to the assistance of Ambassador Szapáry, we were able to share our thoughts in person and in writing with officials of high state authority in Budapest. I won’t repeat the content of my testimony, but I will say that we still feel that our recommendations had merit, and that it is unfortunate that not one of them has been embraced by the Government of Hungary. But that is not the crux of the matter. As I say, it is not what happens in Washington that is important in this story, but what is happening in Hungary.
Regrettably, recent developments surrounding three of the government’s 70th anniversary projects have raised doubts about whether true consultation and transparency exists—that is, consultation and open discussion in which serious objections and carefully argued suggestions might be taken seriously. You all know the three issues: 1) the offensive and history-cleansing remarks made by Sándor Szakály, director of the newly created Veritas History Institute, which appeared to whitewash actions of the Horthy government that resulted in the deportation from Hungary of 18,000 Jews in 1941 and the murder of most of them; 2) the rush to create and display an “alternate history” of the Holocaust, without the guidance and input of leading Holocaust scholars and the Hungarian Jewish community, at a new museum, the so-called “House of Fates,” being installed at the Jázsefváros rail station on the outskirts of Budapest, rather than strengthening the city’s existing Holocaust Memorial Center; and, most recently, the planned German occupation monument, which, by making it appear that Hungary was an innocent victim, most observers consider will lead to a downplaying of “the active contribution of the Hungarian authorities” and “the Hungarian state’s central role in the mass deportations of 1944.” (See AFP, “US Scholar Returns Hungary Award over Whitewash, January 26, 2014; and New York Times, “Holocaust Scholar Returns Top Award to Hungary in Protest,” January 27, 2014).
Professor Braham, whose expertise is uniquely respected around the world, sees a “campaign of history falsification.” A group of researchers and historians from within and outside Hungary have issued an open statement of concern (dated January 28, the full text is available on Amerikai Magyar Népszava, February 2, 2014). Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice in Budapest, has issued a statement calling for an end to “mixed messages” and objecting to an occupation monument approach that promotes “utter amnesia regarding the role of the Hungarian government in the worst atrocities of that tragic occupation.” (Lantos Foundation Statement, February 3, 2014). Clearly, these prominent personalities are signaling a serious crisis of confidence in the Holocaust Memorial Year.
But the most revealing and grave indication that a change of course is necessary has been the reaction of the country’s still vibrant, though of course much smaller, Jewish community. Without recounting the entire sequence of events, it is sufficient to say here that a significant number of Jewish organizations, including some of the most important—MAZSIHISZ, that is, The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, The Dohány Synagogue Foundation, The Hungarian Jewish Cultural Association, regional Jewish community associations, and others—after seeking to consult with the government and seeing their concerns and suggestions rejected, have announced that they will no longer participate in Holocaust Memorial Year events. Institutions and individuals that had received grants from the government’s Holocaust Memorial Year fund have returned the grant monies in order to emphasize their objections. (Some non-Jewish associations have done the same.) When one considers that many of these organizations receive their core funding from the state budget, it is difficult to overstate the courage they have shown by speaking out, and it is impossible to fail to understand the depth of concern that has generated their protest.
It would be difficult to characterize the government’s response thus far as forthcoming. Minister of State János Lázár, who is managing the Holocaust Memorial Year agenda, has accused MAZSIHISZ of “sabotage,” of issuing “ultimatums,” and of thus putting at risk long-term “Jewish-Hungarian coexistence.” To a community commemorating the 70th anniversary of the murder of over three quarters of its members, such language must sound chilling indeed. Construction of the German occupation monument has been delayed … temporarily, but up to now there is no sign that other corrective steps are being taken. I did note, however, that after Minister of State Lázár met with a round table of Jewish community representatives on February 6, he stated that without the support of the Jewish communities, the “House of Fates” project “would be meaningless,” and he stated that “it is important to unravel the events of 1944, in order to clearly determine responsibility” (Government of Hungary Press Release, February 6, 2014). As my friend Ambassador Szapáry knows from our conversations, I am an eternal optimist. If Mr. Lázár’s statements indicate a willingness to consult in earnest, I would urge the Hungarian government to heed MAZSIHISZ’s call for significant investment to dramatically strengthen the programs and capabilities of Holocaust Memorial Center as Hungary’s principal institution for Holocaust education, school visits, and research. And in light of the potential for distortion and misunderstanding of the history of the Holocaust in Hungary that has raised so much concern, I would encourage the government to consider again the possible establishment of a high-level international commission of scholars to prepare for the government, on the basis of authentic archival documentation, a report to be made public that will “unravel,” to borrow the Minister of State’s word, in an unequivocal and authoritative manner, the historical questions to which Mr. Lázár has referred and other Holocaust-related issues where the history can be clarified.
Seventy years ago, the state leadership of Hungary—Regent Miklós Horthy and his government ministers, in particular—failed to listen to the repeated desire for inclusion and, later, the urgent pleas for help in extremis that came from Hungary’s Jewish community. What the country’s Jewish citizens got, instead, was anti-Semitic legislation; exclusion from the protection of the state; deportation and death at Kamenetz Podolski; murder in Újvidék; gassing at Auschwitz-Birkenau; death marches; and, under Szálasi, fanatical killings on the streets and on the banks of the Danube in Budapest during the final months of the war. For Horthy, Szálasi, and others who held leading positions in Hungary at the time—as for Adolf Eichmann and his group of SS-men—this record has left a stain on their legacy that must be confronted honestly and that will never be wiped clean, however much all who care deeply about Hungary might wish the situation to be otherwise. Historical fact is historical fact, and neither wishing, nor lobbying, nor wilful or even unintended manipulation can change that.
Today, once again, the Jewish community of Hungary is seeking real inclusion, real consultation, and is pleading for today’s more modern, better educated, democratically elected state leadership, to listen to their legitimate concerns and to be responsive regarding appropriate commemoration of the Holocaust; preservation in a dignified way of the memory of the majority of the Jewish community that was lost forever; and commitment to teaching Hungary’s young people the historical truth, without distortion, obfuscation, or the presentation of more convenient or more comforting “alternate facts.” As in Horthy’s time, the long-term legacy of today’s national leadership vis-à-vis the tragedy of the Holocaust, will depend on the Hungarian government’s response.
The book of László Csősz, Zoltán Vági, and Gábor Kádár demonstrates that the truth regarding many issues that have been deemed “controversial” is knowable and documentable. We are hopeful that this book may provide a starting point for corrective action that will alter the trajectory of events in Hungary that I have described. Our Museum stands ready, as we have stated repeatedly, to contribute in ways that we can to serious remedial efforts. We will continue during this anniversary year to promote and present well-documented scholarly work on the Holocaust in Hungary. There will be a full-day symposium on this subject at the Museum on March 19. I hope that you will attend.
With thanks again to Ambassador Szapáry for his indulgence, let me now turn the floor over to Dr. László Csősz.
Although the Hungarian media is absolutely full of the story of a forthcoming book written by János Zuschlag, a former MSZP member of parliament who spent six years in jail for embezzling about 50 million forints while he was undersecretary in the short-lived Ministry of Sports. He alleges that MSZP paid him 50 million forints to refrain from entering the 2006 parliamentary election as a candidate. I am not wasting time on the Zuschlag allegation because I consider it a bogus issue being used by Fidesz as yet another weapon against the opposition, strategically released a month before the election.
Instead, I would rather call attention to another election trick introduced by Viktor Orbán’s team that will make the democratic opposition’s chances on April 6 even slimmer. They decided to change the rules for getting on the ballot. According to the old rules, each voter received a piece of paper which he could hand to a canvasser from the party of his choice. The number of endorsements each candidate had to collect was pretty high, and therefore it was difficult for bogus parties to enter the race. But as a result of the changed rules voters now can endorse several parties, and the candidates need only 500 signatures. In addition, Fidesz decided to be generous with public money. They allocated 6 billion forints to distribute among all parties, including these new no-name parties and candidates. As things stand now, there are so many new parties that the 6 billion forints most likely will not be enough. It may cost the budget 10.5 billion forints to pay off those who are ready for this ugly game.
Originally, Fidesz claimed that eliminating the second round of elections would save a great deal of money. As it is turning out, with these generous subsidies the cost of the election will be exactly the same as if there had been two rounds of elections. I should also mention that although the European parliamentary election could have been held together with the national one this year, the combined election was torpedoed by Fidesz because they calculated that its results would be unfavorable to them.
The total subsidy to each party will depend on the number of districts in which their candidates run. Those parties which manage to have at least 27 candidates in Budapest as well as candidates in 9 counties will be able to have a nationwide list. The well known, established parties naturally had no difficulty gathering the necessary 500 signatures in all 106 individual districts. They are Fidesz-KDNP (Viktor Orbán), Jobbik (Gábor Vona), LMP (András Schiffer), MSZP-Együtt-PM-DK-MLP (Attila Mesterházy), and Munkáspárt (the communist party headed by Gyula Thürmer). They were joined by a new party I had never heard of called A Haza nem Eladó Mozgalom Párt (The Homeland is Not for Sale, Árpád Kásler). Given the name, I assume that it is a far-right opposition party.
Yesterday twelve new parties were registered: Sportos és Egészséges Magyarországért Párt (Party for Fit and Healthy Hungary, Patrícia Pásztori ), Szociáldemokraták Magyarországi Polgári Pártja (Bourgeois Party of Social Democrats of Hungary, Andor Ákos Schmuck), Független Kisgazda-, Földmunkás és Polgári Párt (Party of Independent Smallholders, Farmworkers and the Middle Class, Péter Hegedüs), az Együtt 2014 Párt (Party of Together 2014, György Tiner), Új Magyarország Párt (New Hungary Party, Péter Táncsics), Közösség a Társadalmi Igazságosságért Néppárt (Community of Social Justice, Katalin Szili), Magyarországi Cigánypárt (Gypsy Party of Hungary, Aladár Horváth), Zöldek Pártja (Party of the Greens, László Ács) , Új Dimenzió Párt (New Dimension Party, Szabolcs Kovács), a Jólét és Szabadság Demokrata Közösség (Democratic Community for Welfare and Freedom, Zsolt Makay), Összefogás Párt (Party of Unity, Zsolt László Szepessy), and Seres Mária Szövetségesei (Associates of Mária Seres). Now you understand why the name change from Összefogás (Unity Alliance) to Kormányváltás (Change of Government) was necessary. Of course, there’s still the potential confusion between az Együtt 2014 Párt and Bajnai’s party that belongs to Kormányváltás.
Originally the National Election Commission registered 80 parties and 2,600 individual candidates. Total chaos reigned at the Commission. The first list they released still had 31 parties, which then was reduced to 18. The word is that this may not be the final version. This is what the ballot would have looked like with 31 parties in their allotted places on the list:
Early enough it became clear that at least 1,000 of the individual candidates couldn’t get 500 signatures. But still there remained more than 1,500. However, 300 of the 1,000 appealed the decision and their cases are pending.
Among the smaller parties there were several who did surprisingly well–for example, the Social Democrats of Andor Schmuck and Democratic Community for Welfare and Freedom of Zsolt Makay, a party that is a revived segment of the old MDF. They will receive 400-450 million forints. Even Aladár Horváth’s Gypsy Party will get about 300 million forints. I might add here that individual candidates will each receive 1 million forints, and these people will have to account for every penny they spend. The parties themselves have a great deal of freedom and can easily cheat.
So, we are talking about more than 1,500 candidates representing 18 parties. That means they had to collect 750,000 signatures altogether. Admittedly, a single voter can sign several endorsement lists, but still this is a very high number especially when better known small parties couldn’t manage to get the necessary number of signatures. Suspicion lingers that some of these bogus parties got their signatures illegally, by swapping data bases. If Party X had a lot of signatures in Baranya but few in Csongrád, they swapped names with Party Y which was strong in Csongrád but weak in Baranya.
Fidesz politicians refuse to admit that their generosity toward smaller parties served the purpose of confusing voters and weakening the opposition. They proudly point to the democratic nature of the procedure. But the fact that the threshold of parliamentary representation was not lowered from the existing 5% reveals Fidesz’s real goal. They didn’t want to give small parties a chance to share power with them in parliament. They simply wanted to use them.
The parties’ place on the ballot was decided by lottery. Here is the (perhaps) final list: 1. Magyarországi Cigány Párt, 2. A Haza Nem Eladó Mozgalom Párt, 3. Seres Mária Szövetségesei, 4. Független Kisgazdapárt, 5. Új Dimenzió Párt, 6. Fidesz–KDNP, 7. Sportos és Egészséges Magyarországért Párt, 8. Lehet Más a Politika, 9. Jólét és Szabadság Demokrata Közösség, 10. Új Magyarország Párt, 11. Munkáspárt, 12. Szociáldemokraták Magyar Polgári Pártja, 13. Közösség a Társadalmi Igazságosságért Néppárt, 14. Együtt 2014 Párt, 15. Zöldek, 16. Összefogás Párt, 17. MSZP–Együtt–PM–DK–Liberálisok, 18. Jobbik.
The National Election Committee already announced that it will be necessary to have more voting booths and that there might be long lines because of the slowness of the procedure. It is also likely that the final results will not be released as promptly as in the past.
Good luck, Hungarian voters!
* * *
Hungary: An Election in Question
Part V: The Unequal Campaign
Kim Lane Scheppele, Princeton University
Officially, the election campaign in Hungary starts 50 days before an election, so the race began in earnest on 15 February for the 6 April election. Once the campaign period starts in Hungary, special rules ensure that all parties are treated equally.
But as Anatole France once said, “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.”
We’ve already seen how the new system in Hungary was designed to push opposition parties into an uncomfortable alliance and to require they win by a substantial margin to win at all. And we’ve seen how the system of minority and foreign voting has opened the doors for Fidesz voters while closing them to those who would vote for opposition parties.
Not surprisingly, the rules for the campaign period itself also have a similar logic.
A free and fair election requires that all contesting parties have equal access to the media to get their message out. The new Law on Election Procedure, which regulates media access during the campaign period, formally complies with formal equality. For the first time since the first post-communist election, the parties running national lists will receive equal numbers of free minutes on public television to make their case to the public. This is a victory for equality and transparency.
But a closer look at the small print reveals that it is a trap. The law allocates only 600 minutes total for all parties with national lists (including the “nationality” lists) and it requires that these minutes be equally divided. If, as the head of the National Election Commission predicted in his 29 January press conference with the Hungarian Foreign Press Association, there are 10 or 12 national lists contesting in the April election, each party would be entitled to 50-60 minutes to be used over 50 days. One minute per day on television is not much – especially when those minutes appear on the public television station, which is the least watched major television station in the country.
In addition, what the law gave with one hand it took away with the other. The election law originally gave free minutes on public television while simultaneously banning paid advertising on commercial television, a move which the not-yet-packed Constitutional Court struck down in December 2012 as a violation of free speech rights. The government then added this provision directly to the Constitution in April 2013 through the infamous Fourth Amendment. The European Commission found this provision contrary to European law and threatened a legal action over it. Eventually, the Hungarian government backed down and modified the commercial broadcast ban in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution passed in September 2013, permitting all parties to advertise in the commercial broadcast media during the election campaign.
But here, too, there was a catch: parties are only allowed to run campaign ads on commercial television if the commercial broadcasters donate the time and give this free time to all national lists equally. It is hard to imagine a for-profit television station giving free advertising time to all parties equally, especially when there are likely to be 10-12 lists. So it was not surprising that all of the commercial channels, the most watched channels in Hungary, have already said that they will not run campaign ads in this election cycle. In fact, there will be no prime ministerial debates either.
So the EU pressure and resulting constitutional amendment designed to open up the commercial media to campaign advertising have produced absolutely nothing. The only campaign ads on television during the campaign this year will be on the public broadcaster alone.
So how else can the parties and candidates get their message out?
Parties are allowed by the campaign law to advertise without limit on billboards. But, as it turns out, most of the display advertising space in the country is owned by companies in the possession of the circle of oligarchs close to Fidesz (Mahir, Publimont and EuroCity). If the opposition parties buy billboard space, the proceeds go straight into the pocket of the Fidesz family of companies.
As it turns out, however, having the opposition enrich the governing party through the purchase of billboard space was the least of the problems with the monopoly on billboards. One of the leaders of the Unity Alliance told me on a recent trip to Budapest that all of the billboards in the country are sold out for the duration of the campaign and not available for purchase. But one can see already that Fidesz-friendly billboards are everywhere. As I write, Budapest streets, streetcars, metro stations and other public spaces are flooded with Fidesz-friendly ads, using the spaces owned by the Fidesz-friendly companies.
What about newspapers? Fidesz has a large group of party-friendly newspapers, owned by their oligarch allies. By contrast, the Unity Alliance has a smaller group of much-poorer newspapers that are sympathetic to them. So far, no advertisements from the allied opposition have appeared in the Fidesz-friendly media which don’t need the money while advertisements for Fidesz have already appeared in the opposition papers which cannot afford to turn down paying ads.
So the media landscape is severely tilted against the Unity Alliance, which now needs to get a new message out to let people know what this new joint party is all about.
If most of the regular broadcast and print media are not open to the democratic opposition, however, surely, of course, the parties can plaster the light posts, bus stops, trees, walls and other public surfaces with posters and handbills, right? Actually, not.
A law from 2011 that received virtually no attention at the time it was passed bans commercial advertisements and political messages from major thoroughfares around the country. It is billed as a safety measure, designed to keep drivers’ eyes on the road. Suddenly the law came into public view, however, when a late-Friday-afternoon prime ministerial decree on 17 January 2014 added campaign posters to the list of advertisements already banned by this prior law. Now no campaign ads can be placed within 50 meters of a major road or 100 meters of a highway, joining the prior ban on other kinds of posters.
A Budapest ordinance adds to the spaces from which political posters are banned. Acting in the name of environmentalism and heritage preservation, the Fidesz-dominated Budapest City Council has prohibited political posters from going up on bridges, on metro station walls, in street underpasses, on statues and memorials – and on trees. A 26-page addendum to the law adds many specific places where posters may not be placed, and the list includes almost every major square and public meeting point in the city.
Of course, incumbent parties can find many ways to keep themselves in the public eye, so restrictions on the media disproportionately tend to affect challengers. So how is the opposition supposed to get its message out for this campaign given that all of the traditional avenues are blocked?
Well, there’s the internet. But anyone who has read the comments sections of Hungarian newspapers, blogs or other public spaces on the internet (even the Krugman blog!) knows how quickly government-supporting trolls try to occupy and dominate the space. And while internet-based media like Facebook are good at reaching the young and the educated, it is still not a universal medium.
What about mailing campaign literature to supporters and reaching them by phone? A recent announcement from the head of the data protection office (the office whose independence is being questioned in an infringement action before the European Court of Justice seems to limit even this sort of access to voters by parties.
According to Attila Péterfalvi, the government’s data protection official, political parties must notify him when they intend to keep lists of their supporters. (EU law, by the way, does not require the regulation of such lists, but confines its scope to lists kept by the government.) Péterfalvi told the parties that they may not use for campaign purposes lists of addresses in the phone book, nor may they call people who have not explicitly indicated that they welcome campaign calls. The Election Office added to this privacy protection by sending all voters a letter that explains how to opt out of receiving campaign materials. So access to voters through these traditional means has been limited in the name of data privacy.
Perhaps the opposition can hold campaign rallies and stage personal appearances by the candidates to reach voters? But already a friend in Debrecen tells me that the Unity Alliance has had a hard time finding a place to hold a rally there because all of the spaces large enough for such a gathering are controlled by the Fidesz allies. They have either forbidden all political rallies or charge so much for the use of the space that the opposition parties cannot afford it.
Which brings us to campaign finance reform as another aspect of the campaign regulation in which rich and poor alike are banned from sleeping under bridges.
The new campaign finance law attempts to regulate campaign spending by publicly funding campaigns. Before the Fidesz reforms, campaign finance was completely non-transparent and had few enforceable rules. It was listed as one of the policy areas most deserving of reform by Transparency International, so change is a good thing.
On the surface, the campaign finance picture looks much better. All of the parties running national party lists get equal amounts of public money (between € 475,000 and € 2 million, depending on the number of candidates fielded) and each candidate gets a fixed amount of money in addition (about € 3400). This will provide transparent funding for all parties equally, something very much needed.
Political parties can still accept private money, though, up to a defined limit. But of course there is a catch. Now, suddenly, no campaign may accept private money from a foreigner (understandable). But, in addition, no party may accept money from a “legal person” – meaning any company, NGO, foundation or trust. After the US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, permitting corporations to give unlimited cash to American campaigns, the ban on corporate donations in Hungary may seem a great idea to Americans. But context is everything. Fidesz is funded by a set of oligarchs tied to the party who can give virtually unlimited amounts as individuals. The Unity Alliance, by contrast, has been funded by party-allied foundations, which now cannot contribute to the campaign. The campaign finance regulations are, like Anatole France’s aphorism, designed to equally prohibit what the rich don’t need and the poor can’t do without.
But there is clearly an election coming because, on the streets of Budapest, there are huge billboards and posters everywhere attacking the Unity Alliance.
These ads (see above) show the three of the leaders of the Unity Alliance (Mesterházy, Bajnai and Gyurcsány) with a Socialist former deputy major of Budapest (Miklós Hagyó) who is currently facing trial for corruption. Hagyó is not running for any office in this election, so he is there on the posters to convey guilt by association. The message, which blares “They don’t deserve another chance” shows all of the men holding placards of the sort featured in police mug shots. And seen also in the photo is the clown, who has been making appearances at events of these candidates, following them around to make fun of them. These sorts of messages are unregulated by the campaign finance rules – or in fact by any campaign rules at all.
Why not? They’re not sponsored by Fidesz but instead by the CÖF (which stands for Civil Összefogás Fórum or the Civil Unity Forum). As it turns out, civil society organizations can advertise without being limited by either the campaign media rules or the campaign finance rules. As a result, CÖF has plastered the city with election ads on billboards owned by Fidesz-friendly billboard companies, and none of these ads count toward Fidesz’s money or media allocations under the election law.
Of course the united opposition could do this also, if it had the wealthy backers. But virtually all of the wealth in Hungary stands behind Fidesz. And even if there were rich backers of the united opposition, they would still have to buy the billboard space from Fidesz-friendly companies, billboard space that is now conveniently all sold out.
* * *
The Orbán government vociferously insists that it is still a democracy. But in its four years in power, the Orbán government has been preparing for the moment when it actually has to get through an election in order to still be able to make that claim. Not surprisingly, this government of lawyers has created a complex legal framework in which the rules may appear to be neutral, but they don’t have neutral effects.
Fidesz has designed a system that allows it to face an apparently contested election without the real possibility of losing. With this election, then, Hungary has mastered the art of appearing to be something it is not – a true democracy holding free and fair elections.
A brief history of the subcarpathian region of Ukraine; Kim Scheppele’s “Hungary, An Election in Question, Part 4″
Way back I wrote an M.A. thesis in Russian and East European Studies at Yale University on the nationality problems of the revolutions of 1918-1919. Therefore I spent quite a bit of time studying the area of Subcarpathia which today belongs to Ukraine. Since there is so much talk about the region nowadays, I thought you might be interested in the area’s modern history.
According to the official statistics of 1910, there were almost 500,000 Ruthenians living in Hungary, scattered in several counties which today belong to Ukraine and Slovakia. The languages spoken in the area were dialects of Ukrainian, called lemko, boiko, and hutsul. The indigenous population called itself Rusyn. According to the same statistics, at that time there were only 542 persons whose mother tongue was Ruthenian in all of Hungary practicing “intellectual professions.” Most of them were actually Greek Catholic priests. Only 1,264 Ruthenians lived in towns, and only 50.8% of them above the age of six were literate. So, we are speaking of a very backward area.
The Károlyi regime (1918-1919) belatedly tried to appease the nationalities and Oszkár Jászi, who was an expert on the nationality question, began negotiations with several nationalities, including the Ruthenians. As a result, the Ruthenians were granted territorial autonomy under the name of Ruszka Krajna. It was on December 25, 1918 that Ruszka Krajna officially became an autonomous region within Hungary with its own parliament (seim) chosen on the basis of universal suffrage with the capital in Mukachevo (Munkács).The seim was granted autonomy in matters of language, religion, education, and justice. In addition, there was a separate ministry dealing only with Ruthenian affairs, headed by Dr. Oreszt Szabó, apparently of Ruthenian nationality. Augustin Stefan, the governor, was also supposed to be Ruthenian. Unfortunately, by the time the election took place on March 4, 1919, most of Subcarpathia was occupied by foreign troops, with the exception of Bereg County.
After the declaration of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, Ruszka Krajna retained its autonomy, and on April 2 a Ruthenian constitution appeared in Rus’ka Pravda, a Ruthenian newspaper published in Budapest. The constitution was a reworked version of the one enacted by the Károlyi government. All this effort was in vain, however, because within a month the whole area was occupied by Czechoslovak and Romanian troops. Recognizing a fait accompli, a newly established national council voted in Uzhgood/Ungvár on May 8, 1919 for the unification of the Ruthenian autonomous region with Czechoslovakia.
Edvard Beneš, foreign minister of Czechoslovakia, admitted that Czechoslovakia was not really entitled to this area on the basis of nationality but, considering the situation in Russia and the Soviet danger, Czechoslovakia assumed the role of temporary caretaker of Ruthenia until it could be safely attached to Russia. In the Czechoslovak period Ruthenian autonomy was “nominal.” All Ruthenian legislation was made subject to approval by the president of the republic, and the governor of Ruthenia was nominated by the president. As a result, even the constitutional provision for autonomy was never implemented; the Ruthenian parliament was never convened. Ruthenians were not happy with their lot in Czechoslovakia, and they kept looking outside for remedies. The Russophiles envisaged Ruthenia as part of the Russian nation; the Ukrainophiles considered Ruthenia part of the Ukrainian nation, and the Ruthenophiles said that Carpatho-Ruthenians were a separate nation and therefore they wanted to develop a native Rusyn language and culture.
On March 15, 1939 the Ukrainophile president of Carpatho-Ruthenia, Avhustyn Voloshyn, declared its independence as Carpatho-Ukraine. On the same day Hungarian Army regular troops began to occupy the new state. It was from this area that 22,000 Jews were deported to Kamenets-Podolskii in July 1941.
In 1944 the Soviet Army occupied the area, and in 1946 it was annexed to the Ukrainian SSR. During the Soviet period Rusyn as a separate nationality was not recognized. Nowadays the majority of the population of the Zakarpattya Oblast consider themselves Ukrainians.
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Hungary: An Election in Question
Part IV: The New Electorate (in which Some are more Equal than Others)
Kim Lane Scheppele, Princeton University
Hungary’s governing party Fidesz didn’t just rewrite the rules for the upcoming Hungarian election. The governing party changed the electorate as well. Different categories of citizens can now vote in different kinds of ways, which creates the very real possibility of unjust discrimination.
The 2014 election features two new voting systems that restructure the electorate and its options.
One permits each major nationality (i.e. minority) group in Hungary to elect a representative of its group to the parliament on a “preferential” basis that requires only one-quarter as many votes to claim the mandate. This system of positive discrimination may look admirable, but in practice limits rather than expands voting options of minority populations, as we will see.
The other gives the right to vote to ethnic Hungarians who never had permanent residency in Hungary. These are people to whom the new constitution has given a route to expedited citizenship upon application. New Hungarian citizens can now register and vote more easily than citizens who have permanent residency but who are abroad on election day. As a result, new dual citizens with the most tangential relationship to Hungary can more easily influence the election than can long-standing citizens whose primary political identity rests in Hungary.
In both cases, these voters with new options are being herded toward Fidesz-friendly results and away from support for the united opposition both because of the new rules and because of the confusing and misleading communications issuing from the offices in charge of running the election. Let’s take these new sorts of voters one by one.
In a move welcomed by the Venice Commission, the new election framework lays out a system in which members of 13 designated ethnic minority groups may vote for a “nationality list.” Though it is called a list, in practice it consists of one person because each minority group can only elect one representative in this new “preferential” way, while all subsequent representatives from the group are elected according to the more demanding conditions necessary to elect a representative on a party list.
While Germans, Romanians, Ukrainians and other registered groups possess the right to elect a minority representative in theory, the Roma constitute the only group who are likely to be able to muster the numbers to elect such a representative in fact.
This new system of nationality representation, however, comes with a number of catches.
First, members of minority groups who want to take advantage of this possibility must sacrifice their ability to use their second vote for a party list when they use their second vote to elect a nationality representative. This system therefore limits the incentives for political parties to court minority voters since minority voters cannot vote for parties if they vote for the nationality representative, further marginalizing them.
Then, minority voters must register in advance to take advantage of this option. According to the Electoral Procedure Law (Law XXXVI of 2013), minority voters must register at least two days before the election. Once they register, they cannot change their minds on election day itself to vote for a party list instead. (They can change their minds before the registration deadline.) The only choice that the registered minority voters have when election day comes is to vote for the representative of their group on offer, or to fail to cast their second ballots. This system, as a result, locks in the minority vote before the end of the campaign. Unlike the situation for any other voter, minority voters cannot decide in response to the full campaign whom to support.
Finally, and most consequentially, the specific candidate chosen to stand for election as a representative of the minority group must be, by law, selected by the national minority self-government, a body that was elected by each minority group in a special election four years ago. (These self-government organizations have been elected periodically since the mid-1990s to ensure representative decision-making bodies for minority affairs.) But the national minority self-government for the Roma at the moment is run by a group called Lungo Drom, whose leader, Flórián Farkas, is a Fidesz MP.
In short, if Roma choose to vote for a nationality representative, they cannot vote for a political party and their only choice is to elect a Fidesz MP, using their second votes that could have been used for any party list. Registering to “vote minority” therefore gives Roma no party choice at all. They must vote for a governing party representative.
Roma don’t have to register to vote for the nationality list if they don’t want to. But a letter sent in January from each local Election Office to all voters announced on the first page that Roma would have to register if they wanted to vote, and only on the second page explained in not-entirely-clear prose that Roma had to register only if they wanted to vote for the minority representative. In even more confusing language, the letter revealed that in doing so, Roma would lose the ability to use their second vote to for vote a political party.
When the letter went out, Roma started to register to vote in substantial numbers, largely unwittingly, for the minority representative. So far, the Election Office has not issued any correction, raising questions about what it was doing with its initial letter telling Roma to register to vote. Given that Roma who registered would find themselves excluded from being able to vote for the party lists on election day and would only have the option of voting for a Fidesz MP instead, this mix-up is worrying, especially when the governing party staffed the new Election Office.
The Election Office seems to be contributing to the confusion over the system for Roma voting in other ways as well. While the law clearly says that the nationality voters clearly have until two days before the election to lock in their vote for the nationality candidate (Law XXXIV of 2013, section 249), Ilona Pálffy, the head of the National Election Office announced in a press briefing to the Hungarian International Press Association on 29 January 2014 that nationality voters would have to register no later than eight days before the election and could not change their minds after that.
In fact, when I was interviewing officials and party representatives in Budapest about the new election framework recently, I often got different answers from different people about what the law required. When one gets an answer from the head of the National Election Office that differs so strikingly from the plain wording of the law, however, that is especially alarming. Will Roma be told, if they try to change their minds in the last week and “unregister” from the nationality list, that they can’t do so even though the law says otherwise? I hope that the National Election Office clarifies just what they believe the rule is – before the election.
It’s not just the Roma who have new rules about voting this time. The other newly registered group of voters consists of ethnic Hungarians living abroad who were given the right to apply for citizenship under the new Fidesz constitution. For historical reasons, the only Hungarians whose ancestors lost their citizenship en masse were living in the territories that had been part of historic Hungary but that were allocated to neighboring states by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. (Hungarians who left Hungary for other countries before or since retained their citizenship unless they explicitly renounced it.) This constitutional change made millions of ethnic Hungarians eligible for expedited citizenship, the vast majority still living in the neighboring countries.
As a result of the new citizenship law, about 575,000 Hungarians, primarily from the Trianon territories, have become citizens in the last year. (I’ll call them the Trianon Hungarians.) And as of mid-February, about 150,000 of them had registered to vote. But the deadline for registering to vote is 22 March so only then will it be clear how many of the new citizens will be new voters as well.
In three of Hungary’s neighbors, Ukraine, Slovakia and Austria, dual citizenship is not permitted. Ethnic Hungarians from these states who acquire Hungarian citizenship would lose their first citizenship if a second citizenship were discovered. (There is an exception for Austrian-Hungarian dual nationals who were refugees in 1956 and whose dual citizenship is specially protected by a treaty, but other Hungarians are not included under this treaty.)
To protect its nationals in the neighboring states, then, the Hungarian government has decided that the non-resident citizenship rolls should remain a state secret. As a result, the associated voter list remains secret as well. But how can a government run a fair election with secret voter rolls?
After opposition protest, the government agreed to allow members of the National Election Commission (including representatives of the parties running national lists) as well as international observers to see the foreign voters’ registration list (Law XXXVI of 2013 on Electoral Procedure, amended by Law LXXXIV of 2013). But the opposition parties and international observers are not permitted to take notes on the list or reproduce it in any way. Given these limitations, however, how anyone apart from the election officials check the list against the voters who actually vote or and how can political parties outside the government locate these voters to send them election materials? One cannot memorize hundreds of thousands of names and their identifying characteristics. So it is not clear if this level of access to the secret voter lists will be enough to ensure a fair vote.
The logistical problems raised by the non-resident voters don’t end there. In particular, there are few checks on either the process of voter registration or on the actual voting so as to ensure that those casting ballots are who they say they are, or that the ballots faithfully reflect what these voters decide. While applying for citizenship requires an appearance at a consulate or embassy, registering to vote does not. In fact, nowhere in the process does any official have to see precisely who it is that is either registering to vote or voting.
Instead, Trianon Hungarians can register on the internet, filling in a form that asks for information that is quite widely known about a person, especially in tightly knit communities. All you need to provide to register are your name, your maiden name (where applicable), the town and district where you were born, either your date of birth OR your personal ID number, and your mother’s name.
How does the National Election Office that registers the applicants know if the person actually named on the form was the person who filled out the registration request? Nowhere in the process is there an official check of identification or even the requirement of a signature, photograph or other validating evidence. (The general problem is captured in that famous cartoon where a dog sits at a computer and says “On the internet, no one can tell if you’re a dog.”) And, as we will see, the information doesn’t even have to strictly match what the Election Office has on file for that person.
Ballots will be sent out to whoever registers in the name of a citizen without any way to definitively tell whether it is the citizen herself who registered or whether the address to which the ballot will be sent is in fact the address of the voter. Given that voting will reveal that one has taken out dual citizenship in some countries where it is illegal, a voter might well want the ballot sent somewhere other than her home address in any event.
In fact, the Trianon Hungarians are the only ones allowed to vote by mail ballot, which longtime elections observers know is always the easiest place for fraud to sneak into an election operation. Hungary plans to use the usual double-envelope safeguard – where a voter fills in an attestation of identity attached to an outer envelope while the ballot itself is sealed in in an anonymous inner envelope that can be separated from this attestation once it is confirmed. So far, so good.
But there is precious little control over the envelopes themselves as they make their way to be counted. Not only does the ballot not have to be actually mailed, but the law permits bundlers to go around collecting ballots and then delivering them en masse to an embassy, consulate or other designated location. There are no checks on what these bundlers do with the ballots in their care and nothing to check whether they in fact they turn in all of the ballots they were given. There is even no way to tell whether bundlers who may well know the personal details of voters are filling in the ballots themselves or changing what they were given. Self-appointed bundlers can show up at any of the designated locations and deliver votes in unlimited numbers.
The number of ballots delivered to or cast at the polling places in the neighboring states must by law be registered each day in the run-up to the election, which means that consulate staff must tally the number of votes each day without anyone present from an election committee to supervise the opening and checking of the ballot boxes. Given how few checks are in place to check potential foul play in the foreign votes (or simply to give assurances that no foul play was attempted), this could be quite serious.
But surely these foreign ballots can’t really influence a national election? In Hungary, perhaps they can. Hungary has about 8 million registered voters, but only 5.1 million voters actually cast ballots in 2010. If most of the 500,000+ new citizens register to vote and actually vote, Trianon Hungarians could account for up to one-tenth of the electorate. These voters can only cast one ballot for the party list and cannot vote in a single-member district, which limits their impact on the overall result. (And it is another site of inequality.) But given that so much of this process of foreign-voter balloting is unverifiable in any rigorous way, even a modest effect on the election casts some doubts on the process.
The fairness of this system for counting foreign votes is made worse when one considers the other group of foreign-based voters who are treated differently from the Trianon Hungarians. Citizens who still have permanent residence in Hungary, but who are living abroad, must cast their vote in a decidedly more onerous way. Let’s call this latter group the Expat Hungarians.
Rather than permit Expat Hungarians to vote by mail, as the Trianon Hungarians are allowed to do, the government has insisted on sticking with the old system in place since 2006 for such voters: they have to vote at embassies or consulates. As a result, Expat Hungarians living or working in the UK, for example, must go to London, no matter where in the UK they live. Ditto with German-based Hungarians who have to travel to Berlin, Dusseldorf, or Munich. Expat Hungarians living in the US must travel to Washington, New York or Los Angeles. How much easier (and less expensive) it would be to vote by mail! But they are not allowed to do so.
Moreover, unlike the Trianon Hungarians, Expat Hungarians are not allowed to vote unless they show up in person and present ID (a passport, for example). Since Trianon Hungarians can vote without ever seeing an election official, no in-person identification is ever required of them. But such identification is required of the Expat Hungarians.
How many citizens are in the Expat Hungarian group? The government says at least 300,000 – but other estimates say as many as 500,000 – Hungarians are living or working outside the country without having given up their official permanent residence in Hungary. This, too, could be a substantial voting bloc, especially as their status gives them the chance to cast two votes just as if they were in the country. (One of those votes goes for the party list and the other for the constituency in which they are still registered.) But they have a much harder time casting their votes because they have to travel, often long distances, to do so.
Not surprisingly, however, the two groups of Hungarians living abroad have different political profiles. Hungarians in the Trianon territories would cast their votes overwhelmingly for Fidesz, if the polls are to be believed. A recent poll said 80% of ethnic Hungarians in Romania, for example, would vote for the governing party.
By contrast, Expat Hungarians are more likely to support the united opposition, or at least so the united opposition believes. While Expat Hungarians are no doubt a diverse group, the people most likely to move are probably the Hungarians who know languages and have networks, which implies that they may be younger and/or better educated. While young people are divided in their political views, the better educated voters are much more likely to vote for the united opposition. Either way, the sheer number of Expat Hungarians and the onerousness of the procedure for voting combine to depress voter turnout, which as we have seen, will benefit Fidesz.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union working with Együtt/PM (Together-Dialogue for Hungary, now part of the Unity Alliance) has challenged this disparate treatment of the two groups of foreign voters before the Constitutional Court. But even though the petition was filed in November 2013, the Constitutional Court has not yet decided. (A reminder: The Constitutional Court now has a solid majority since the government was able to name the 8th judge out of 15 in April 2013.) So it appears that the election will go forward with this double standard for Hungarians living abroad.
As the election nears, there are reports of worryingly bad advice for these foreign voters coming from election officials. Consulates in the US were given flyers prepared by local election offices that provided voting instructions for Expat Hungarians in the US. But these flyers specified the wrong election day. While election day in Hungary is 6 April, Hungarian voters in North America have to cast their ballots on 5 April, because of the time difference, in order to meet the deadlines set out in the law. If they followed the instructions they were given by their election office, they would be disqualified from voting.
Expat Hungarians in the UK were sent letters by their local election offices that gave them the wrong location of the London polling station. It turns out that, even though Expat Hungarians are generally supposed to vote at embassies and consulates, in some places (like London) voters actually have to go someplace else. But they were not told the correct location.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union has protested these flyers and asked that they be recalled.
The head of the National Election Office admitted that mistakes were made. But she did not apologize. Instead she said, rather oddly, that she “simply does not trust some of her colleagues.”
Coming on top of the confusing letter sent by the Election Office to all voters in Hungary about Roma registration, a letter that seemed to imply that all Roma had to register to vote at all, these flyers misinforming US and UK voters about when they need to cast their ballots causes particular concern.
The Election Office website doesn’t even appear to be neutral. On its site, the Election Office features a video from an unclear source, containing much nationalist imagery – and not so coincidentally Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself. It tells voters that “the nation” (meaning ethnic Hungarians) can vote on 6 April – a thinly veiled appeal to voters who overwhelmingly support the governing party (when they are not supporting Jobbik). Just why the Election Office has such a partisan message on its website has so far not been explained. The link is here to a website less likely to take the video down under criticism so you can see it for yourself.
From anecdotal evidence, the Election Office seemed to be making it easier for Trianon Hungarians to register to vote than for Expat Hungarians to register to vote abroad. Expat Hungarians were reporting that their registration was refused if they missed a diacritical mark, omitted some details of their home address, and failed to match the exact form of their mothers’ name that was in the official register. In fact, the complaints from Expat Hungarians were becoming so numerous that it caused us to go back and look at the law.
And sure enough, right there in paragraphs 84 and 92 of the Electoral Procedure Law (Law XXXVI of 2013), we see the reason. Election officials were explicitly told in this law to ignore typos, spelling mistakes, different forms of writing (e.g. Cyrillic), the use of foreign names to denominate geographical locations, or the provision of names, birth place, birth names and mother’s names in a different language. If any of those things are wrong with the form, so that the form does not in fact match the government’s register of citizens, the form must nonetheless be approved.
But this easy registration – permitted even with mistakes on the form – holds true only for the Trianon Hungarians. Expat Hungarians have to provide information that matches exactly the information in the government’s database. Hence the large numbers of rejections when Expat Hungarians tried to register to vote.
By the start of the political campaign on 15 February, more than 150,000 Trianon Hungarians had managed to register to vote, but only 5,000 Expat Hungarians had been able to do so, according to the MTI national news service. (Remember the two groups of voters are now roughly the same size.) The Election Office admitted that it had rejected at least 10% of the Expat applications. Expats who have been sharing notes abroad believe that number is actually much higher.
Hungary now has two different and quite large groups of foreign voters operating under two different systems of rules. And not surprisingly, the voters more likely to vote for Fidesz will have a much easier time casting their ballots than the voters who have less clear political affiliations or who are clearly more likely to vote for the united opposition.
Discrimination among different classes of citizens is therefore endemic in the new election system. Roma voters are forced to choose between voting for a nationality representative or a party list, and they are locked into their choice ahead of the election, which other voters are not. Trianon Hungarians can register to vote online with many mistakes in their application, and yet will be issued a ballot to vote by mail while Expat Hungarians have to meet the exact letter of the data in the government’s database in order to register. Then these Expat Hungarians have to show up in person at an embassy or consulate (or some other unannounced location) to show further identification in order to be able to vote. That is all assuming, of course, that they are given correct information about where and when to vote.
It’s not an equal system. And given that so much of this system will be new for everyone, the election offices’ bungling of instructions again and again raises a real cause for concern. It should cause special concern because so far, all of the “bungles” point in one direction – toward getting Roma to register to vote for the Fidesz MP, toward giving Fidesz-friendly voters the easiest possible path to voting and toward giving those of opposition or uncertain political leanings every roadblock imaginable, from refusing their registration on technical grounds to giving misinformation about voting dates and polling places.
As George Orwell famously said in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The same is now true of citizens in Hungary.
Every second voter wants change but Fidesz may win super majority again; Kim Scheppele’s “Hungary, An Election in Question, Part 3″
Here is living proof of the unfairness of the new Hungarian election law enacted by the current government party, Fidesz. While according to the latest poll every second person would like to see a change of government, the prediction is that if nothing changes between now and April 6, Fidesz will again have a two-thirds majority of the seats in parliament. Therefore, I strongly suggest that readers study Professor Kim Scheppele’s article on the Orbán government’s election law.
And there is a second oddity. While the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, misses no opportunity to show the European Union in a negative light, a recent poll indicates that the reputation of the European Union is on the rise in Hungary. Hungarians are a great deal more enthusiastic about the European Union than the average European citizen: 47% as opposed to 31% have a positive view of the Union. They even have a better opinion of the economic well being of Europe than most people and therefore may not believe the Orbán slogan “Hungary performs better” since they know that Hungary’s economic situation is not exactly rosy. It seems that Orbán’s war of independence mostly fell on deaf ears.
Although half of the electorate would like to see a different government, in the polls Fidesz leads by a mile. Among the population eligible to vote Fidesz comes in at 47% as opposed to the democratic opposition’s 29%. The government party lost a bit of its popularity in February but the united opposition which, by the way, wisely changed its name from Összefogás (unity) to “Kormányváltás” (change of government) hasn’t moved an inch. It was necessary to change the name of the united democratic opposition because a right-wing party already calls itself Összefogás Pártja (party of unity). I should add here that there might be close to 40 parties on the ballot, most of them total unknowns. It will be darned difficult even to find the democratic opposition on the list; by lottery it “won” thirty-first place.
How can we account for the discrepancy between the wishes of the population and the numbers of the pollsters? According to Medián, the answer might lie in the group that at the moment cannot find a party to vote for. In this part of the electorate 47% of the voters would like to see Viktor Orbán go while only 14% of these people are supporters of the current government. The question is whether this group will be inspired enough to go and vote or will stay at home, believing that the result is preordained.
One worrisome bit of news is that Jobbik has improved in the standings. Among both eligible and active voters 18% would vote for this neo-Nazi party. Compare that to Kormányváltás’s 29% and 30%.
When it comes to the popularity of politicians, no politician is really popular in Hungary because even the most popular has only 49%. At the head of the list are Fidesz politicians, but for the first time we find Jobbik’s Gábor Vona’s name among the top ten, right between Lajos Kósa and Tibor Navracsics. It seems that the most hated politician is not Ferenc Gyurcsány anymore but Rózsa Hoffman. Zsolt Semjén and András Schiffer are both near the bottom of the list.
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Hungary: An Election in Question
Part III: Compensating the Winners
Kim Lane Scheppele, Princeton University
Election analysts have predicted that the democratic opposition in Hungary cannot win a majority in the parliament if it produces a tied vote or even pulls somewhat ahead of Fidesz in the final vote. Instead, the allied opposition parties will have to get as many as 6-8% more votes than Fidesz to gain a simple parliamentary majority, mainly because of gerrymandered districts. But that’s not the only Fidesz-friendly element of the new electoral system.
If Fidesz wins these new single-member districts by substantial margins, Fidesz’ parliamentary representation will then be boosted even more by a novel system of “compensation votes.” To understand how this works, we need to understand how proportional representation (PR) systems are typically structured.
In PR systems, compensation is typically awarded in the calculation of final results to ensure that the distribution of seats in the legislature is as close as possible to the distribution of votes cast by the electorate. That’s what makes them proportional. For example, German parties are compensated by gaining extra votes in their party list totals when their candidates win a lower share of individual constituencies than the popular vote would predict.
Hungary’s system for awarding compensation based on the results in the single-member districts used to be quite similar to the German one, but no longer. The new electoral system now bizarrely compensates not just the losers, but also the winners. This new system increases the winner’s victory margin to create even more of a “winner take all” system. This will most likely ensure that the final tally of votes moves farther from the distribution of votes in the population as a whole rather than closer to the overall distribution, as PR systems typically ensure.
In short, majorities are magnified into super-majorities under this new system.
The new system of compensation is complicated and counterintuitive, so let’s start with the basics.
What is a “lost vote”? A lost vote is a vote for a candidate who loses. If, for example, you are voting in a district that has Red, Green and Yellow parties on offer and you vote for the Yellow candidate, who loses, your vote is considered “lost.” But that lost vote is used instead to help the party you voted for get an extra boost when party-list mandates are calculated. As a result, you are compensated for having “wasted” your vote for the individual candidate by having your vote supplement the party-list totals instead. This is the system Hungary had for compensating lost votes in the individual districts from 1990-2010.
Let’s take an example. Suppose the Red party wins a district with 500 votes while the Green party gets 200 votes and the Yellow party 100 votes. Under the old Hungarian compensation scheme, 200 votes for the Greens and 100 votes for the Yellows would be added to the Green and Yellow party-list votes so that those parties gained in strength when party-list mandates were determined.
Under the Fidesz reforms, however, not only do the Green and Yellow parties get compensation, but now the Red party also will be deemed to have “lost votes” in this election despite having actually won the seat.
How did the winning party “lose” votes? Some Red votes are counted as “lost” because the mandate could have been won with only 201 votes and yet the Red party got 500, exceeding what the party strictly needed to win the mandate. So under the new Fidesz system, 299 votes – the number of votes beyond those necessary to win – are considered lost and are added to the votes for the Red party when party-list seats are awarded.
Under Hungary’s new election system, then, the party winning an individual constituency will be awarded not only that particular mandate, but also extra points in the party-list calculations when it wins by more votes than needed. This is another reason why the electoral system in Hungary is even more highly disproportionate in 2014 than it was before.
The reason for having a proportional representation system is to enable representation to be proportional to the vote. But the Fidesz system makes representation less proportional overall. This innovation puts Hungary out of line with all PR systems in Europe.
The winner compensation system was designed at a time when Fidesz was clearly the plurality party, with all other parties trailing at a distance even though, combined, they would have been more formidable. So Fidesz designed a system in which it would maximally benefit in that fragmented political landscape. If Fidesz won by large margins in the individual districts against a divided opposition, it could have gotten its two-thirds back even with substantially less than half the vote.
The system of winner compensation is therefore another reason why the opposition had to form an alliance, even if only to narrow the gap between the first- and second-largest vote-getter in each individual constituency.
An example shows why. If Fidesz won 500 votes in an individual district and four smaller parties obtained 100 votes each, Fidesz would get 399 votes in winner compensation. But if Fidesz won 500 votes and the Unity Alliance combined the votes of the four smaller parties to gain 400 votes in that district, then Fidesz would only get 99 compensation votes added to its party-list votes. With a unified opposition, the effect of winner compensation is blunted.
So when does winner compensation actually benefit a political party facing a united opposition?
A party would benefit from the winner compensation system if it could encourage a host of new challengers on the “other side” to chip away at the difference between the first- and second-place candidates in each district, throwing additional votes to the winner. And in fact, the new electoral rules make it easier in 2014 than it was in 2010 to field new parties and new candidates, by requiring fewer supporters to endorse them before they can be registered. While we don’t yet know the number of parties that will actually run lists and field candidates, already there are 92 parties that have registered with the National Election Commission. If there are many small “anti-Fidesz” candidates in a particular constituency, for example, they could divide the vote and increase the margin by which Fidesz wins – and therefore increase Fidesz’s likelihood of getting its desired two-thirds majority.
Of course, if the united opposition could sweep the individual constituencies by large margins, then they could also win a disproportionate victory on the party list side as well. But that is why it matters so much that the individual constituencies are drawn in a way to make that maximally unlikely. There are very few safely “left” districts remaining that the united opposition could win by such large margins. So while it is possible in theory for the united opposition to win a disproportionate victory under the rules also, the facts on the ground and the way that the districts have been matched to those facts make it virtually impossible in reality.
But this is not the only “winner compensation” system on view for the 2014 Hungarian election. The fact that Fidesz so decisively won the 2010 election has given it the power to remake and staff the institutions that will run the election this time. In fact, the whole election machinery itself is in the hands of governing party allies for 2014. And we are already seeing worrying signs that these offices are not neutral.
Twice since the 2010 elections, the Election Commission was reorganized and all members of the Election Commission were fired before they completed the ends of their terms. First, the members of the Election Commission elected by the previous parliament were fired when Fidesz passed a law in 2010 that required all Election Commission members to be reelected after each national election, effective immediately (Law LXI of 2010). The old members of the Commission, which included a mix of opposition and Fidesz members with opposition members in the majority, left office immediately and were replaced by a new Commission elected by the Fidesz parliamentary majority which included no members from the political opposition.
Then, in 2013, Fidesz changed the system yet again (Law XXXVI of 2013). This time, the law created a newly structured Election Commission and a newly structured Election Office. The new Election Commission now has seven core members nominated by the President of the Republic (himself a former Fidesz vice-president). They were elected for a term of nine years by a two-thirds vote of the Fidesz-dominated parliament. Not surprisingly, all of the new members of the Commission appear to be allied with the governing party. The Election Office is staffed by civil servants, but the head of the office now is a former deputy state secretary for the Ministry of National Development in the Fidesz government.
While opposition parties report good relations with the new head of the Election Office, one might well still worry about a system in which all of the key players who will make the decisions about the election framework were assigned to their jobs by the governing party, in a system where the governing party just rewrote all of the rules.
Even though the Election Commission has only government-friendly members among its permanent members, once the campaign starts, each party running a national list is able to delegate one person to sit on the Election Commission for the duration of the campaign. These party delegates are able to vote on all matters along with the seven permanent members, which raises the possibility that the permanent members could be outvoted depending on how many and what sorts of groups run national lists. Recently, in a press briefing to the Hungarian International Press Association, András Patyi, the head of the National Election Commission, said that he expected the Election Commission to increase to 20-25 members during the campaign, which means that he anticipates at least a dozen or more national lists. (In 2010, there were 10 lists on the ballot.)
In run-up to the campaign, however, Fidesz allies dominated the Election Commission. The Election Office will remain the key location for information about the election but it gains no members from opposition parties to assist in its operation during the campaign. Already important decisions have been made about how the election will be administered under these new rules. This is why, as we will see in the next blog post, the proliferation of inaccurate and misleading information about the election given out by election officials is especially worrying.
New details on the Russian-Hungarian agreement on Paks; Kim Scheppele’s “Hungary, An Election in Question, Part 2″
I’m returning briefly to the secretive Putin-Orbán agreement on the addition to the atomic power plant in Paks. Shortly after the news of the agreement became public, I heard rumors to the effect that what the Orbán government actually wanted was not so much a new power plant built by Rosatom but an outright loan of 5 billion dollars. The Hungarian media spent a few lines on this rumor, but the topic was dropped soon enough. Most likely the rumor couldn’t be substantiated. But now Népszabadság has returned to the topic. In a fairly lengthy article the reporter who has lately become a kind of Paks expert unearthed a number of new strands in the story.
The information comes from “an expert who is an adviser to the government with knowledge of the details” who asserted that the original rumor about the loan the Orbán government wanted so badly was in fact true. The government wanted a loan that it could use as it best saw fit. The Russian partner, however, wanted to link the loan to the extension of the Paks power plant. Although negotiations went on for about a year, the two sides couldn’t come to a satisfactory agreement. At this point István Kocsis, former head of Paks and later of MVM (Magyar Villamos Művek/Hungarian Electricity Ltd), was asked by the government to use his good offices with the head of Rosatom. It didn’t seem to bother Orbán that Kocsis had been charged with embezzling billions, a case that is still pending.
Apparently Kocsis achieved miracles and in no time Rosatom had a contract ready to be signed. Népszabadság‘s informant claims that the Hungarians couldn’t change a word in the terms of the contract. There is, in fact, the suspicion that the reason the Hungarian text is so awkward is that most likely it was a translation from Russian. Earlier difficulties arose as the result of Hungarian insistence that the loan be extended to Hungary even if for one reason or another the power plant couldn’t be built or the project were protracted. At the beginning Rosatom insisted that the money would be lent to Hungary only as the work progressed. We still don’t know exactly what is in the agreement but, as Népszabadság‘s informer said, we may find out that “in the final analysis the Orbán government didn’t bring two reactors but ‘a new IMF loan’ from Moscow.”
The way the Orbán government spends money every penny will be needed. As it is, the national debt is higher than ever. It is over 80% even with the large infusion of money the government laid its hands on from the private pension funds. If we discount this “stolen money,” the national debt would be over 90% of the GDP. The government so far has spent more than 600 billion forints buying up private utility companies and is embarking on very ambitious plans to create a so-called “museum quarters” in Pest, which will accommodate the museums and Hungary’s National Library that are currently housed in the Royal Castle. This project is necessary because Orbán wants to move the entire government to the Castle District. The president’s office would move from the Sándor Palace to the Royal Castle and Viktor Orbán would presumably move into the Sándor Palace.
Yesterday another interesting tidbit about the Putin-Orbán agreement saw the light of day. An LMP member of parliament, Bernadett Szél, initially demanded access to the document but her request was refused. LMP will sue the government on that issue. She was, however, granted a half-hour interview with Mrs. László Németh, who admitted to her that the Orbán-Putin agreement was signed before the Hungarian government had a chance to authorize the deal. Lately, it seems, Fidesz politicians often slip and tell the truth by mistake. Like Lajos Kósa about the tape of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech at Őszöd. The next day he had to “correct himself.” That was the case with Mrs. Németh as well. Her ministry immediately corrected her. The ministry’s spokesman claimed that it is clear from the January 31 issue of the Official Gazette (Magyar Közlöny) that the authorization was dated January 13 and it was on January 14 that the agreement was signed. My only question is: why did they publish the text of the authorization only on January 31?
Finally, let’s not forget about the Holocaust Memorial Year. András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz, decided to step down from the advisory board of the House of Fortunes. Since Mazsihisz (Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities) opposes the establishment of this new museum, Heisler saw no reason to remain a member of the board. Moreover, as he said, the board is totally inactive. Mária Schmidt, who is the government-appointed director of the project, called the board together only once.
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Hungary: An Election in Question
Part II: Writing the Rules to Win – The Basic Structure
Professor Kim Scheppele, Princeton University
How did the governing party Fidesz stack the deck so much in its favor that the upcoming Hungarian election’s results are not in doubt?
Fidesz started immediately after its election victory in 2010 to reshape the electoral system to ensure its hold on power. The Fidesz parliamentary bloc, which enacted constitutional changes without including or consulting any opposition party, slashed the size of the parliament in half, redrew all of the individual constituencies unilaterally, changed the two-round system to a single first-past-the-post election for individual constituencies, and altered the way votes were aggregated.
Moreover, Fidesz has granted dual citizenship and therefore voting rights to ethnic Hungarians outside the borders who are overwhelmingly Fidesz supporters, while at the same time maintaining a system that makes it comparatively harder for Hungarian citizens living or working abroad to vote.
The media landscape and campaign finance rules overwhelmingly benefit Fidesz and a series of last-minute changes to the law just before the campaign started put the newly united center-left opposition at an even greater disadvantage. In addition, the governing party has captured the election machinery which is now staffed with its own loyalists.
The sum total of all of these changes makes it virtually inevitable that Fidesz will win.
The devil is in the details, so let’s walk step by step through these various ways that the governing party has changed the rules in its favor.
As one of its first acts in office, on 25 May 2010, the Fidesz parliament amended the constitution it inherited to cut the parliament’s size in half. This was a move lauded by all sides of the political spectrum, as the old 386-member parliament was widely perceived as too large to be effective and too expensive for a small country in debt. The new 199-member parliament that will be seated after the 2014 elections will represent new electoral districts that had to be newly drawn to accommodate this new, smaller parliament. Redrawing the districts was not only widely welcomed, but also required by the Constitutional Court, which had ruled (first in 2005 and again in 2010) that the old districts had become too unequal in population size to give all citizens an equal vote.
The old districting system already favored Fidesz because the larger districts were in the urban strongholds of the left and the smaller districts were in the rural districts of the right. As a result, rural conservative votes were given more weight because it took fewer of their votes to elect an MP. But the way that Fidesz redrew the districts for 2014 gave their party an even greater advantage than they had before.
Without any consultation with opposition parties, Fidesz enacted a new “cardinal law” in 2011 that simply set the boundaries of the districts (Law CCIII/2011). While most election laws provide principles for drawing districts and assign some neutral or at least multi-party body to actually draw the boundaries, the borders of the districts in Hungary are now written directly into the law. Moving a district boundary by even one block requires a two-thirds vote of the parliament. The districts are therefore heavily entrenched and were not the result of either a public or an inclusive process. No justification for these districts was offered by the governing party.
Of course, not all districts in any electoral system have identical numbers of voters. But how much can districts vary before they deny equality of the vote? The Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission), recommends no more than 10% variation as the international standard. The Venice Commission is not terribly clear about what this means, but given that the Venice Commission is working with a principle that demands that votes be weighted as equally as possible, one can guess that this means that districts should not vary by more than 10% in population overall.
The Hungarian law is fiendishly clever in appearing to come close to that standard while being miles away from it. The Hungarian Election Law (Act CCIII of 2011 – section 4(4)) mandates that the districts should not vary by more than 15%. The Venice Commission was not thrilled with the difference, but let it pass. They shouldn’t have.
A closer reading reveals the trick. The Hungarian law requires that districts vary by no more than 15% calculated from the mean number of voters in the district. This is not an overall 15% deviation, as the Venice Commission presumed, but is instead a standard that permits districts to vary by 15% below the mean and 15% above it.
An example demonstrates what a huge difference this makes. To aim at an average district containing 100 voters, a 10% overall deviation would permit districts to vary between 95 and 105 voters. (Divide 95 by the 10 voters that separate the largest and smallest districts and you get about 10%). The Hungarian law would permit districts to vary between 85 and 115 voters – 15% above the mean and 15% below the mean of 100. The gap between 85 and 115 voters in a district would be 35% overall! (Calculated the same way as above: 30/85 = 35%.) This is a huge difference that the Venice Commission did not seem to see.
In the actual districts were constructed as a result of the new election law, the variation became even larger than that. As you can see in the chart below, the smallest districts in Hungary now have about 60,000 voters while the largest districts have nearly 90,000 voters, roughly a 50% gap. (The horizontal axis shows the number of eligible voters in the new constituencies based on voter data from 2010, and the vertical axis shows the number of districts in the new scheme with that number of voters.) Not only are the actual districts highly unequal, but this variation has no apparent justification.
Hajdú-Bihar County, in the eastern part of Hungary, provides a case in point. A last-minute amendment to the 2011 election law divided the city of Debrecen into two districts of highly unequal size. Now, one district has 87,278 voters and the other, right next to it, has 60,125 voters. These are very nearly the largest and smallest districts in the country, side by side, without official explanation.
The government may have given no reasons for its districts, but this huge variation in district size is not random. As Political Capital shows, the left-leaning districts are systematically 5,000-6,000 voters larger than the right-leaning districts, which means that it takes many more votes to elect someone from a left-leaning district than to elect someone from Fidesz.
The borders of these new districts also appear to be drawn to Fidesz’s advantage, since they just happen to break up the areas where the opposition alliance voters have traditionally been strongest and they scatter these opposition voters over a new Fidesz-majority landscape. Historically left-leaning districts were partitioned and blended into historically right-leaning districts, creating fewer districts where left-leaning candidates are relatively certain to win.
One of the most obvious gerrymanders occurred (again) in Hajdú-Bihar County. In the 2006 election, which went nationally by a wide margin to the Socialists, the county voted three of its nine districts for the Socialists and six for Fidesz, as you can see in the chart below, on the left. If the results from the 2006 election were tallied in the newly drawn six districts for that country, as shown on the right, Fidesz would now win every district. The map reveals that this all-Fidesz result was accomplished by drawing the districts to divide up the compact concentrations of Socialist voters so that they would become minority voters in Fidesz-dominant districts. Examples like this one can be found all over the country, as left-leaning districts were partitioned to break up clusters of opposition voters to mix them with even more conservative voters from neighboring areas.
The US may have invented the gerrymander, and so it may seem presumptuous for an American to complain about the new districts. But the Hungarian gerrymander is different from the (also outrageous) American type. In US national elections, gerrymanders occur at the state level, which means one party cannot redistrict the whole country at once. In the US, districting plans are also subject to judicial review to check the worst self-dealing. In Hungary, however, the whole country was redistricted by one party all at once so the Hungarian gerrymander is far more decisive. And there is no judicial review to correct excesses. In addition, unlike in America where the governing parties in the states get a new shot at gerrymandering every 10 years, after each census, it will take a two-thirds vote of the parliament to change any district in Hungary’s future.
Hungarians don’t just cast votes for individual representatives in districts of the sort we have just seen, however. Hungarians cast two votes in national elections. In addition to casting ballots for representatives in the voters’ individual constituency, voters cast second ballots for party lists. Those votes are aggregated across the country and additional parliamentary seats are awarded to parties based on these results, above and beyond the seats won in the individual districts.
In the new parliament as in the old one, MPs elected both ways sit together with equal status. While this dual system of MP elections appears to mitigate the effect of the gerrymander, the new parliament, unlike the old, allocates more seats to the individual constituencies than to the party-list mandates. The new parliament features 106 district mandates and 93 party-list mandates. Since individual constituencies are awarded on a winner-take-all basis, this tilts the system toward an even more disproportionate distribution of mandates than in the prior also-disproportionate parliament.
Individual constituencies in Hungary were allocated from 1990 to 2010 in a two-round run-off system. Unless a candidate won 50% or more in the first round, a second round would be held between the highest vote-getters to determine who won the mandate. This system meant that many political parties would field candidates in round one, and then form coalitions before round two after the relative viabilities of the individual candidates could be assessed. Hungarian political culture grew up around this system so that parties were not accustomed to bargaining before any votes were cast.
The new electoral system in Hungary eliminates this second round, benefiting Fidesz, as the largest single party. It can now win districts outright without needing majority support because it only has to get more votes than any other party on the (single) election day to capture the constituency. Given that the districts have been drawn to give Fidesz an advantage overall, one can imagine other parties will have a hard time winning constituencies which have been constructed precisely so that Fidesz is the largest party.
The design of the new system means that the democratic opposition would only have a chance to win individual constituencies if the various opposition parties of the left could create a grand coalition before the election so that they didn’t run candidates against each other. But this was a result that everyone familiar with politics in Hungary knew would be hard to accomplish. The parties in the “democratic opposition” (excluding Jobbik) are sharply divided both by ideology and personality. But unless these parties could set aside their differences to unite, they would surely lose.
The announcement on 14 January that five parties in the opposition had managed to agree on a single list of candidates for the single-member districts as well as a common party list was therefore something of a political miracle.
But can the party leaders of the Unity Alliance bring all of their voters along with them? Many voters for the smaller parties on the left often don’t trust the larger Socialist Party which now dominates the coalition. And some personalities in the mix are popular only within their own parties and unattractive to the others in the coalition. As a result, it cannot be assumed that votes for the five parties can simply be added together to produce a united whole that is the same size or even larger than the sum of the parts.
Because voters cast two ballots on election day, the individual constituencies are only part of the story, though they are the largest part. Parties will also run national lists to compete for voters’ second votes. The new conditions that came into effect since the last election actually make it easier than it was in 2010 to nominate candidates for the individual constituencies and to register parties with national lists, something that is consistent with a dominant-party strategy to divide up the opposition as much as possible.
But the party-list system also builds in incentives for small parties to join together to form a larger alliance. To be approved to run a national list, parties must field candidates in at least 27 individual constituencies in at least nine of the 19 counties plus Budapest. While this guarantees that parties are truly national, it also aggravates the problems created by the loss of the second-round runoff in the individual constituencies. Any new national list adds to the “clutter” of individual candidates in the individual constituencies and further fragments the vote.
So it makes sense, under these rules, for small parties to form a common national list. To avoid competing head-on and perhaps pushing each other below the 5% threshold for entering the parliament, small parties on the same side of the political spectrum are pushed by the logic of the system to join forces. But as soon as they do so, they run into another problem. In all elections since 1994, parties have had to meet a 5% threshold of the popular vote to gain a fraction in the parliament. For two parties that run together, the threshold rises to 10% and for three or more parties, the threshold is 15%.
If the smaller parties were going to unite for 2014, then, they ran the risk of together missing the higher threshold required of joint party lists. The rules of the game have therefore pushed the small parties of the “democratic opposition” to do what they did – which was to join with the Socialists to form Unity. Only an alliance with the larger Socialist party guaranteed that these smaller parties would be able to enter the parliament given the higher thresholds for joined lists. Because many of the smaller parties were created precisely to distance particular groups of voters from the Socialists, however, this is an uneasy alliance at best.
So that is where we were as the campaign was launched, witnessing a democratic opposition alliance whose members do not like each other much but who have to work together if they are to have any hope of ousting Fidesz given the way that the rules are structured. The public squabbling that occurred as the grand coalition went together belied the name of Unity Alliance and weakened their electoral position. They have the campaign period to convey a new unified message, but – as we will see – that is going to be very hard.
Viktor Orbán finally spoke against Vladimir Putin; Kim Scheppele’s “Hungary, An Election in Question, Part 1″
Over the next five days, in addition to my regular daily posts, I will republish Professor Kim Scheppele’s five-part series on the pitfalls of the new election law that makes free and fair elections in Hungary doubtful. The article, entitled “Hungary, An Election in Question,” originally appeared on Paul Krugman’s blog on February 28, 2014 in The New York Times.
The reason that I asked Professor Scheppele to allow me to publish her article on Hungarian Spectrum is because, although we always knew that the newly enacted law was slanted in favor of the current government party, news coming from Budapest of late indicates that the situation is worse than we ever imagined. The opposition’s advertising options have been greatly restricted. And it seems that even the few posters the opposition candidates managed to put up are systematically being torn down. Budapest and other cities are full of posters of so-called civic groups campaigning for the government while the opposition has virtually no advertising presence. So, the more people read Professor Scheppele’s analysis of the new Hungarian electoral law the better.
And now back to the Hungarian government’s attitude toward Ukraine. It was only yesterday at noon that Viktor Orbán said anything substantive about the Ukrainian crisis. In his statement he kept his concerns narrow and provincial, presumably not wanting to criticize his newly acquired friend, Vladimir Putin. His only concern seemed to be the safety of the Hungarian minority in Subcarpathia. He sent them a message: “you can count on us.” He added that “Hungary is not part of the conflict.” Well, in a narrow sense, perhaps not, but the conflict directly involves the European Union and Hungary’s neighbor, whose territorial integrity has been challenged.
Today the prime minister decided to elaborate on his position, crafting it to be more in line with EU thinking, a wise move since on Thursday he will attend an EU summit in Brussels. He will “represent the standpoint that the European Union will have to respond to the Russian military moves,” a response that has to be “immediate, unambiguous, and integrative.” He further elaborated on the theme when he announced that “the only alternative to war is negotiation. We want negotiations and not military conflict. We want peace, not blood.” Hungary wants a democratic Ukraine. Again, he stressed that “in the whole Ukrainian crisis the most important consideration for Hungary is the safety of Hungarians in Hungary and in Subcarpathia.” Note that he didn’t mention anything about the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
While Viktor Orbán talked to the media in Budapest, Vladimir Putin gave a press conference just outside of Moscow in Novo-Ogaryovo. It was a long and fairly rambling talk in which he announced that he had given up, at least for the time being, plans for the annexation of the Crimea. However, although he knows about and even condemns Yanukovych’s thievery, he still considers him to be the legitimate head of Ukraine and therefore refuses to recognize the interim government formed a few days ago.
Mid-afternoon the prime minister’s office released the “Statement of the Prime Ministers of the Visegrád Countries on Ukraine.” If we compare the text of this joint statement of the Polish, Czech, Slovak, and Hungarian prime ministers to Orbán’s words, we see that the joint statement is a great deal stronger. Let me quote a few sentences from this document.
The Prime Ministers of the Visegrád Countries are deeply concerned about the recent violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the fact that the Russian parliament has authorized military action on Ukrainian soil against the wishes of the Ukrainian Government…. We condemn all action threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and call on Russia to decrease the tensions immediately through dialogue, in full respect of Ukrainian and international law and in line with the provisions of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.
The Visegrád Countries believe that the recent military actions by Russia are not only in violation of international law, but also create a dangerous new reality in Europe. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are appalled to witness a military intervention in 21st century Europe akin to their own experiences in 1956, 1968 and 1981….
The European Union and NATO should demonstrate solidarity with and assist Ukraine in this difficult moment and stand united in the face of this dangerous development threatening European peace and security.
A few hours later Zsolt Németh, undersecretary in the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, spoke to Aleksandr Tolkach, Russian ambassador to Hungary. Németh called on Russia to move its troops back inside the Russian naval base in Sebastopol. Németh repeated that Hungary insists on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and considers Russian behavior contrary to international law. So, it seems that Viktor Orbán eventually had to conform to the position held by the United States and the European Union. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow.
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Hungary: An Election in Question, Part 1
Professor Kim Scheppele, Princeton University
Hungary’s parliamentary elections will be held on 6 April. And it is already clear who will win. Unless something truly surprising occurs, the governing party Fidesz is headed to victory. The only uncertainty is whether it will again win two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, a result that would continue to allow it to change the constitution at will.
Fidesz won the last elections in 2010 fair and square. But this time the election is unlikely to be judged so favorably. The whole election framework – the laws, the institutions and even the new electorate – favors Fidesz because the governing party has used its four years in office with its two-thirds majority in the parliament to redesign every aspect of the electoral system to its advantage.
Fidesz also overwhelmingly dominates the offline media and has closed off almost all avenues through which opposition parties can reach the electorate. New decrees from local Fidesz-affiliated officials around the country and misleading instructions from election officials are creating last-minute campaign obstacles that put the opposition even more on the wrong foot.
Under the new election framework, the allied opposition parties cannot win a parliamentary majority, even if they gain more votes than the governing party. Simultaneously, the changes also make it nearly inevitable that the governing party will keep its two-thirds parliamentary majority even if it gets less than half of the overall vote.
Róbert László of the Political Capital think tank in Budapest shows how Fidesz can win a two-thirds majority with less than half of the party-list vote. His model also predicts that a united center-left opposition would need about 6% more votes than Fidesz to win a simple majority in the parliament.
Central European University Professor Gábor Tóka estimates that, under the new system, a united center-left opposition might get 8% fewer parliamentary seats than Fidesz if both got an equal share of the votes.
Political Capital’s “mandate calculator” permits everyone to try out different models and different assumptions. We tried it here in Princeton and, depending on the assumptions one makes about the nature and shape of the opposition, Fidesz could get its two-thirds majority in parliament pretty easily with only 48% of the vote if the other parties perform as polls indicate they would if the election were held now. If the foreign votes split 85/15 for Fidesz (not unreasonable for reasons I will explain), Fidesz could get its two-thirds with only 44%. If Fidesz wins by the same margin it won last time, with 53% of the party-list vote, it would get 76% of the seats in the parliament instead of the 68% it won under the old system.
In short, Fidesz has designed the election to allow itself to win big, even without majority support. Or, to put it differently, Fidesz has designed the election so that the opposition loses even if it wins.
These effects occur because the way that the districts are drawn and the votes are aggregated. It doesn’t even count all of the other things that Fidesz is doing to help the opposition lose, like monopolizing the media, operating an election office that is giving out misleading instructions and only selectively registering to vote Hungarian citizens who are living abroad.
If Fidesz is reelected under this self-dealing system, then it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the election has been rigged. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s “mandate” will be tainted.
It’s serious to accuse an incumbent party of potentially rigging an election, so the evidence needs to be strong. In this series of five blog posts, I will show precisely how the outcome of the election is cooked into the rules even before a single ballot is cast. The rules were designed to look “normal” but to allow Fidesz to win in a very particular political context, which is where we will start.
As Fidesz officials are quick to argue, they will win the election because they are the most popular single party in Hungary. Which is true (see graph below). But Fidesz’s popularity has only recently climbed above 30%, a level that would cause analysts in most democratic states to predict that an incumbent party is in trouble, especially given how low Fidesz fell over the last several years. What makes Fidesz look like a winner, however, is that all of the other parties are even less popular.
For the last month, however, Fidesz has been confronted by a more substantial opponent than it has had during its tenure in office so far. Five left-leaning parties calling themselves the “democratic opposition” have combined to form the Unity Alliance (Összefogás). They have put forward a common slate of candidates for the individual constituencies and they are running a joint party list. Their joint strength might just be enough to challenge Fidesz’s domination of the elections – if there were a level playing field. But they were late to the election party, so to speak, announcing their joint effort only on 14 January 2014 just before the election date was set. So they have some catching up to do.
(The five parties in the Unity Alliance are the Socialists/MSzP headed by Attila Mesterházy; Together 2014/E-14 headed by Gordon Bajnai; Dialogue for Hungary/PM led by Benedek Jávor; Democratic Coalition/DK headed by Ferenc Gyurcsány and the Hungarian Liberal Party/Liberálisok headed by Gábor Fodor. Since the coalition was formed, the Movement for a Modern Hungary/MOMA, headed by Lajos Bokros, a conservative MEP, has agreed to support the joint ticket.)
And then there is Jobbik, which its detractors call the “non-democratic opposition.” This far-right party has become internationally known for its anti-Semitism and anti-Roma agitation, its toxic assertion of nationalism, and its ideology so far beyond the edge of the European political spectrum that its three representatives in the European Parliament cannot affiliate with any party caucus. Fidesz might reasonably worry that it would lose votes to Jobbik on the right, which may be why many – including Jobbik’s leadership – claim that Fidesz is “stealing [their] issues and ideas.” For its part, Jobbik’s campaign ads this year portray it as substantially more moderate than its reputation in order to steal voters from Fidesz.
At the moment, Jobbik seems to have the allegiance of just under 10% of the electorate, though some worry that Jobbik’s support may climb again to the 17% of the vote it won in the 2010 election. Jobbik cannot form a government with that vote, but is the only party that can seriously challenge Fidesz’s electoral strategy by dividing the vote on the right.
Just as Fidesz faces a challenge to its base from Jobbik, the Unity Alliance is challenged by a party called Politics Can be Different (LMP) that provides an alternative for its voters as well. In the last year, LMP – a small party to begin with – split so that one fraction joined the broader opposition alliance and the rest remained unaligned. While LMP lost support since the split, it still seems to be polling around the 5% threshold needed for a single party to enter the parliament.
Though Fidesz and the Unity Alliance are the two big parties in this race, polling data show that the largest single voting bloc – a clear majority of the electorate for the last several years – is still “undecided.” That large number becomes even more formidable when one considers that more than half of the Hungarians asked do not answer surveys. Is it hard to know if those who do not answer are still engaged in politics at all, and if so, how.
In past Hungarian elections, the turnout had to reach 50% for the election to be valid. But Fidesz changed that rule too so that there is no minimum turnout required any longer. Low voter turnout, then, is no barrier to a valid election.
But even with the large number undecided or apolitical voters, the results are not in doubt. The governing party designed the system precisely to prevent surprises in this particular political landscape, and they wrote the rules to allow themselves to win almost no matter which way opinion breaks and almost no matter what the turnout is on election day. It is hard to see a realistic outcome for this election that doesn’t put Fidesz front and center in the next government. Fidesz will thrive if there is low turnout because the party has a powerful system for bringing out its voters. If Jobbik surges, Jobbik could not govern unless Fidesz were the dominant partner in a coalition. But, perhaps most importantly for judging the fairness of the election, Fidesz will win even if the “democratic opposition” were to pull ahead of them by a substantial margin.
Why is that? According to election experts, the Unity Alliance could only gain a parliamentary majority if it won by more than a comfortable margin in the popular vote. That is because of the way that the system has been designed. Unless there is swing toward the left that is larger than anything we have seen in the post-communist period or unless Jobbik’s support rises by so much that it substantially depletes the Fidesz vote, Fidesz will surely win outright and is very likely to get its two-thirds back again.
How could Fidesz win under almost any likely scenario for 6 April? I will turn to that next.
The news from Russsia and Ukraine is frightening. The major question now is whether Russia will be satisfied with the annexation of the Crimea or whether the Russian army will march in and occupy further territories at the “request” of the Russian-speaking inhabitants of Ukraine’s eastern provinces. I wonder what the Hungarian public will think if Russia manages to cut Ukraine in half and the Russian bear ends up quite a few kilometers closer to the Hungarian border. In addition, there are threatening Russian talks about Ukraine and its supply of natural gas, which naturally would affect the Hungarian energy supply. All this is happening in the wake of Viktor Orbán’s top-secret negotiations with Vladimir Putin about the expansion of Hungary’s only nuclear power plant in Paks, which will increase Hungary’s energy dependence on Russia.
Viktor Orbán was in a great hurry to close this deal, most likely because he wanted ensure that it was voted on while he has a guaranteed two-thirds parliamentary majority. But then came Vladimir Putin’s gambit, which casts the Paks deal in a different light. As it is, the majority of the population doesn’t want to build another power plant and a whopping 75% of them are against the Russians building it. The couple of months spent by the Orbán government trying to influence public opinion in favor of Putin’s Russia didn’t manage to erase the negative feelings Hungarians have when they think of the country’s almost fifty-year occupation by the Russians. With the events in Ukraine these fears have received a new impetus, which makes Viktor Orbán’s situation concerning Paks even more difficult. According to some observers whose opinions I trust, “Paks is dead in the water.” But for the time being the government is sticking to its guns and Viktor Orbán is acting as if nothing has changed. They even agreed to a debate on the expansion of Hungary’s nuclear capacity built by Rosatom on money lent to Hungary from the Russian state. It is about this debate that I would like to say a few words.
As we know, there was no debate whatsoever on Paks prior to the signing of the agreement although there is a great deal of interest in the issue. So a student organization of law students at ELTE called Joghallgatók Önképző Szervezete (JÖSZ) organized a post-signing debate. The law students active in the association invited János Lázár, representing the government, and Benedek Jávor of Együtt2014/PM, who is a staunchly anti-nuclear Green, to have an open debate. How did the students manage to convince such an important man as Lázár to participate? Gáspár Orbán, the prime minister’s son, is one of the leaders of JÖSZ. He was among the students who were busily arranging the podium just before the actual debate.
The interest was great. The large lecture hall was completely filled half an hour before the debate began. What was strange, and it says a lot about Hungarians’ attitude toward transparency, is that the debate was closed to the media as the result of a last-minute decision by the dean. Of course, reporters from several Internet news sites in addition to a journalist from Népszabadság managed to sneak in with fake IDs. Moreover, the whole debate, lasting longer than an hour, was recorded and is available online. But for those who don’t speak Hungarian here is a brief description of what transpired.
While Fidesz leaders might look very confident and can overwhelm their audience when delivering speeches, when they are supposed to engage in real debates they run out of steam. This is what happened to János Lázár.
Let’s start with the structure of the debate. There were three distinct parts. In the first part the topic was the circumstances of the agreement; in the second, questions concerning Russian-Hungarian relations were addressed to the participants; finally, in the third, the economic aspects of building a new power plant were discussed.
The debate began with Lázár, whose position was that nuclear capacity must be expanded because the old power plant will not be able to function beyond a certain date. This is true, but that date is far in the future. It would be quite enough to start to build the two new reactors in 2020. While he claimed that there will be no added capacity he did announce that in the government’s estimate in the next few years the need for electricity will grow by 1,000 megawatts. So, is there or isn’t there a need to produce more electricity? To give you an idea of the simplistic view Lázár and his friends entertain concerning this issue, for him the choice is “either a power plant or no Hungarian electricity.” No other options are available.
Jávor insisted that Paks II, the two new reactors, are additions to the present capacity. In addition, he listed the following objections: (1) the majority of Hungarians reject building the new reactors especially if it is done by the Russians; (2) the details of the agreement are not transparent; (3) the new investment will increase the price of electricity and will not add to the growth of the Hungarian GDP; (4) there will be too much energy when all four reactors are operational; (5) the building of Paks is too much of a geopolitical commitment to Russia; (6) the reactors will create fewer than the 10,000 jobs the government is talking about; (7) there are environmental concerns; (8) with interest the debt will be more than the government’s figure of 4.6 billion dollars. Jávor compared the deal to an especially deadly version of Russian roulette in which only one chamber in the revolver’s cylinder is not loaded.
When the moderator asked Lázár whether the government acted in such a way as to ensure the “democratic minimum,” he completely lost his cool. He interrupted the moderator and brought up a procedural question in order to avoid answering the question. He reduced the argument to: “either a power plant or no electricity.” From here on he talked about the fallacy of his opponent’s arguments but couldn’t come up with any arguments of his own. When he exceeded the allotted time he ignored the moderator and kept going. When the moderator inquired from him about the government’s refusal to make the details of the negotiations public, he told him and Jávor that they “should turn to the Russians with their requests.”
When it came to the price of electricity produced by Paks II, Lázár kept saying “atomic energy produces the cheapest electricity prices.” Yes, answered Jávor, the electricity Paks currently produces is inexpensive because the original initial investment has already been paid down. But the energy produced by Paks II will have to reflect the price of the new investment, which will be very costly. Lázár called this argument nonsense.
They moved on to national security issues. Jávor maintained that Hungarian dependence on Russian energy will increase after building Paks II while Lázár argued the opposite. In his opinion there is nothing to worry about because “the Russians have been here for sixty years and they are here today because they were the ones who built Paks.” So, nothing will really change. For Lázár nuclear energy means “independence.” Having only natural gas imposes energy dependence. To the question of why the Hungarian government asked for a Russian loan and why they didn’t turn, for example, to the IMF, Lázár’s answer was simple: “No one else would give a loan to Hungary except Russia.”
The debate naturally led nowhere. But there is also a good possibility that the grandiose Orbán plan for a Russian-built nuclear plant in an EU country will also lead nowhere. The Czech minister of defense already made it clear that Rosatom will never be in the running to build the Czech nuclear reactor. I can’t believe that the European Union could possibly let Putin’s Russia get close to an atomic power plant in Hungary.