Having lived in the United States for many years I find the Hungarian electoral laws very constraining. For instance, because of the very strict Hungarian privacy laws parties cannot maintain a database of their sympathizers. Every time I tried to explain to Hungarians the American system of "registration" the reaction was violent! In vain did I try to make clear that "registration" with a party doesn't oblige the citizen to vote one way or the other: the very idea that someone is keeping tabs on their party affiliation frightens Hungarians to death. As a Hungarian friend of mine just wrote to me, "the times of the cadre sheets" are not that far away, adding that in 1956 the very first acts of employees were to get hold of and destroy these detailed written documents about their political views. So, in a way I understand their reluctance to allow parties to maintain a database.
Perhaps the current laws would more or less work if one party in particular didn't act as if they were not on the books. Fidesz's campaigns greatly resemble American campaign strategies with one exception: they are legal in the United States but illegal in Hungary. That is a very basic difference. What Fidesz is doing under cover is illegal.
For those who are unfamiliar with the American system let me summarize it briefly. Only those who have registered are eligible to vote. Registration is a simple affair. One goes to town hall where he or she registers with the registrar of voters. In most states one has three choices: democratic, republican, or independent. One can change party affiliation at any time if one's sympathies shift. Thus in each community the two parties pretty well know their likely voting base. They know whom to approach with their election literature, whom to visit to ensure the largest possible favorable turnout, and whom to ask to put a political poster on their front lawn.
Moreover, the parties have volunteers at the polling places who keep track of who voted and who didn't. By three or four o'clock in the afternoon, the party activists start working the phones. A pleasant person reminds the lazy ones that it is getting late and he/she hopes they didn't forget what day it is. If the person says something about having difficulties getting to the polling place another party worker will pick him up and drive him to and from the polls. By the way, giving someone a ride to the polling place is also illegal in Hungary.
In Hungary those parties that obey the law don't have any idea whom to approach. They will send telephone messages to everyone in the telephone book whether it is a waste of time and money or not. Not so those, and the real culprit here is Fidesz, who have millions and millions of names and telephone numbers of their probable voters.
In past elections there were already accusations that Fidesz party workers were making notes while campaigning. They put together a list of all the residents in each apartment house and initially they rang every bell. In some places the reception was warm. In other cases the owner of the apartment slammed the door in their faces. Apparently, people observed these party workers making notations. Their suspicion was that they were sorting out people according to the reception they received. I'm pretty sure that the observers were right.
Well, now it is all out in the open because of the strained relations between Jobbik and Fidesz. We know that there are a lot of Jobbik sympathizers within Fidesz, and one of these people taped a pep talk given by Gábor Kubatov, Fidesz's director, to the activists. In it he described how well informed Fidesz was on all the details of the electorate's sympathies in the city of Pécs at the by-elections for mayor in May 2009. He boasted that the party knew the names, the age, the telephone numbers, the cell phone numbers, and the e-mail addresses of all Fidesz sympathizers as well as of those 15,000 "commies" who didn't vote for Zsolt Páva, Fidesz's candidate. All this must sound pretty frightening to those "commies" of Pécs who dared not to vote for Zsolt Páva. Especially if he or she draws a salary from the government–for instance, a teacher, doctor, or employee of the local government. In brief, a lot of people.
I'm certain that it was a Jobbik sympathizer who recorded Kubatov's talk because it was kuruc.info.hu, a far-right site closely associated with Jobbik, that put the tape on YouTube. Péter Szijjártó, who is never at a loss when something unsavory has to be explained away, came out with the really feeble explanation that this tape "is simply a desperate attempt of Jobbik and MSZP to discredit Fidesz" which follows the electoral laws concerning privacy to the letter.
My feeling is that if there is any fallout from this tape on the results of the elections on Sunday the beneficiary will be MSZP. MSZP is taking the case to court, and the MSZP propaganda has already begun taking advantage of Kubatov's carelessness. On the other hand, I can also imagine a scenario under which even fewer "commies" will go and vote because they will be afraid to be blacklisted. Then again, perhaps it will inspire MSZP voters to go out because after all they are already blacklisted by Fidesz party activists and their names are already on some kind of list in the vaults at Fidesz headquarters. On the one hand, on the other hand, on the third hand….
No more polling results can be published before April 11, but surely every pollster will be busy up to the very last minute. Perhaps after the elections we will be able to learn whether this incident made any difference or not.