Fair election? Not a chance

I think it’s time to talk again about the forthcoming election. Or, to be more precise, about the possibility that the current laws and rules and regulations will preclude a fair election. Senator John McCain might talk about international monitoring and Viktor Orbán might gladly agree: no observers will ever find anything wrong in and around the voting stations. The government prepared everything way ahead of time to ensure an almost certain victory for Fidesz. This election, as things now stand, cannot be fair.

One can start with the redrawing of the boundaries of the electoral districts which made sure that earlier socialist strongholds were diluted with areas that vote overwhelmingly for Fidesz. The new electoral system favors the monolithic, highly centralized Fidesz as opposed to the smaller parties of divergent political views that were forced to cooperate in order to have a chance. Then there is the generous government support for any candidate who collects a few hundred signatures to run in the next election. At last count there are 45 such parties already registered with the National Election Committee. Admittedly, these phony parties will take away only a few hundred votes, but in districts where the election is close between Fidesz and Összefogás (Unity) they may help the governing party.

And let’s not forget about the “foreign” vote, especially from Transylvania and Serbia. These new citizens can easily cast their ballots even by mail while the half a million Hungarian citizens by birth who are living abroad cannot do the same. The former are mostly Fidesz supporters while the recent emigrants are a more varied lot politically. Perhaps even the majority  of emigrants would vote against the current government because of their experiences at home which prompted them to leave. And let’s not forget about the Roma population which the government is planning to disenfranchise by urging them to register as members of a minority, an option that would allow them to vote only for the Országos Cigány Önkormányzat (National Gypsy Self-government), an arm of Fidesz.

But this list is nothing in comparison to some of the amendments and local ordinances that seem to be issued every time one turns around. From the start, campaigning was severely limited. For example, commercial television stations couldn’t  show political ads and on the public television stations they were greatly restricted. After pressure from the European Union, the Orbán government “generously” changed the rules: commercial stations could air ads but couldn’t charge for them. The European Union was satisfied. This is one of those occasions when one understands Victoria Nuland’s sentiments. How could they ever agree to this “compromise”? I don’t think that it will come as a great surprise that the commercial stations are not exactly rushing to offer their services. Why should they? Not only would they receive nothing for airing these ads but they would incur the wrath of a vengeful Fidesz.

Then came more restrictions on advertising on streets. In previous years smaller posters carrying the pictures and slogans of candidates could be affixed to electric poles, but now that practice is forbidden. Candidates can still put up huge billboards but again the number of surfaces has been greatly reduced, especially in Budapest where the Fidesz-dominated leadership approved a new ordinance regulating the posting of ads. Even if the opposition parties have the money they will have difficulty making themselves visible. As someone jokingly said, perhaps Összefogás (Unity) will put up posters in apartment staircases because the government and the Budapest city council haven’t yet thought about making them off limits.

And now comes the really clever move. While “political parties” find that their opportunities to advertise their program and their candidates are severely restricted, none of the restrictions apply to “civic organizations.” In reality, we should really talk about only one such organization: CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fóruma). Earlier I wrote about CÖF, an organization that came into prominence about a year ago when the first Peace March took place. The organization of these peace marches must have cost an incredible amount of money, which CÖF cannot account for. It is almost 100% certain that CÖF, through some intermediary, receives its entire budget of millions if not billions from the government. Civic organizations can advertise anywhere at any time. Even before the official election campaign begins, when theoretically at least no campaigning is permitted. In the last few months CÖF has launched two large campaigns. First, against Gordon Bajnai and Ferenc Gyurcsány and, second, against Unity. They put up huge display ads everywhere, including the sides of city buses. Their latest move is campaign literature mailed to every Hungarian household (4 million) in which CÖF tells the voters why the “Gyurcsány coalition” shouldn’t have a second chance.

CÖF is certainly not short of funds

CÖF is certainly not short of funds

The final straw in this series of discriminatory practices was the news yesterday that the government’s slogan “Magyarország jobban teljesít” (Hungary is performing better), with which they plastered the whole country, from here on will be the slogan of Fidesz. The Hungarian government generously allowed the governing party to use its own campaign slogan. Actually, by today the story changed somewhat. According to the latest information, the Fidesz parliamentary delegation paid 200,000 forints (650 euros) for the right to use the slogan in an agreement with the Prime Minister’s Office signed in August 2013. In October the Prime Minister’s Office made a similar deal with Fidesz as a party, but the party didn’t have to pay anything. “Unity” is planning to go to court over this arrangement.

All in all, Fidesz will not have to pay much for its election campaign this year. The taxpayers will foot the bill for CÖF as well as for the slogan by which the Orbán government advertised its own fantastic accomplishments. The slogan, logo, and poster cost the taxpayers 150 million. This figure doesn’t include the fees the government paid for placing the self-congratulatory ad in newspapers and on Internet sites.

So, this is the situation at the moment. The reader can decide how fair an election we can expect on April 6.

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59 comments

  1. There were 575 thousand new citizens at the beginning of February, Fidesz officials now expect 200 thousand new voters (I think there will be more). The registration closes on March 22.

  2. According to the top election official, Ilona Pálffy, there are 82 thousand new citizens with permanent Hungarian addresses out of the 500 thousand who took the oath so far.

    So there are 82 thousand new Fidesz voters (I am sure strategically distributed) who do not have to register, and this number is missing from the numbers on valasztas.hu

    Say I am a new citizen, who lives in Transylvania, but I have a fake permanent address in Szombathely at the Austrian border.

    By the new election law, I do not have to travel to Szombathely, I can cast my two votes, one for party list and the other for a Szombathely district in Csenger (at the Romanian border)!

    http://www.hirado.hu/2014/02/06/nvi-elnok-szavazzanak-gyorsan-a-kulhoniak/

  3. Petöfi —

    you misunderstand. The Hungarian election laws do not differ from Western laws. You can find each element of them in the laws of one Western country or another. That is the trick (Fidesz did it with the media laws, which naturally passed with stellar grades before the EU).

    If you just look at the laws, everything is mighty fine — because “we imported Western practices”.

    It’s like with Putin. I do not know why anybody criticizes poor Putin when he just translated the laws on public demonstration of the UK and the Russian fines are actually smaller than those imposed in the UK. Still, somehow I just would not want risk being part of any demonstration in Moscow or Yekaterinburg.

    Petöfi, these people are smart, foreigner “experts” and apparatchiks of OSCE will never be able to touch them.

    The devil is always in the details, in the practice, in the factual situation which nobody likes to lo look at because it’s too messy, controversial, difficult to prove, lack of jurisdiction and so on.

  4. Disagree with Rory here – Fidesz have obviously and blatently overstepped the mark on a number of aspects. It may be necessary for campaigners to identify a number of use cases and take them all to the ECHR. Ultimately the aim should be to demonstrate that in spirit and practice, these elections are being conducted in contradiction of basic democratic principles,

  5. A boycott of the Fidesz – Jobbik clique is totally justified.

    The anti-intellectual Orban era is not a proud moment in the history pages of Hungary.

    It was a few degrees worth than the Horthyism.

    This was one of the greatest missed opportunity to be free, and prosperous.

  6. @ Rory & whoever
    While you scrutinising a valid aspect, let me point out another one.
    Rory rightfully mentioned, that Orbán and Co. frequently referring to the law of another EU countries, that their latest creation should fall in lieu, but they normally fail to mention, that the Orbanist version contains only bits and pieces, glued in only for appearance, not for their true and real meaning. Furthermore, while they insist that “this- or that law already in” such and such country’s legislation, they fail to mention, that a couple of other isn’t, that they put many different solutions in the same package, which never ever existed together.
    What I really mean is, you can piece together whatever you wish of already existing bits, but as a whole will never comply to requirements, however you may twist them.

    Another – in my opinion – crucial aspect, and this is the language.

    Anybody remember, how the different versions of translations diverged during the introduction of the so called “Fundamental Law” at the beginning?
    Due to the versatility of the Hungarian language there is quite a numerous variation available of a certain expression, even words, what can be translated quite a few different way and still be “literally” correct. In short, a cunning and skilful person or organisation (government?) quite easily can mislead the supervising EU – or whoever for that matter – and they have quite a slim chance to catch them. Particularly if someone native or/and educated English speaker without the intimate knowledge the Hungarian vocabulary and mindset.

    Just an example.
    During the recent year the Hungarian government using the slogan “Magyarország jobban teljesít”. To those, who native speaker or/and has the literally correct and educated English the “Hungary doing better” translation working, quite sufficient, and hardly think about that something wrong here. Or is it?

    We all know, that “George doing well” means, that George is a well to do guy, the life just going right to George. If we hear, that George “doing better” we certainly take, that so far George done well and now he’s doing even better. Why? Simply, because the grammar and the connotations indicates it, no problem.
    However, the “Magyarország jobban teljesít” slogan in Hungarian and in the Fidesz narrative indicates, that Hungary “performs” better. Performance, however supposedly measure something, a production usually, and if it paired the word “better” it became comparative, and it certainly should indicate that “better than…”. The same applies in Hungarian, by the way. Never mind, that the sentence even in Hungarian a truncated one, but seemingly nobody cares. The populace quite happily complementing it with their own, no problems there. (Strange, as it may, but that’s signify the skill of the Fidesz communications department: they knew it will work, and it does.)

    So, the above example only one why – in my opinion – it’s a hopeless task to go to the EU, or any other international organisation, they’ll simply see no evil in those elaborate manipulations, since I am pretty sure, the texts can be translated in every which way to fit to the powers that be, and still will be correct.

    Lastly: I haven’t yet mentioned the possibilities of the interpretation of the very law, when it comes down to everyday’s practice, just watch and see, what’s going to happen!

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