Potpourri: Forex loans, the duped MSZP, and outraged patriots in Stockholm

I decided to touch on several topics today instead of concentrating on only one. The reason? All three recent political events are still in flux. We have no idea how and when they will be settled.

Two of the three topics I’m going to talk about are not new to readers of Hungarian Spectrum. One is the story of the fraudulent video taken in Baja after the repeated by-election at one of the polling stations. The other is the continuing saga of the Swedish TV program on Hungary. And finally, today’s news is that a decision was finally made on the fate of Forex debts that over 100,000 people are unable to pay back.

Let me start with the last topic, the government debt relief scheme. Today’s announcement of the impending government action came unexpectedly and, in usual Fidesz fashion, the measure will be passed by parliament tomorrow. It seems that in the last minute the Orbán government got cold feet and didn’t dare go ahead with their original, radical plan that would have made the banks bear the entire burden. Critics warned that if the government followed through on the plan the entire Hungarian banking system would collapse. So, it seems that they settled for a less onerous solution. As I understand the proposed plan, people with mortgages in foreign currencies will be able to temporarily repay them at below-market exchange rates. Mortgages denominated in Swiss francs can be paid in forints at an exchange rate of 180 forints instead of the current 241. Those with mortgages in euros can convert them at 250 forints instead of 296. The difference between the spot and discount rates will be held in a temporary account, with the banks and the government splitting the interest and some of the costs involved. Mortgage holders will have five years in which to repay the exchange rate difference. Anyone who would wants more details of the plan should consult Margit Fehér’s article in The Wall Street Journal.

Now let’s go back to Sweden. I mentioned in an earlier post that Swedish public television broadcast a program about Hungary on October 23 which, in the opinion of the Hungarian government, contained factual errors and generalizations that reflected badly on Hungary and its people. They found it especially galling that this “anti-Hungarian” documentary was broadcast on the anniversary of the Hungarian revolution of 1956.

In my earlier post I called attention to Viktor Orbán’s order to the ambassadors to defend the good name of Hungary every time there is an alleged attack on the country. As one of the undersecretaries of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, Gergely Prőhle, said on ATV yesterday, “the ministry’s employees are a disciplined lot” and therefore they took Orbán’s words seriously. Since Prőhle had earlier been ambassador to Switzerland and Germany, he was asked what he would have done had he been in Lilla Makkay’s shoes. It seems that Prőhle, who is among the more moderate voices in the Foreign Ministry, feels compelled to follow the official line. He announced that Ambassador Makkay did the right thing and that he would have done the same thing. He emphasized that Makkay was polite and spoke in Swedish.

I don’t blame either Makkay or Prőhle. After all, they are representatives of the Hungarian government. I do, however, blame the Orbán government which instructs the country’s ambassadors to interfere with the media of western countries. I also blame this government for creating an atmosphere that encourages the right-wing press to write an open letter to the Swedish ambassador in Budapest. We know that if Zsolt Bayer, Ur-Fidesz, opens his mouth, the consequences are always dire. I bet that after someone translated Bayer’s open letter the Swedish ambassador no longer had any doubts about whom she was dealing with. And if someone added that he is an old friend of Viktor Orbán, I’m sure she was just thrilled.

Kumin’s letter, Makkay’s scolding, and her invitation to journalists to come to the Hungarian embassy didn’t achieve anything. Or, rather, it did but not exactly what the great defenders of Hungary’s reputation had hoped for. The same program that broadcast the documentary on Hungary in the first place returned to the subject a week later and told its audience what had happened during the last week. The Hungarian government and its representative in Stockholm looked ridiculous.

confusion2And finally, there is the ongoing story of the fraudulent video. Whoever hired the four or five Roma to stage the gathering that was supposed to prove that Fidesz bought Roma votes at the by-election picked the wrong men. Their stories not only made no sense initially, they couldn’t keep their stories straight. One of their claims, that a MSZP politician ordered the tape from Róbert G., seems to have been disproved. At least this is what the politician’s polygraph test indicates.

Of course, the real question is who was behind Róbert G. and the others. It’s possible that local Fidesz politicians, Róbert Zsigó, and Csaba Kovács, hired the Romas. Some evidence points in that direction. In a conversation with Olga Kálmán shortly after the second round of voting Zsigó told her that on Saturday, that is a day before the election, he received information that the opposition parties were planning to create a video that would implicate Fidesz in vote buying. He added that he immediately went to the police with the information. A few days later Máté Kocsis repeated the same story on one of MTV’s evening programs. As we know by now, the video was created on Monday. Strange, isn’t it?

In any case, Ildikó Lendvai was right when on Sunday in an interview on ATV she said that “we were duped,” adding that no one likes people who are considered to be saps. Endre Aczél wrote two excellent short articles about the case entitled Csali and Csali–II (The bait). I think that the scenario Aczél outlined in his first article is most likely very close to reality. But if that was the case, it was a dangerous game to play. On the other hand, no scandal is ever big enough to have much effect on Viktor Orbán, his party, or his 1.5 million strong followers.

A fake tape snowballing into punitive legislation against journalists

It is hard to imagine that the Baja by-election is still a hot topic in the Hungarian media. By now the focus is not so much on the results and how they were achieved as on what followed. And it seems that the deeper we dig the greater a morass we find. The strange events surrounding a simple electoral fraud by now have snowballed into something that looks to me like an excellent political weapon to make sure that the election that really matters, the national election, will go the way Fidesz wants it to.

What do I mean? With the appearance of the phony video showing a number of Roma inhabitants of Baja, Fidesz managed to divert attention away from its own electoral fraud, committed not once but twice. Now everybody talks about the fraud that MSZP allegedly committed and not about the votes the local Fidesz paid for, despite tangible proof of the latter.

By now in one way or the other it is MSZP and to a lesser extent DK that are being accused of hiring people to stage a phony scene where money was exchanged between a representative of the Roma self-government and four inhabitants of Baja. Gusztáv Kőrös, the man who came forth with the “details” of MSZP’s involvement, is also a Roma official but from another town. According to his own very confused story, he was asked by two MSZP officials to produce the incriminating video. I might add here that our man was “under police protection” for three days. From whom were the police protecting him?

Let me state upfront that Kőrös’s story is totally unbelievable. If this is the best the people who are behind him could come up with, then any half-competent police force could easily solve the case in no time. That is, if they wanted to. But I very much doubt that the police actually want to.

snowballingYou may recall that at one point I suggested that the whole scheme was a simple ruse to get some quick money, perhaps from DK, which offered a reward for bona fide proof of electoral fraud. I no longer think that this was the case. After all, when Gusztáv Kőrös showed up at MSZP headquarters he asked no money for the DVD he handed over to a party official. So, I reasoned that local Baja Fidesz politicians might be behind the creation of the video. There is indirect evidence in support of that hypothesis. Before HVG released the video it was sent to Fidesz headquarters for their response. There was no answer. What does this tell me? That the Fidesz leadership wanted this video to be made public because they knew it was a fake.

MSZP, however, is not entirely innocent in this sordid affair. A few minutes ago the news broke that Gábor Gavra, former editor-in-chief of HVG, received the tape from MSZP. To be precise, from the director of communications of the party, Balázs Déri, at party headquarters. Of course, that doesn’t imply that MSZP was actually involved in the staging of the phony meeting, but it casts a shadow on the truthfulness of Attila Mesterházy who in the last few days steadfastly denied that there was any communication between the party and the editor-in-chief of HVG. All the MSZP politicians who talked about this affair claimed that, after receiving the tape, examining it, and finding it suspicious, they turned it over to the police. So, MSZP is sinking deeper and deeper into the quagmire while Fidesz is reaping the benefits of this whole sordid affair.

Fidesz is pushing its advantage, though perhaps too hard. In the name of the “purity of the election processes” Fidesz came forward with a proposal for a new provision to be incorporated into the Criminal Code. The proposed law is already nicknamed Lex HVG.

Antal Rogán, the whip of the Fidesz caucus, turned in the amendment to the new Criminal Code, which will come into force in December. If accepted, and why shouldn’t it be given the past record of the Fidesz-KDNP two-thirds majority, the burgeoning field of Hungarian investigative journalism will be stifled because the proposed amendment threatens any journalist who publishes material that a police investigation subsequently deems to be fake with jail time.

Very briefly outlined, here are the main points. (1) Someone who creates either an audio tape or a video in order to slander the reputation of another person will receive a jail term of one year. (2)  Anyone who makes such a tape or video available will get two years in jail. (3) Anyone who makes such a tape or video available to a wide audience (nagy nyilvánosság) will be jailed for three years.  And (4) anyone who didn’t ascertain the exact nature of such a tape or video because of “carelessness” (gondatlanság) will be jailed for at least one year.

So, the creator of a false tape or video will receive exactly the same sentence as the newspaperman who failed to ascertain, although he tried, the exact nature of the material he received. The whole amendment is outrageous, as Ákos Balogh, editor-in-chief of Mandiner, a moderate right-wing Internet site, pointed out this morning on ATV Start. In fact, the conservative Balogh was even more critical than his liberal counterpart, Dávid Trencséni of Stop. First of all, there is no need to introduce a new law on this particular issue because it is possible to handle such cases on the basis of the existing provisions of the Criminal Code. Second, such an amendment would greatly restrict the freedom of the media. Who will dare to publish any audio or visual material if he can face a stiff jail sentence? After all, no one can be 100% certain about the genuineness of such material. One would have to consult several experts, but even the experts might be wrong, and what will happen if the police’s expert says that it is a fake?

On the same ATV Start program the moderator interviewed Gergely Gulyás, the young legal expert of Fidesz, about this law, which is being fiercely debated among journalists and the general public. Gulyás is a self-assured fellow who can make the most outrageous things sound perfectly acceptable and reasonable. But this time even he seemed to be in trouble. He normally looks directly at the reporter without blinking an eye, but today he cast his eyes down far too often. Moreover, his excuses were feeble. It is not enough to say “don’t worry, no one will go to jail,” as he did. As the moderator rightly pointed out, why then do we need such a law?

I very much hope that this amendment will die because, if it doesn’t, the whole media controversy that was finally settled to the European Union’s apparent satisfaction will come to the fore again. If it passes, I hope that Brussels will be insistent that such punitive laws against journalists are unacceptable.

The smoking gun? A video of Fidesz money being given to voters in Baja

If this video, available on YouTube, is genuine, Viktor Orbán and Fidesz are in serious trouble. It was again HVG that received the video, I assume a few days ago. Why did they release it only today? I suspect because they wanted to be sure about its authenticity since this 10-minute video is dynamite.

The video records a meeting between four Roma voters and somebody, identified as R. G., who seems to be acting on behalf of Csaba Kovács, the Fidesz candidate in the by-election in Baja, and Róbert Zsigó, mayor of the city and one of the principal spokesmen of Fidesz. R.G. was filling in for the official go-between, Szilveszter Horváth, the head of the local Roma self-government, who was allegedly busy.

R. G. brought along 200,000 forints for the four men as payment for their votes in the first round of the election which eventually had to be repeated. It turned out that these men had been promised 50,000 forints each at the time, but in the end they got only 10,000. So, they were suspicious of R. G. and the promises of Kovács and Zsigó. Cash on the table, however, made them more cooperative. R. G. also promised more money, which he himself was to deliver on Monday right after the repeat election. In addition, the four families were promised firewood. That is, if Kovács wins the election.

HVG sent a copy of the video to Róbert Zsigó’s press secretary with the message that the online news site will release the video today at 1:30 p.m. After the release of the video they did get an e-mail from Zsigó in which he claimed that he doesn’t know any of the people on the video. In his opinion, the video is a fake. He informed HVG that the local Fidesz leadership had already reported to the police that some people had tried to bribe people in Fidesz’s name. But these people had absolutely nothing to do with the party. In brief, the democratic parties staged this phony scene in order to challenge the results of the election that Fidesz won fair and square.

When the Fidesz candidate won the election the second time around, the democratic parties, although they had some proof of fraud, decided not to demand yet another round. The decision was most likely political. The people of Baja had had enough of what some people called an absolute circus and most likely would not have been happy with more of the same. Moreover, it is unlikely that the local Fidesz forces would have behaved any better than before, and losing three times in a row is certainly not good for the image of the anti-Fidesz forces.

Now suddenly they changed their minds. Attila Mesterházy announced that they will ask the court to order another round. Unfortunately, as often happens nowadays, the opposition displayed a blissful ignorance of the electoral law. There is only a very narrow window, I think three days, during which a remedy can be sought by the aggrieved party. They are too late.

There is, however, another avenue: sue Kovács, Zsigó, Szilveszter Horváth, Tibor Ajtai (another Roma leader), and this mysterious R. G. for electoral fraud, a crime that carries a sentence of up to three years in jail. There is, however, a caveat: the law makes no distinction between the one who pays for the vote and the one who accepts money for it. That would mean jail sentences as well for those Gypsies who turned the video over to HVG.

HVG is usually very careful with cases like this one, and I assume that they consulted not only video experts but also their lawyers about the legal status of those who were involved with the recording. One potential defense would be that the Roma voters set a trap for these men in the name of justice. Why else would they have given the video to HVG?

Meanwhile, there is at least one blogger who has some questions about the authenticity of the video. He finds the setup somewhat artificial, as if the man with the camera was waiting for the visitor who begins talking even before he sits down. He considers the telephone call R. G. receives from Csaba Kovács in the middle of the negotiations suspicious. And who is the phantom man whose cell phone is used for the video? Why don’t the people present tell him not to video the exchange? In the final analysis, however, the blogger expresses his belief that HVG is far too professional to claim authenticity without having proof. The blogger predicts that the story “isn’t ending here. On the contrary it’s just begun.”

Fidesz immediately moved. By 5 p.m. today the party went to the police and reported criminal conduct in connection with the by-election. Even earlier they suspected that criminal fraud was being committed by the anti-Fidesz forces when they learned that some unknown people had offered firewood to the voters. Therefore, even before the actual election, they reported their suspicions to the police.

At the same time MSZP also went to the police and demanded an investigation. Csaba Molnár, vice-chairman of DK, handed in a written question to Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor, concerning the case. Benedek Jávor of Együtt-PM predicted that if the video is genuine the scandal through Róbert Zsigó will reach the highest echelons of Fidesz and in this case “it might be Viktor Orbán’s political death sentence.”

Electoral fraud in Baja: More details emerge

The by-election in Baja is still not over, at least if it depends on the opposition. The public is learning more and more about the characters involved in the alleged electoral fraud. It looks as if the orchestrators of the highly suspicious results in one of the polling stations came from the ranks of Fidesz party activists who are responsible for campaign strategies. Moreover, these party workers have a track record of manipulating the voting process if they think that Fidesz needs it in order to win.

Let me start the story with two men who can be seen on a video rudely interrupting Gordon Bajnai, the former prime minister and co-chairman of Együtt-PM, as he is listening to the complaints of an elderly woman. They badger him with accusations of wrongdoings that he allegedly committed when the company for which he was working was involved with a business that ended up in bankruptcy. Since the business had something to do with raising geese, these “civic” demonstrators recruited by Fidesz usually arrive with either live or rubber geese and drown Bajnai out with loud cackling.

This encounter was no different except for the fact that the “demonstrators” were Fidesz employees. One of them was Máté Kindlovits, the personal secretary of Gábor Kubatov, who is the brains behind Fidesz’s campaign strategy. Kindlovits is no stranger to Hungarians who follow political events. He could be seen on a Fidesz video leaked to the public about the party’s preparation for the 2009 mayoral by-election in Pécs.

The other man was Tibor Csörsz Elszaszer, who can be seen on the same video. Elszaszer was caught by the police as he was taking mostly Gypsy voters to their polling station in Pécs. The police found a long list of names and addresses in the car. Elszaszer’s explanation was simple minded: the men in his car were on their way to go fishing but they stopped off to vote. I might mention that Elszaszer was originally active in Jobbik, and in 2006 he tried his luck as a MIÉP-Jobbik candidate in the Érd municipal election. Magyar Narancs found photos of Elszaszer with Jobbik’s Előd Novák of fame.

These two men, however, could not alone ensure a Fidesz victory in Baja. They solicited the help of some local Roma leaders. One of them, Tibor Ajtai, the chairman of the county’s Roma self-governing body, is an “expert” on chain-voting. In January of this year a tape recording surfaced in which Ajtai admits that he was the one who helped Fidesz’s candidate, Krisztián Kapus, become mayor of Kiskunfélegyháza. He managed to devise a “beautifully executed chain-voting scheme,” but he was greatly disappointed because, although Kapus initially gave him and another Roma leader jobs in city hall that were to last until 2014, they were terminated in September 2011. One can only wonder what kind of promises were made to Ajtai for services rendered in Baja. Ajtai also seems to be engaged in usury. According to some of his victims, instead of giving monetary assistance from funds available to the Roma organization, Lungo Drom, he lent the strapped men money from his own resources and then demanded that they repay him two or three times the amount he lent them.

The second Roma leader who was most likely involved is Szilveszter Horváth, who actually lives in the district. His wife was strategically placed inside the polling station where apparently with the help of sms messages back and forth she could report on the progress being made inside.


And finally, here are a couple of charts from TénytárThe first one shows the results in this particular electoral district between 2006 and 2013. The red bars represent MSZP and its partners and the orange Fidesz. The chart shows the results of the national and local 2006 and 2010 elections and the 2013 by-election. As you can see, even with the likely voting irregularities, the opposition doubled its support compared to 2010 in this pro-Fidesz district.


The second graph compares the results of the 2006 and 2013 municipal elections, broken down by the five polling stations in the district. Ténytár opted to compare this year’s results with the results of 2006, when the left fared much better than it did in 2010. You may notice that a third party (brown) ran in the 2006 elections. That was the MFC Roma Unity Party.  Even if you take the total of the Fidesz and Roma votes in 2006 (and it does not make a lot of political sense to do so), it still falls short of the 97 votes cast for Fidesz this year.

The National Election Committee is unlikely to accept the complaints and decide that balloting should be repeated in this particular polling station. At least this is the widely held view in Hungary. But the opposition parties could still go to the courts and see whether the “independent” justices might be convinced by the available evidence that a repeat is warranted. If this case is swept under the rug, Fidesz might pay dearly for a small win in a by-election when it comes to determining the validity of the results of the next national election. In fact, there are some people who doubt the existence of electoral fraud in Baja because they simply can’t believe that Fidesz would risk that much.

On the other hand, Zsolt Bayer, the far-right Fidesz journalist, is not shy. In his weekly column he “humbly thanks the upright Gypsies who with their votes assisted in this victory,” adding that “Lungo Drom did a fantastic job.” It sure did, but if I were Bayer I wouldn’t be proud of it.

Voting fraud in Baja? Most likely

Yesterday there was a by-election in the city of Baja, the hometown of Gordon Bajnai. Baja’s population hasn’t changed much in the last century. It hovers around 35,000. Baja is considered to be a rather conservative city. The last time there was a socialist mayor of the town was in 2002. Since then Fidesz has easily won in the city at the municipal elections. The current mayor of Baja is Róbert Zsigó, who seems to be the latest “star” of Fidesz. Although he has been a member of parliament since 1998, he was pretty much of an unknown quantity until recently when he was picked to be one of the growing number of Fidesz spokesmen.

Baja had to hold a by-election because one of its council members, Tünde Bálint, a lawyer, died. The three most important opposition parties (MSZP, Együtt-PM, and DK) supported a single candidate, Melinda Teket, a young reporter at the local independent television station. With Baja being the hometown of Gordon Bajnai and the town considered to be a stronghold of Fidesz, this particular by-election became something of a test case. Many people thought that if Melinda Teket wins, it will be an indication of what might happen at next year’s election.

So, let’s take a look at the results of past municipal elections in this particular district. The adult population of this district is currently 2,913. Of these only 31.65% cast a ballot this year, which for a by-election is not actually that low a number. In 2010 Tünde Bálint won handily, receiving 58.9% of the votes. The situation was the same in 2006 when the Fidesz candidate got 63% of the votes. In 2002 when an MSZP candidate won the district, he barely squeaked by. He received 309 votes against his Fidesz opponent’s 294 votes.

Csaba Kovács, a close friend of Róbert Zsigó who otherwise works as a security man at the local German-language high school, was Teket’s opponent. In the end he won the election by getting 61 votes more than his opponent. Kovács received 467 votes and Teket 406. The rest went to Jobbik and to LMP.

voting fraud2It is worth taking a closer look at the figures. There were five polling stations. Teket won in three in close contests (184 opposed to 173, 137 as opposed to 133, and 41 as opposed to 28) and lost one with a 21 vote difference. But then there was the fifth (Bokodi út 62) where Teket got 29 votes and Csaba Kovács got 97!  Clearly it was in this district that Teket lost the election.

Együtt 2014-PM already complained to the local election committee on Sunday when one of its activists outside of the Bokodi Street polling station was threatened by two people who told him not to try to observe their activities because he will see what will happen to him. The activist claims that these two people kept bringing voters to the polling station by car. That in itself is illegal according to Hungarian law, but I suspect that this is not the only thing that these Fidesz activists did.

Since then we learned that this particular polling station is in one of the poorest parts of Baja, which is largely Roma inhabited. The leader of the local Roma self-governing body was entrusted with the organization of the voting. Two young fellows transported the voters back and forth. Origo has a short video on which one can hear one of the drivers apologizing for the fact that this is his third trip and he just hopes that this is okay. He is being assured by the Fidesz activists that he can come fifty times if he wants to. While this was going on outside, inside apparently the wife of the head of the local Roma organization kept updating somebody or somebodies who had cast a vote already and who had not.

It is possible that the transportation (and perhaps compensation) of the Gypsy inhabitants of the district was not the only violation of the electoral law. Those who were getting out the vote most likely wanted to make sure that voters were actually casting ballots for the “right” candidate. It seems, according to some reports, that so-called “chain-voting” could take care of that. I’m not 100% sure how this is being done, but I assume it resembles the college tricks of the 1950s when all exams were oral (and when students weren’t graded on a bell curve). Three students were called into the professor’s room to take the exam. Each student was supposed to pick a question written down on a small piece of paper. Each piece of paper had a number. These students pulled not one but two slips of paper and thus could decide which one was more to their liking. The second slip of paper was hidden and taken out to someone in the waiting group who naturally had plenty of time to prepare his answer. The new student pulled a question but gave the number of the smuggled-out question and again hid the one he just pulled. And on it went.

I don’t know what the National Election Committee will do, but I suspect that it will be difficult to ignore the issue. The fraud, however deep it went, seems far too blatant. But quite aside from the possible fraud at this particular polling station, given the past electoral history of the town and this particular district the candidate of MSZP-E14-DK did remarkably well. Especially if one considers the extremely dirty Fidesz campaign.

Fidesz also believed that this election was important and in fact Róbert Zsigó called this election an important indication of whether the horrible socialists can return or not. Well, I guess without the Roma vote most likely they would have. I suspect that even Viktor Orbán feared an MSZP-E14-DK victory because in the last minute he cancelled an appearance in Baja. Most likely it was at that point that the decision was made to give the Fidesz candidate a little extra help.

In a small election a few votes can decide the outcome, and some would argue that a similar fraud couldn’t have a significant impact on a national election. I would argue that this is not true. The number of the parliamentary districts is not all that large and, since 50% plus 1 vote decides who wins, in a close election every vote counts. Therefore, I do hope that the National Electoral Committee will investigate the possible fraud that occurred at this particular polling station.