Although the final vote hasn’t taken place yet, the shape of the electoral bill is becoming clearer by the day. Yesterday a number of new amendments were approved by the Fidesz-KDNP super majority.
The original bill already severely restricted the number of likely voters through the newly required registration procedure, although Fidesz politicians insisted during the first parliamentary debate on the bill that registration would in no way affect the number of voters. In fact, Lajos Kósa, one of the three Fidesz politicians who submitted the bill, defended registration by insisting that it in fact increases participation. Kósa made that claim even though only five days earlier Ipsos came out with a poll showing that every fourth potential voter would be kept away from the polling stations as a result of registration. Ipsos also maintained, however, that the loss of voters would affect all parties equally. If Fidesz thought that registration would be sufficient to keep only the opposition parties away from the polls, they were wrong.
So, the inevitable happened last week. Out of the blue 227 Fidesz-KDNP amendments surfaced. The amendments alone took up 65 pages. Then a day or two later five more amendments were added to the list. All these amendments attempt to limit the effectiveness of campaigning. The population will barely notice that a campaign is going on. Perhaps, Fidesz strategists think, this would affect the participation of the opposition forces.
From Fidesz’s point of view this strategy certainly makes sense. Among the WikiLeaks documents there is one in which Viktor Orbán explains to the U.S. Ambassador that a high voter turnout is a disadvantage for his party. The fewer voters the better for Fidesz. Prior to 2010 the campaign season started 75 days before the first day of voting. About a year ago Fidesz shortened that to 60, and now it’s down to 50 days. Campaign ads can appear only in nationwide daily and weekly papers. Television ads can be placed only with the four public television stations and three radio stations. Ads cannot appear on the Internet, and it is forbidden to run short ads in movie theaters.
Interestingly enough, one cannot find a single word regarding posters and billboards in public places. In order to understand the significance of this, one must keep in mind that Lajos Simicska, the financial brain behind Fidesz, years ago figured out the importance of owning public places for advertising and bought up practically all the available spots in larger cities. Simicska owns Mahir, Cityposter, Pupblimont, Euro Publicity, A-Plakat Kft., and naturally he can tell the opposition parties that he has no free surfaces left. Moreover, even if he offers them some space, he could charge the opposition parties more and Fidesz less or nothing. It is one of the many worrisome aspects of this new arrangement.
The public media will provide slots for party ads free of charge, but the total advertising time for all parties will be 10 hours. Although originally Fidesz wanted to get rid of the campaign silence law, the latest version of the bill specifies that two days before election day no political ads can be shown or published. So, for 48 days a total of 12.5 minutes a day can be spent on political ads, spread over four television and three radio stations. These 12.5 minutes must serve all parties. This restriction clearly shows what kind of campaign is shaping up in Hungary. I might as well add here that Fidesz-KDNP is so concerned about the election campaign disturbing peace-loving citizens that, if a citizen so requests, he can be completely spared from having activists bothering him.
And finally, although there was a lot of talk about the possibility of registration by mail, that option was nixed. So, while Hungarian citizens living abroad can register via mail, the bona fide inhabitants of the country cannot. Registration can be done only at a “notary’s office” in person or through the Internet, but only if he has permission to use a website that enables individuals to gain access to various kinds of governmental services. The problem is that in order to gain access to this “Internet government gate” (internetes ügyfélkapu), one has to go in person and get registered first.
The aim is to restrict the dissemination of campaign information and to limit registration to the truly committed. Next week, this horrendous bill with its amendments will sail through parliament. Most of the Fidesz-KDNP caucus who will vote yea most likely didn’t even bother to read the 227 amendments. And since the bill has been altered so many times, there is a real fear that even this is not the end of the story. If within a few months Fidesz discovers a loophole that wasn’t covered by their earlier version, they will not hesitate to come up with a new version of the electoral bill.
If Viktor Orbán and his men and women are not stopped, the Hungarian elections of 2014 will be a sham.