Baja revisited: a tense campaign

Today I’m returning briefly to Baja because, with the court-ordered repeat balloting in one of its polling districts scheduled for this Sunday, the stakes are high for both sides. If Melinda Teket, the candidate of the united opposition, wins, Fidesz fraud in the original election will be reasserted. Even the famous Fidesz communication techniques will not be sufficient to explain away the fact that Fidesz activists cheated and most likely paid off the impoverished Roma who were taken to vote by Fidesz activists. If Csaba Kovács, the Fidesz candidate, wins, the opposition’s charge of fraud will collapse. Fidesz politicians who have steadfastly denied the existence of electoral fraud will be able reaffirm their innocence. Moreover, and even more importantly, opposition politicians viewed this by-election as a test case that would show that dissatisfaction with the government party is so great that even in a city like Baja, which usually votes for Fidesz, people are ready to change sides. If Teket loses on Sunday, opposition politicians will have to admit that they overestimated dissatisfaction with the Orbán government.

Source: Orio / Photo: Zoltán Tuba

Source: Origo / Photo: Zoltán Tuba

In this particular section of Baja the scene now resembles a U.S.-style campaign–with a few twists, of course. What is similar is the incredible number of posters. What is different (at least it is no longer prevalent in U.S. campaigns) is that cars with loudspeakers circulate all day long and blare campaign slogans promoting Csaba Kovács, the Fidesz candidate. Another, more insidious difference is that university students from out of town got the job of following Melinda Teket, the opposition candide , as she, accompanied by a male activist, goes door to door asking people for their votes. The photo below  captures the scene well.

Melinda Teket's red Suzuki followed by a while Volkswagen Source: Origo / Photo Zoltán Tuba

Melinda Teket’s red Suzuki followed by a white Volkswagen /  Photo Zoltán Tuba, Origo

One can hardly see a Melinda Teket poster. Most have been torn down. The reporters for Origo did not see one intact poster for the opposition candidate. On the other hand, Fidesz posters are abundant. Among their messages: “There will be an election again on October 13. Don’t let yourselves be intimidated! Don’t allow yourselves to be stiffed and harassed! Don’t be afraid of the men of Bajnai, Gyurcsány and Mesterházy! Don’t believe Melinda Teket who arouses hatred! Fidesz will defend you and needs your vote!”

The Origo reporter struck up a conversation with the students in the white Volkswagen who confirmed that their only job is to follow Melinda Teket. They don’t campaign. In fact, Csaba Kovács cannot be seen either–except, of course, on the posters. Naturally, Teket is not happy with being followed; there were times when she used someone else’s car to get rid of her Fidesz escorts (who, by the way, are staying at a youth hostel owned by the municipality). She also complained to the local election commission about the vehicles equipped with loudspeakers, but the commission found nothing wrong with this kind of campaigning.

As time goes by, more and more details are emerging about the irregularities that took place at that particular polling station. During the court hearing in Kecskemét witnesses told the judges that there was at least one person who voted without an ID card. There were ballots that were put into the ballot box by someone other than the voter.

Originally, the opposition couldn’t prove that Fidesz actually paid for the Gypsies’ votes, but there is now evidence that that was indeed the case.  It looks as if the “payment” for voting for Fidesz was the promise of firewood. At least this is what Szilveszter Horváth, the head of the Roma self-government in Baja, says in the transcript of the tape released by Egyenlítő TV, an online newspaper. Moreover, the person who is asking Horváth’s advice is from Fót, where there will be a by-election very soon.

The opposition’s conclusion is that this method of electoral fraud may not be a localized affair but may exist nationwide. The tape is available on YouTube. Of course, there was an immediate answer to this charge from Róbert Zsigó, Fidesz mayor of Baja. The municipality occasionally gives free firewood to those in need. Fidesz is innocent. “Only the socialists committed electoral fraud because they ordered their former socialist mayor to stand outside the polling station, by which means they pressured the citizens.” The 450 people eligible to vote in this particular district on Sunday have been watching the campaign with total amazement. Some of them actually find it funny, a circus. But to Fidesz and the opposition it’s deadly serious. It may foreshadow what will happen next April or May at the national elections.

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27 comments

  1. On a point of information – how private is voting in Hungary?

    In the UK, we go into a fairly narrow booth, so no one can see how we vote, the ballot slip is then folded and placed in the ballot box in the open area. I don’t think there’s any way anyone could tell how you’ve voted – assuming the ballot boxes aren’t tampered with.

    Is the system similar in Hungary?

    There is one contentious point with UK voting – when your name is checked on a list of eligible voters and your ballot paper is issued, it is stamped with a perforation. I’m not sure what this perforation is or means, or even if it is unique to a ballot paper or a batch of papers, but people have worried in the past that it could, in theory, be used to trace how a particular person voted. Although I have never heard of this even being suspected.

  2. Tappanch,

    a good observation. The draft is indeed there – at least currently only – for so called civil emergency purposes. This is the unit that is currently headed by György Bakondi (who is supposedly the head of Fidesz’ own private intelligence organization according to Ágnes Vadai of DK). It is a kind of para-military organization under the Ministry of Interior.

    Fidesz realized that it is yet another national organization which it can turn into a power tool and also it can be used for domestic intelligence purposes too.

    The unit organized a real drill about year and a half or two years ago, after the Kolontár spill. Without any precedence, they just called in perhaps as many as 10,000 people from Budapest to participate in the training exercises, but I think they held exercises in the countryside too. This was different from what is going on in the Cink.hu article because right now they are just calling in male citizens to establish their capability to serve in the organization, should they be called in to train or serve in an emergency.

    But, I am sure, this capability assignment made under the civil emergency organization (whether you are a grade A, B, C, etc. “soldier” material) will be the basis for the military draft which I am sure will sooner or later come back at least in some guise if Fidesz stays in power (which is likely). In a military emergency, draft is possible so the state wants to know how capable you are. Fidesz likes the military (order and discipline and national organization, remember) and mourns the end of the draft, and people in the army love Fidesz and Jobbik, though it does not like to finance it very much.

    During the drill back then (the first for ever perhaps or for a very long time), everyday people actually had to leave their jobs and move to an army base for a week or so, like in the old days.

    Not surprisingly, because the draft always worked like this, most of the people called in did not reside in districts XII or II or XI. Usually poorer people living in other districts are called in, because they tend to be less problematic.

  3. I’m quite familiar with American-style campaigning. Putting up tons of posters here is called “visibility.” Campaigns know that it doesn’t do much good, but it does some good, since most voters will chose a name they are familiar with. Visibility is one of the lower forms of “voter contact.” The best of these is for the voter to meet the candidate in person. So, just judging from this blog post, it sounds like Teket is running a better campaign than Kovács.

    Having out-of-town campaign workers can also backfire, if they seem like outsiders.

  4. In Baja the strategy is clear. Fidesz is telling that dare not to vote for the “communists” or else…

    I think the people are getting the message: this crazy campaign is what they are getting if there is only a simple local by-election, imagine what comes after it if the vote goes wrong.

    Fidesz’ punishment is inevitable as we know. That is their strength. They make sure that people behave.

    The Left does not care about consistency or credibility and that is why people don’t fear them.

    With Fidesz, there is always retribution — and people seem to learn quickly. People are smart.

    Let’s remind ourselves about the behavior of university administrators, teachers, people working in the cultural sector or even in business. No one dares to speak up. They know they are fired, businesses are killed soon by some smart legally OK method in the second there is any doubt about their loyalty.

    I am not too optimistic about this by-election. The cars following Ms. Teket is only the tip of the iceberg, Fidesz’ power runs much deeper in rural areas than MSZP/Együtt’s can possibly understand. It would take nothing short of a coup for them to win over Fidesz.

  5. “…..the stakes are high for both sides”.

    I am not sure that’s true. The regime has most to lose here.

    They win handsomely then life continues pretty much as before, confirming their high standing in the opinion polls. But even if they win and it is closer than the original ballot then that pretty much confirms the original allegations of fraud. Their problem now is that the byelection is under an intense observation giving their local thugs and village idiots much less opportunity to intimidate the locals to vote for Orban’s man. Hence the campaign has been taken over by HQ instead of leaving to the brain-dead local bumpkins.

    If they lose then expect a media blackout followed by all internicine hell breaking lose in Orban Towers.

    Democrats should take comfort from the amount of resources the regime is throwing at what is, after all, a small local govt by-election. The Orbanists fear the people finally speaking and voting

  6. In Baja the strategy is clear. Fidesz is telling that dare not to vote for the “communists” or else…

    I think the people are getting the message: this crazy campaign is what they are getting if there is only a simple local by-election, imagine what comes after it if the vote goes wrong.

    Fidesz’ punishment is inevitable as we know. That is their strength. They make sure that people behave.

    The Left does not care about consistency or credibility and that is why people don’t fear them.

    With Fidesz, there is always retribution — and people seem to learn quickly. People are smart.

    Let’s remind ourselves about the behavior of university administrators, teachers, people working in the cultural sector or even in business. No one dares to speak up. They know they are fired, businesses are killed soon by some smart legally OK method in the second there is any doubt about their loyalty.

    I am not too optimistic about this by-election. The cars following Ms. Teket is only the tip of the iceberg, Fidesz’ power runs much deeper in rural areas than MSZP/Együtt’s can possibly understand. It would take nothing short of a coup for them to win over Fidesz.

  7. “The Orbanists fear the people finally speaking and voting”

    An interesting observation. In reality, Fidesz/Orbán have nothing to fear (even losing this by-election wouldn’t hurt them, they’d soon turn it to their advantage) – they are totally in control and can (and will) do anything to stay in power.

    So why, whenever something like this happens, do they overreact like this? Can’t they shake off the fear of losing from the old days, or is it just a state of mind – no one challenges us, we crush everyone!? Is it a Fidesz culture thing, or is it simply driven by the twisted psychology of Orbán?

    I wonder also if it’s a passing phase – in a year or three will they finally feel secure in their Fortress Hungary, and then just ‘retire’ and enjoy the spoils. Or do they enjoy this lunatic exercise of pointless power so much that they will just go on imposing more and more restrictions and crazy laws – just because they can?

    It seems to me that absolute power doesn’t just corrupt absolutely, it also screws you up absolutely as well.

  8. “In reality, Fidesz/Orbán have nothing to fear (even losing this by-election wouldn’t hurt them, they’d soon turn it to their advantage) – they are totally in control and can (and will) do anything to stay in power.”

    On a macro, nationwide-level, yes.
    But as the first Baja election proved (and as I have said several times) there is a massive gap between the competence of the regime’s enforcers at the national level and the rank brainlessness of the thuggish morons that operates Orbanistan at the ground level of the villages and small towns of Hungary. The idiocy and lack of self-awareness of these bozos should never be underestimated and if you think about it, it is on the shoulders of these inbred knuckle-draggers that Orban’s real power rests.

    Now, the Orbanist candidate would quite possibly have lost in a proper democratic election in Baja (that’s a story in itself) but it would have been a lot less than an issue if his boys hadn’t decidedly to not only break the law but break the law openly in front of a camera.

    A decade ago, pre social media they would have got away with it. They won’t on Sunday because there will be more msm and *new* journalists with their cameras and recorders than actual voters in that ward. It will also be very, very difficult for Fidesz/Jobbik (at the rural village and small town level, they are one and the same) to steal the next general election on the quiet.
    Will they attempt to cheat, threaten and intimidate their way to continued power?
    Yes, of course.
    Will we know about it? Again, of course.

    The question then is what the wider population will do *if* Fidesz have not genuinely won the election.

  9. Orban’s speech in London can be heard here. It’s a real eye-opener for those who don’t often get the chance to understand this man.

    http://www.chathamhouse.org/events/view/194086

    To summarise, he starts off by saying that the Hungarians have a unique mind – and invented many things, including the computer, the ballpoint pen, and espresso. Thus, Hungarians are an innovative race.

    He says that Hungarians like the EU more than the British, and have a positive attitude towards it. But the EU needs structural changes because it has over-reached itself. It is dishonest to its citizens. The concept of the welfare state is over. “Workfare” states are the future.

    Different countries in the EU must follow their own economic paths. The EU must acknowledge the concept of the “nation”. Traditional values – the Christian church, the family, the nation – are under attack, and must be protected. After all, the anthropological root of our European democracy is Christianity. And the family is key: a community which cannot sustain itself biologically will die – and indeed, will deserve to die.

    Hungary is now a successful work-based country. Now, Hungary protects those who want to work and want to raise kids.

    Hungary now has Europe’s most flexible labour code.

    Hungary has re-structured its higher education system to meet business demands.

    Unlike other European countries, Hungary has succeeded in reducing state debt, improved competitiveness, and has achieved social and political stability.

    What Europe needs is leadership and vision. Hungary has great luck in this sense. Because Orban says he has overwhelming democratic legitimacy.

  10. Eva S. Balogh :
    Orbán: ” After all, the anthropological root of our European democracy is Christianity.”
    This is a true novelty to me.

    So, these heroic Hungars have no roots prior to Christianity, eh?
    The Turul-Birders and the Blue-Patchers may have something to say about that!

    (In my mind’s eye, I can see the Brits rolling in the aisles.)

    Well, The Victor no longer has to worry about not being invited anywhere–invitations will roll in by the dozens…he’s a marvel of entertainment, ain’t he?

  11. petofi :

    (In my mind’s eye, I can see the Brits rolling in the aisles.)
    Well, The Victor no longer has to worry about not being invited anywhere–invitations will roll in by the dozens…he’s a marvel of entertainment, ain’t he?

    Well, I certainly would have advised Orban against going to Britain and starting off a speech by boasting that Hungarians invented the computer.

    Apart from the sad fact that almost no Hungarians invented ANYTHING without having to emigrate from Hungary first, the work by Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing (all Brits living in Britain) greatly predates any work carried out by Janos von Neumann (who I presume Orban was referring to).

    Hopefully, Orban’s audience will have recognised that he’s both an arrogant buffoon, as well as ignorant.

  12. Did Orbán also tell his audience that most of these Hungarian inventors were Jews (like Biro and von Neumann and …) and that’s why they had to eave Hungary to go inventing abroad ?

  13. wolfi :
    It’s true – the first modern espresso machine was invented by Illy Ferenc who moved to (or rather stayed in) Trieste after WW1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francesco_Illy

    A prototype espresso-type machine, yes. But the usual story. Ferenc Illy left Hungary (actually Transylvania) young, went to Italy, changed his name to Francesco and never looked back.

  14. I did a little research. It looks as if the very first espresso machine was invented in 1884 by Angelo Moriondo. In 1901 Luigi Bezzera improved it. In 1938 Achille Gaggia invented the steamless machine in 1938. Francesco Illy (originally from Temesvar) came up with the automatic variety and if I understand it correctly he used pressurized water instead of steam.

  15. Paul :
    Marconi and the Wright brothers were also Hungarians.
    And the Higgs Boson is actually the Kovács Boson.

    Don’t forget Miklos Tesla.

  16. Paul :
    On a point of information – how private is voting in Hungary?
    In the UK, we go into a fairly narrow booth, so no one can see how we vote, the ballot slip is then folded and placed in the ballot box in the open area.
    Is the system similar in Hungary?

    It is very similar indeed. Except of course that each Hungarian voter is given two ballot slips – one for the party lists and one for the individual candidates. Plus you do not simply fold the slips but additionally put them into an envelope while you are still inside the booth. The ballot box itself is in the open area in Hungary, too.

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