The recent extended discussion on voter registration among readers of Hungarian Spectrum centered around a comparison between the American and the Hungarian system. Indeed, there is registration initiated by the voter in the United States, in part because there are no official domicile records. In Hungary, at least until now, the government took care of keeping the list of eligible voters. The election committees compiled the list from domicile records which, by the way, will still be available after the introduction of registration. So introducing the extra step of registration is not only unnecessary but most likely is intended as a deterrent to voter participation. As Fidesz politicians were reported having said, registration would cull the less well informed and the less committed.
The introduction of voter registration is the reason for the hunger strike staged by Ferenc Gyurcsány and his three fellow DK politicians. But since the beginning of the hunger strike new information has reached the public about further government plans that would make the next elections even less fair for the non-Fidesz forces.
Fidesz originally wanted to make it more difficult for smaller parties to enter the race. In the past, a candidate had to gather 750 endorsements. That meant that the candidate had to go from door to door asking for people’s endorsements. Fidesz’s first proposal included raising that number from 750 to 1,500. LMP candidates in 2010 had a very difficult time collecting even 750 endorsements. After some reflection, however, the Fidesz strategists decided that completely abolishing the system would make more sense from the party’s point of view.
The media’s initial reaction was favorable since there were serious privacy issues involved in the practice of endorsements. After all, the endorser had to give details about himself and reveal his party preference. It was also a time consuming job and people had enough of candidates from different parties bothering them for their signatures. But what is coming in its place will cast a very dark shadow on the fairness of the next elections.
Until now the government provided the parties with a small amount of money for campaign purposes. The amount was meager: 2 million forints (€7,100) per candidate. But at least the money went into the party’s budget and it was the parties that picked the candidates in the various electoral districts and put together the party lists. Now, the campaign assistance from the government will go to the individual. Any Tom, Dick, and Harry will be able to set himself up as a valid candidate as long as he manages to get one hundred signatures from family and friends.
The purpose of this idea is quite obvious: to dissipate the forces of the opposition by “buying candidates” to run and thus increasing the chances of the well organized and disciplined Fidesz. Népszabadság recalled what happened at the minority elections in 1994 in a southern Baranya County village, Alsószentmárton. The village by now is inhabited almost exclusively by poverty-stricken, unemployed Roma. The government announced that every candidate would receive 2,000 Ft for campaign purposes. Alsószentmárton had 1,100 inhabitants and 370 of them announced that they intended to run. In those days a family could buy enough food for 5-10 days on that amount of money.
Most Fidesz politicians immediately grasped the significance of this new system. One of them “with a sardonic smile” quoted Mao Zedong’s famous saying, “Let a hundred flowers bloom.” A Fidesz mathematical genius, however, claimed that this new system wouldn’t favor his party because even if there are many candidates on the left, they all will take votes away from Fidesz. In the new system, of course, a simple relative majority will be enough to declare someone the winner. Origo claimed that Fidesz would make a bazaar (zsibvásár) out of the elections.
As for voter registration, it has already been decided that registration will begin on September 1, 2013 for the 2014 elections and that the registration period will end two weeks before the date of the elections which will be held sometime in April.
The couple of positive changes–for example, the introduction of absentee ballots and abolishing the totally useless two-day campaign silence–unfortunately pale in comparison to the restrictive nature of a totally unnecessary registration procedure and the quite obvious attempt at fragmenting the opposition by paying off “candidates” on taxpayer money for the benefit of the ruling party.
Under these circumstances the debate on the possible boycott of the next elections might not be a complete waste of time.