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.
It 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.