Tusnádfürdő/Baile Tusna

Absentee ballots from Romania may give rise to electoral fraud

We are witnessing a mad dash to register the largest possible pool of voters in Hungary’s neighbors, especially Romania. Currently 4,000-5,000 applications for citizenship reach the office handling the cases. The hope is to get at least 300,000 dual citizens living outside of Hungary to register, a task that can be done as late as 15 days before the actual election. Three-quarters of these votes will most likely come from Romania. In fact, the Tusnádfürdő/Baile Tusnad extravaganza was also used to solicit more registered voters for Fidesz. The allegedly independent National Elections Committee’s chief, Ilona Pálffy, was on hand to make a pitch for voting in the Hungarian elections. In order to make the proposition attractive she minimized the bureaucratic hassles. In fact, she simplified the procedure to such an extent that the new investigative online website, 444.hu, immediately figured out that something was not quite cricket with the process by which a dual citizen votes.

Ilona Pálffy, formerly one of Viktor Orbán’s chief advisers, told the HírTV reporter who was present in Tusnádfürdő: “There will be many ways a dual citizen will be able to vote. He can mail his ballot in the country of his domicile to the National Election Committee; he can send it to the embassy or go to one of the consulates where there will be a box in which a person can even place all the ballots coming from the same village. He will not even need an ID. The registered voter can also bring his ballot to Hungary and mail it there. And finally, he can place his ballot in a box set up for this purpose in every voting district on the day of the elections.” Easy, isn’t it?

One’s very first question is how the authorities know that the person who arrives with a few hundred ballots is actually entrusted with the task by the voters.

Ilona Pálffy found herself in an uncomfortable position, especially after Együtt-PM cried foul and asked the obvious question. How can someone without any identification cast a ballot in the name of another person or persons? She tried to explain her earlier statement. Electoral fraud is out of the question. Hungary is simply following the practice of other countries. The voter will first place his ballot in an unmarked sealed envelope and will then put it in a second envelope with the name and the address of the voter. In one of the ways described above, these envelopes will reach the National Election Committee. There the outer envelopes will be opened and the unmarked envelopes “will be piled in a heap.” The ballots will be counted by the members of the National Election Committee.

electoral fraud

I checked the absentee ballot provisions of a few American states; several use this two-envelope solution. The inner envelope is called “secrecy envelope” and the second the “affidavit envelope” because on it there is a written declaration made under oath before a notary public or other authorized person. So far I haven’t heard anything about a declaration made under oath that would ascertain the identity of the voter. In fact, there is not word of it in the law concerning electoral procedures.

But there are other potential problems as well. Ilona Pálffy mentioned that representatives of other parties “can be present” when the outer envelopes are removed but said nothing about there being representatives of other parties at the actual counting of the ballots in the offices of the National Electoral Committee, a body whose members are all Fidesz appointees.

Then this morning I heard an interview with Zoltán Tóth, the foremost authority on elections in Hungary and abroad. He called attention to an odd distinction between “cím, lakcím” and “értesítési cím,” both meaning address. The latter is a roundabout way of saying that it is an address where a person can be notified.  (See  The Act on  Electoral Proceedings (2013. évi XXXVI. törvény a választás eljárásról). After all, aren’t the two the same? One immediately becomes suspicious: what is this all about?

Well, here at least is Tóth’s explanation. Currently “paid agents” of Fidesz (the government?) go from house to house, from village to village in Romania urging people to request a registration form. Once a request is forwarded by one of these agents, the National Electoral Commission compares the applicant’s data with the list of new citizens and decides on eligibility. After the eligibility decision is made, the registration form must be sent immediately to “the ‘értesítési cím’ of the given central register unless the citizen otherwise instructs.” In brief, it will be sent to the  central collecting center’s representative who solicited the registration.

These details are dealt with extensively in the law but nothing is said about who has to fill out the ballot and how the details of the person’s identity are ascertained. Presumably, the voter could simply tell someone else his party preference. Moreover, if there are Fidesz lists prepared in Romania as in Hungary, and apparently such lists already exist, someone could actually fill out ballots on the basis of that list. Tóth called attention to the 2010 postal voting fraud in the U.K., in Oldham, North Manchester, Richdale, and Bolton. A resident complained that he filled out the forms for his family but they were taken from his house by a party worker. Another voter complained that one of the parties got his details from the “postal voting list.”

I’m not at all surprised that the opposition parties are suspicious. Viktor Orbán doesn’t want to lose another election. His 2002 experience had a devastating effect on his psyche. The dual citizenship scheme was designed first and foremost to bolster Fidesz’s chances at the ballot box. István Mikola, minister of health in the first Orbán government, spilled the beans in 2006 when at a large Fidesz gathering he announced that “if we make voting from the neighboring countries possible at national elections we can cement our power for the next twenty years.”

I think Mikola was far too optimistic. Right now Fidesz hopes to have 300,000 registration applications. Of course, not all will actually vote, but I’m sure that the “paid agents” will make sure that most will. But even if 300,000 new voters all cast their votes for Fidesz apparently the impact on the outcome will be moderate, a difference of only about 3-4 seats. Of course, in a very close election these seats could make all the difference.

The experiences of the last three years show that Viktor Orbán and his minions are ready to use all legal and sometimes even semi-illegal instruments to make sure that they come out on top. They will do almost anything to win this election. And naturally money is no object. With this kind of preparatory work among the Romanian-Hungarian electorate the size of the Fidesz vote will be overwhelming in Romania.

Viktor Orbán: Hungary, Hungarians, and the world

I will continue yesterday’s discussion of Viktor Orbán’s speech at Tusnádfürdő/Baile Tusnad because I didn’t cover some important topics. Moreover, at the time of the post’s writing I had access only to Orbán’s speech and not his answers to questions from the audience. Since then I have read a summary of what transpired in the hour and a half after the prime minister finished his speech.

I should emphasize that the Tusnádfürdő extravaganza was organized not by RMDSZ, the largest Hungarian party in Romania, but by the Erdélyi Magyar Néppárt (EMNP) headed by Tibor T. Toró. So, the enthusiastic crowd came from the more radical right in Transylvania, from those who enthusiastically supported or most likely initiated the reburial of József Nyirő whose political sympathies lay with Hitler and later Szálasi. The other important speaker was László Tőkés, who is the chairman of an organization called Erdélyi Nemzeti Tanács which is in close alliance with EMNP.  An RMDSZ politician who was originally chosen to deliver a speech was forbidden to participate.

By way of background, Tasnádfürdő is in the Szekler region. The Szeklers  live in the counties of Hargita/Harghita, Kovászna/Covasna and Maros/Mureş and for a numbers of years have been demanding territorial autonomy which the Romanian majority refuses to grant.

I think László Tőkés’s speech was a window into the mindset of these people.  His speech was sprinkled with statements such as “we now are in a community of the Szekler Autonomous Region” or “we are gathered in Tusnádfürdő of the Szekler Autonomous Region.” These and similar claims give you an idea about these people’s sense of reality.

And as long as I’m bringing up Hungarian minority politics I might as well return to a part of Viktor Orbán’s speech that I didn’t touch on yesterday. It was his close to incomprehensible discourse on the concept of  the “world nation” (világnemzet), a word that at least until now didn’t exist in the Hungarian language. Among the compound words starting with “világ,” “világcég” means “international company” and “világnyelv” means “language widely spoken.” For example, today English is a “világnyelv.”

On the T-shirts: Great Hungary and Even Greater Hungary / Nepszabadság / Malabu

On the T-shirts: “Great Hungary” and “Still Greater Hungary / Népszabadság / Malabu

I guess a “world nation” means that there are Hungarians all over the world but regardless of where they live they all belong to the nation. That is simple enough, but what are we going to do with the following claim? “We must find a way that the Hungarian from Budapest, or rather from Felcsút, the Hungarian who lives in New York or in Argentina will all prosper.”

In my opinion, he can look high and low but he won’t find a way to achieve this, How could he? He has no power over the lives of those who live on a permanent basis in other countries. But it seems that his mind works differently from mine because he claims to have found the key to solving this problem. What is necessary, in his opinion, is “a strong Hungary.” He will draw all these people “into the new political and economic order that is being built by the two-thirds majority.” How, may I ask? But such practical questions don’t seem to occur to his admirers.

The same thing is true about Orbán’s deputy, Zsolt Semjén, who went even further when he claimed that if the Hungarian minorities totally assimilate sometime in the future in Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia, Hungarians altogether will disappear from the face of the earth. What is the connection? Why does the fate of the Hungarians of Hungary depend on the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries? There are, of course, no rational answers to these irrational statements, but that doesn’t seem to bother these people.

In the last couple of days I have been listening to a lecture series on the structure and the laws of the European Union. One of the lectures concentrated on the EU’s stages of development from its beginnings. The lecturer emphasized the fact that the Union even today is an entity in constant change. Something still in the making. The trend is toward closer and closer integration, especially since the crisis of the eurozone. Viktor Orbán will not be able to stop this trend and he can only lose this war. He may win a battle or two, but he will not succeed in transforming the European Union to his own liking.

It seems that Orbán was carried away during the Q&A session when he revealed the “secret”of how he fools the European Union. For example, the EU insists on changing certain passages in the new constitution. Eventually the Hungarian government obliges but at the same time they change a few more words here and there. The final result is that the European Union would have been better off if it hadn’t insisted on the changes at all. What upright behavior! And he is even proud of it.

And, continuing my random thoughts, here are a couple of corrections to Viktor Orbán’s figures. He claimed that since 2010 the Hungarian national debt was reduced through his efforts from 85% to 79% of GDP. A lie. Not since the mid 1990s has the national debt been at 85%, and at the moment it is climbing to a new cyclical high. It currently stands at 81.3% of GDP. Paying back the IMF loan early actually means borrowing money at a higher interest rate to repay a loan with a considerably lower interest rate. But according to his admirers, including László Tőkés, sending the IMF packing is a patriotic act.  As Tőkés said, “as in 1989 a young man sent the Soviets home today the same man with graying hair sent the IMF home.” Another lie. Viktor Orbán didn’t send the Russians home in 1989. Their departure had already been arranged between the Németh government and Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union.

Viktor Orbán at Tusnádfürdő/Baile Tusnad

I just finished listening to Viktor Orbán’s 56-minute speech at Tusnádfürdő/Baile Tusnad in Romania. He had a large, enthusiastic audience despite the heat. Applause was especially loud and long when Orbán talked about his fight against multinational companies, banks, and the European Union.  In the audience one could see very young children who, though they most likely didn’t understand a word, were enthusiastic nonetheless. It seems, however, that not everybody was equally impressed. The camera stayed focused for a fairly long time on a man who seemed to have fallen asleep, and I heard later that a couple of men threw tomatoes at Orbán on his way out from the camp site.

Source: MTI / Photo László Beliczay

Source: MTI / Photo László Beliczay

Viktor Orbán made sure that his audience doesn’t forget about next year’s election. He began his speech with a reference to it and at the end stressed the importance of his staying in power and continuing the policies that will lead to a complete transformation of Hungary’s political and economic system.

It seems that once Orbán comes up with a pet theory about the political and economic functioning of the universe, and he has a large inventory of them, he simply cannot let it go. In fact, in every new speech that touches on one of these theories he ratchets up his rhetoric and makes increasingly indefensible statements. For instance, his original theory about the decline of the West has by now become a prediction of a political and military clash between the West led by the United States and Asia led by China. By now he makes no secret of his intense dislike of the United States and accuses it of “trying to prevent other countries from catching up with it.”

Or, a few months ago he talked about the dominance of larger member states over the smaller ones within the European Union. By now this observation has morphed into the conviction that the “great powers” actually exploit the small ones by siphoning financial and human resources away from the smaller countries. The chief culprit here is again the United States. Hungary’s goal is to prevent such an exploitation and brain drain. This is in fact the essence of Hungary’s national strategy. To stop the great powers and use this new world’s opportunities to Hungary’s advantage.

After a rather lengthy and debatable historical treatise starting with World War I, he reached his favorite subject, the present financial crisis which in his opinion cannot be solved by the European Union. The institutional framework of the Union, the Commission, the Parliament “are unfit to handle the historical challenges facing us.” Orbán’s remedy is to shift the locus of power to individual nation states because only they are capable of overcoming the present crisis.

Orbán rarely passes up an opportunity for double-talk. This time he quoted a line from Sándor Kányádi, a Hungarian poet from Transylvania who had a line referring not to clear to what that “the dog is the same, only the chain was changed.” Of course, he immediately added that the change that occurred then wasn’t as simple as “left the tanks and came the banks,” as István Csurka claimed in the early 1990s, but “there is something to it.”

Then came a rather confused explanation of the differences between the gross national product (GDP) and gross national income (GNI). GDP is the market value of all officially recognized final goods and services produced within a country in a given period of time. GNI, a less familiar concept, consists of personal consumption expenditures, gross private investment, government consumption expenditures, the net income from assets abroad, and gross exports of goods and services after deducting gross imports of goods and services and direct business taxes.

Hungary’s GNI, Orbán claimed, is greater than its GDP. The difference, some two trillion forints annually, is moved abroad by banks and foreign companies. When national governments are in power, he argued, the difference between the two economic measures shrinks; when the socialists and liberals govern, the gap widens.

Let me stop for a moment. According to data published by the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, this claim is inaccurate. The Budapest Business Journal  wrote in September 2010: “The gap between nominal GDP and GNI widened each year between 2003 and 2007, from HUF 871 billion or 4.6% of GDP to 6.9%, but has narrowed since, dropping to HUF 1,721 billion or 6.4% of GDP in 2008 and to HUF 1,303 billion or 5% in 2009, the figures show.”

Why the gap between the GNI and the GDP in Hungary? According to Orbán the explanation is simple: “We created this wealth and it disappeared” abroad. He admitted that Hungary couldn’t manufacture cars on its own and therefore if Mercedes Benz makes a profit and takes this profit out of the country it is legitimate. After all, they provide job opportunities. But the banks are different. They amassed unreasonably large profits and therefore the bank levies are justified. These banks as well as the utility companies are siphoning money of the country. Again, let’s stop for a minute. It is a well-known fact that the foreign banks have been pumping money into their Hungarian subsidiaries for a number of years. That is the reason they haven’t gone under yet.

After this harangue against foreign companies and banks he listed eleven accomplishments he is proud of. I do not have the space, nor is it even worth the effort, to list them all. However, a couple of points that he made in connection with these accomplishments are worth noting.

One is his belief that if a country’s national debt is 90% or more of GDP there can be no economic growth. This mistaken notion most likely comes from a since largely debunked study by Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, two otherwise respected economists. The study, called “Growth in a Time of Debt,” claimed that economic growth slowed rather dramatically for countries whose public debt crossed the threshold of 90% of the gross domestic product.  Unfortunately, they made some errors in their calculations. The most serious was their failure to include years of data that showed Australia, Canada, and New Zealand enjoying high economic growth and high debt at the same time. More can be read about the Reinhart-Rogoff study here. It seems that whoever told Orbán about the correlation between national debt and economic growth knew about the study but not about its “Excel coding errors.”

Among the laundry list of accomplishments I found reference to an odd economic theory which even Orbán admitted was unique. As he put it, “as regards this question everybody is on the other side and we are the only ones on this side.” Well, that is frightening enough. So, what was Orbán talking about? Those on the other side claim that economic growth must come first and that this growth will then foster higher employment. But Viktor Orbán is convinced that exactly the opposite is true. First, one creates jobs, and this job creation will create economic growth. He claims that this is precisely what happened in the United States in the 1930s. Alas, it is a well known fact that it wasn’t Roosevelt’s public works program that managed to pull the U.S. economy out of the great depression. But Orbán is convinced that the same strategy will work in Hungary although even he has to admit that the two situations cannot be compared because the United States was rich enough to start building railroads and such while Hungary, being poor, can only employ public workers to dig ditches. How 300,000 ditch diggers can lead Hungary out of the economic crisis remains a well-kept secret.

We might think that these primitive economic notions are frightening, but Orbán received his greatest applause when he said that Hungary is following a road on which he is completely alone. Where that road will take the country I hate to think.