I think we can be quite sure that the next election will be stolen by the government party. There are just too many signs of planned fraud. We’ve already talked about the problems in the electoral law itself: the election procedures were set up in such a way that the forthcoming election might be free, in the sense that most people (though not all) will be able to vote, but it is certainly not going to be fair. Every day there are more and more signs that Fidesz is not taking any chances. They are using everything in their arsenal to thwart the chances of the opposition.
A few days ago I wrote about the absence of election posters for the United Opposition even as Fidesz and Jobbik posters are abundant. Surfaces reserved for campaign advertisement are owned by Viktor Orbán’s most influential and richest friend, Lajos Simicska, who claims that all available space is already taken. Interestingly enough, while the democratic opposition has neither the money nor the opportunity to advertise, Jobbik seems to have both. Moreover, there are no limits whatsoever on advertising by so-called “civic groups.” One such group, Civil Összefogás Fórum, is the creation of Fidesz, financed either by the party or by the government or perhaps by both.
State television and radio bombards the population with government propaganda. One of the major commercial television stations, TV2, keeps running the paid government ad: “Hungary is performing better,” which incidentally is also the slogan Fidesz uses. TV2, for those who are keeping track of Fidesz’s ever growing media empire, was just purchased by a mystery owner who, many suspect, is Zsolt Nyerges, a business partner of Lajos Simicska. The other large commercial station, RTL Klub, opted not to air any campaign ads because, according to the new regulations, they would have had to run them as a public service–that is, without remuneration.
I also mentioned earlier that parties were forbidden to put posters on electric poles. Although the Kúria found that decision unconstitutional, the father of Gergely Gulyás, the bright young legal star of Fidesz, a lawyer himself, challenged the ruling. To reach a final ruling will take weeks if not months. Meanwhile politicians can’t use the electric poles or, if opposition politicians do, Fidesz activists tear them down.
Foreigners visiting the country remark that this is the oddest election campaign they have ever encountered. There are large billboards bragging about Hungary’s great performance, but otherwise a casual visitor to Hungary would never know that the election is only a few days away. A billboard advertising Fidesz’s candidate for the premiership is the oddest of all. No orange, the color of Fidesz, can be seen, only a Hungarian flag in the background with Orbán’s picture with the following words: “prime minister of Hungary.” Clearly the message is that he is more than a party leader seeking reelection; he is the prime minister.
And then there are the small parties whose sudden appearance was greeted with a great deal of suspicion in opposition circles. Although some reporters seemed to know people who witnessed the illegal exchange of signatures among the smaller parties so they could achieve the desired number of candidates, no eyewitness stepped forward. That is until yesterday when a brave soul, an undergraduate who volunteered his services to the Magyarországi Cigánypárt (MCP), decided to tell all. Bertram Marek claims to know about at least five parties that cheated in the gathering of necessary signatures: MCP, KTI (Közösség a Társadalmi Igazságosságért), JESZ (Jólét és Szabadság), SZAVA (Szabad Választók Pártja), and the Party of the Greens. KTI is Katalin Szili’s party, Jesz is a party built on the ruins of MDF. Katalin Szili, earlier an MSZP politician, is indignant and charges her former political allies with “having visions of cheating.”
Practically all organizations connected to the government are involved somehow or other in the cheating that is going on. For example, the post office. Attila Mesterházy sends out campaign literature to the citizens urging them to attend the large gathering that was planned for March 15, but they get it only three days later, on March 18. Local papers published by the municipalities don’t allow opposition candidates any space to air their views. The same is true about municipal television stations.
The chief prosecutor’s office is doing its best to leak information on the Gábor Simon case which may not be altogether accurate. Simon is being kept in jail where most likely investigators are trying their best to get him to implicate one or more of the opposition leaders just before the election. The strategy of leveling corruption charges against members of the opposition worked well in 2010 (it mattered not that the charges were unfounded) and Fidesz seems confident that it will work again in 2014. The Parliamentary Committee on National Security has been called together, and the Fidesz majority insists on a hearing to investigate Attila Mesterházy three days before the election. Perfectly timed.
The dissembling campaign mentality seems to permeate everything these days. Members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe arrived in Budapest to talk to government officials and party politicians, but when they announced that they would like to talk to some opposition members, they were sent to the wrong address.
And finally the foreign vote. Several people I know have been unable to register. A friend of mine who lives in the DC area and who has voted dutifully every four years in the Hungarian Embassy in Washington will for the first time not be able to cast a vote. She tried to register online but never received an answer.
Then there are those who are eligible to vote by mail. A friend in the United States received his ballot and was told that his return envelope requires no postage. Well, I wonder how many of these envelopes will actually end up in Budapest. The envelope doesn’t even have the necessary information for the US Postal Service in English. Only in Hungarian and French! He very wisely added postage and wrote “Hungary” on the envelope. He even discussed the matter with the postmaster who confirmed his suspicion that the US Postal Service will not process international letters with a “no postage required” label.
This is a scandal. I almost hope that Orbán’s machinations will result in “overachievement.” Figures that are unbelievable, results that more closely resemble the electoral outcomes of Belarus than those of truly democratic countries. Perhaps then the EU will wake up.