The new Hungarian electoral law: An appeal of the Democratic Opposition to organizations of the European Union

President János Áder waited until the very last minute allowed him by law to decide on the fate of the electoral bill. Today he announced that, instead of signing the electoral bill passed by members of the government party alone, he will send it over to the Constitutional Court to decide on the constitutionality of certain provisions of the bill.

Greetings, Mr. Kovács! I didn't see you at the Peace March. Were you sick? The cartoon accompanying the original text in Népszabadság

“Greetings, Mr. Kovács! I didn’t see you at the Peace March. Were you sick?” The cartoon accompanying the original text in Népszabadság

According to the opposition parties, the bill is unconstitutional in its totality. They were hoping that Áder would reject the entire bill, not simply question certain paragraphs. But, let’s face it, this would have been too much to expect from Áder, one of the founders of Fidesz. He found that the new electoral law by and large guarantees free and democratic elections. Áder had no problem with the idea of the entirely unnecessary registration process; he found only the restrictive nature of registration troubling. An eligible citizen, he maintained, should be able to register anywhere in the country and not just in the place of his residence. His second observation concerns the overly restrictive nature of advertising opportunities. As it stands, only public television and radio stations could carry political ads during the campaign season.

This is mighty little to object to. As you will see from the text below, there are many, many things that are wrong with this bill. I’m very pleased that I received an English translation of this Appeal by the members of the pre-1989 Democracy Movement to European Institutions that appeared in yesterday’s Népszabadság because I don’t think that anyone could better summarize the grave implications of this bill.

* * *

Appeal by Members of the Pre-1989 Democracy Movement to European Institutions

If the next Hungarian elections in 2014 were to be held under the recently rammed-through rules, they would be illegitimate and fraudulent which would be a first in the European Union.

The undersigned are participants of the human rights and democracy movement that opposed the one-party communist regime in the 1970s and 1980s. We struggled for a multi-party system; free and fair elections; and we achieved that goal in 1990. Every four years since then, Hungary has elected a Parliament and a government on the basis of laws designed and endorsed by all the political parties.

However, in a manner unthinkable in the last 20 years, the “procedural law on elections” passed on 26 November 2012 completed the removal of key checks and balances. By this new law, it becomes virtually impossible in 2014 to hold a free and fair election, one which prevents fraud and expresses the real will of the electorate.

We would like to elaborate on three grave concerns regarding the new Hungarian election laws:

  • They are illegitimate, because they are unilateral one-party diktates;
  • They are restrictive and discriminatory;
  • They create an institutional framework for fraudulent elections.

We call on Hungary’s Constitutional Court, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the governments of the European Union, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to take preventive action, so that Hungarian citizens would not be forced to go to the polls in 2014 under the recently imposed, illegitimate and discriminating laws that practically institutionalize the rigging of election results. All diplomatic and legal tools available for the protection of European values, as well as possible new measures, should be used to halt the entrenchment of autocracy in a European Union member state.

 

Action is also needed to maintain society’s peace. For the last two years, the foundations of democracy have been systematically demolished. A free and fair election would be Hungary’s last chance to peacefully return to democracy and the rule of the law. If the elections will be rigged, or even conducted under flawed laws that have been unilaterally enforced, democracy’s regeneration through the rule of law would become impossible in a member state of the European Union. Similarly to nations living under autocracies outside of the European Union, Hungarians might find no other recourse than civil disobedience, or even conflict. European institutions should not wait idly until a government which blatantly ignores our common European principles pushes a member state into a potentially violent crisis.

We demand from the Constitutional Court not to make partial decisions and merely object to formalities; it should make clear that these unilateral election laws prevent holding free and fair elections, eliminate the guarantees for the rule of law, and destroy democracy.

We appeal to the European institutions to monitor the review of the Constitutional Court by taking the following concerns into consideration.

  •  1.      Europe must not tolerate that Hungary’s new election law was passed illegitimately, through one-party dictat that swept aside parliamentarism.

The party which was freely elected in 2010 has now unilaterally passed an electoral law that pursues nothing but its own party interests. It did this on its own, despite fierce protests by all other parties. It acted in the same way as it did earlier, when it forced through a new constitution, or when it did away with pluralism in media governance, independence of the judiciary, the powers of the Constitutional Court, equality of religious denominations, or the rights of trade unions.

The ruling party justifies its diktat by pointing to its two-thirds legislative majority, attained in the 2010 elections. But its actions fly in the face of the Copenhagen Criteria, which established the EU’s basic principles of democracy and the rule of law. In our new Europe, fundamental rights may be decided upon only by securing widespread legitimacy, by striving for consensus, and by exercising self-control. No parliamentary majority can justify the extirpation of citizens’ rights for free and fair elections.

  •  2.      Europe must not tolerate the new electoral rules that brutally restrict political competition and are openly discriminatory.

The new media and electoral laws, together with the new constitution that is cynically adjusted to accommodate the new oppressive laws at every turn, will prevent millions of Hungarians from exercising their fundamental right to make an informed choice, or even to vote. The new regulations put insurmountable obstacles in the way of participation in the upcoming election, and arbitrarily limit the campaign conditions for opposition parties.

  • The law prohibits commercial radio and television channels from running party political programmes or advertisements during the campaign; the public media have already been turned into a propaganda tool of the ruling party; the critical-minded independent media have been deprived of licences and advertising incomes; court decisions to restore the rights of the media are being consistently ignored.
  • While the government is funnelling huge amounts of public money to pseudo-civil organizations, pro-government advertisers, it announced that it will do away with budget allocations for political parties.
  • The ruling party has redrawn the electoral districts in its own favour; had these district borders been enacted earlier, Fidesz would have won every election since 1998.
  • Hungary is the only country in the world which has replaced a modern, well-functioning national voter list with the archaic voluntary system of registration, operated by now only in a handful of countries. International electoral standards and observers invariantly criticise this outdated system because it facilitates ethnic, educational, social and regional discrimination. It disenfranchises a large number of citizens, depriving them of their voting right; lowers voter participation; delegitimises election results; encourages registry manipulations; and fuels politicised quarrelling over the rules.
  • The obligation to personally register, according to fresh polls, would diminish the number of eligible voters to 4 million, as opposed to the 8 million eligible voters based on the previous rules. This is a radical break with the principle of universal suffrage.
  • The new electoral law forbids registration in the last two weeks of the election campaign, thus making any campaign effort to attract undecided voters futile.
  • Since both the introduction of voluntary registration and its banning during the last two weeks of the campaign are clearly constitutionally unjustifiable, the constitution was amended overnight to include the above details in order to block their revision by the Constitutional Court.
  • Different rules will apply to voters who live outside of Hungary from those within its borders. For example, registration by mail is forbidden for local citizens while allowed for those residing abroad. The addition of bureaucratic hurdles will likely keep hundreds of thousands of potential voters from exercising their right to vote.
  • The Hungarian government has nationalised schools, or turned them over to churches; elected school principals have been replaced with appointed ones; and while parents’ rights have been radically abridged, first-time voters in schools are being indoctrinated with compulsory textbooks; the law does allow schools to arrange voter registration.
  • Ethnic minorities, including the Roma, may have representation in Parliament only on the condition that they lose their right to vote for any party; thus, instead of promoting minority rights, the law deprives hundreds of thousands of their political rights in a discriminatory manner.
  •  3.      Europe must not tolerate rules that have opened the gates to election fraud.

The new law grants a majority to members appointed and delegated by the governing party at all levels of the committees supervising elections, giving them the power to deny complaints or to adjudicate them in a partisan manner.

  • A party which cannot send two delegates to a local committee will not be allowed to send even one, thus remaining without representation.
  • Even the “independent” representatives in the supervisory committees will be appointed either by the government’s parliamentary majority or by municipal councils (of which roughly 95 percent are government-party dominated).
  • The National Election Commission — the final arbiter of all disputes — will be appointed for nine years, and it will preside over every parliamentary, municipal, and European election during that period. Thus Fidesz delegates will be in control of all elections for nine years under any circumstances.
  • Most of the procedural details — for example the particulars of the registration process — are omitted in the new law, allowing a partisan majority to arbitrarily settle disputes between parties.
  • Whereas the previous law had prescribed prevention of any election fraud and enforcement of impartiality in arbitration, these provisions were deleted from the new law.
  • The provider of the computer system that has, under multiparty scrutiny, overseen the information flow of previous elections will now be nationalised, and the whole system will come under government control.
  • According to the new law, the process of electronic vote-counting will be interrupted at the mostly Fidesz-controlled municipalities awaiting absentee, votes from abroad and mail-in votes; these interruptions offer uncontrollable opportunities for manipulating the results.
  • The Fidesz government has granted citizenship, as well as voting rights, to hundreds of thousands of Hungarians who live in neighbouring countries. The new law enables these individuals not only to vote by mail, but it also allows for a grace period of several days for their votes to arrive. The results of the mail-in votes will be announced by the National Election Council, leaving no room for public control.
  • With reference to “protecting” Hungarians living outside the national borders, the government refuses to make the list of those voters public, and not even their number per country will be announced. Given this decision, unparalleled in Europe, there will be no chance to establish the validity of several hundred thousand votes.
  • The Hungarians abroad may also vote at Hungarian consulates. The Hungarian parties can send observers at their own cost, thus many consulates will be unattended by non-governmental observers, and if they will be present, they will not be allowed to check voter lists.
  • The law bestows a cabinet minister with the right to decide what types of data will be published from all of the election results, and what mathematical controls are expected to apply to the result sheets.
  • International observers may be accredited or denied accreditation by the president of the National Election Council who is appointed for 9 years. The president is not obliged to provide a reason, and the decision may not be appealed.
  • In defiance of international obligations, observers have no right to put questions to party representatives, candidates, or voters. They may address only the election committee.

 We ask all Hungarian and European friends of democracy, as well as the Hungarian Constitutional Court and the European institutions in particular, to take immediate action. Please help us protect the right to free and fair elections. We have a short year and a half only. There is no time to waste.

Budapest, December 5, 2012

Attila Ara-Kovács, former diplomat

Gábor Demszky, former Mayor of Budapest

Miklós Haraszti, former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

Róza Hodosán, former MP

Gábor Iványi, pastor

János Kenedi, historian

György Konrád, writer

Bálint Magyar, former Minister of Education

Imre Mécs, former MP

Sándor Radnóti, philosopher

László Rajk, architect

Sándor Szilágyi, author

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Kingfisher
Guest
Kingfisher
December 6, 2012 5:44 pm

Doesn’t the Constitutional Court examine the entire bill, rather than the bits Áder pointed to in his justification for sending it to them? In which case, there is still a chance Orbán won’t get his way entirely.

Guest
December 6, 2012 7:06 pm

London Calling!

This is Orban’s insurance policy – the Constitutional Court will not make any substantive changes.

As we are all too aware on this blog – the chance of EU intervention is very slim. They lack any mechanisms to bring a country which is ‘going native’ to book – simply because they (we) never envisaged that a country would have difficulty distinguishing between what is democracy – and what is not. Or such a warped interpretation of the Lisbon Treaty – which bears Orban’s signature

In addition whilst a country might have a particular emphasis or weakness in one area – it might be compensated by a balancing in another – depending on the ‘flavour’ of democracy.

Unfortunately Orban controls all the checks and balances – so no hope of any comfort there.

So it might be too optimistic to even believe that a united opposition has a snow-balls chance in hell of achieving a representative universal suffrage.

Mostly all we can do in the West, like the EU and the USA, is to be concerned onlookers – and hope Orban overplays his hand.

Boycott anybody?

Regards

Charlie

Miklos
Guest
Miklos
December 6, 2012 7:38 pm

In the original letter, they dare to criticize the US electoral law too and called it outdated, fraudulent. Eva, did you intentionally remove that part? Why? Shame on you!
FYI Egyesült Államok = United States of America

http://nol.hu/lap/forum/20121206-europahoz
“Az önkéntes regisztrációt – például az Egyesült Államokban – minden nemzetközi választási standard és megfigyelő azért bírálja, mert lehetőséget nyújt etnikai, műveltségi, szociális és területi diszkriminációra, jelentős számú állampolgárnak a választójogtól való gyakorlati megfosztására, a választásokon való részvétel csökkentésére, a választási eredmények delegitimálására, átpolitizált vitákra és hatalmi manipulációkra.”

Guest
December 6, 2012 7:43 pm

London Calling!

Miklos? did you know that this blog is called ‘Hungarian Spectrum’?

Regards

Charlie

Miklos
Guest
Miklos
December 6, 2012 7:50 pm

EVA,
This is a Stalinist approach and leads nowhere. Honesty is not a communist forte. Shame on you.

Minusio
Guest
Minusio
December 6, 2012 8:13 pm

@ Miklos. Get lost. “Stalinist approach”: you must be kidding. You just don’t understand what is happening in Hungary – quite unrelated to the defects to be found in US election laws.

Meanwhile blogs like Hungarian Voice (Dr. P, Munich) criticise people for carrying their complaints to foreign media without acknowledging that because of the media laws and other circumstances it is hardly possible to get opposition views voiced in Hungary. Dr. P. also overlooked that Rogán didn’t mention Jews and antisemitism with a single word at the December 2 demonstration.

Miklos
Guest
Miklos
December 6, 2012 8:31 pm

@Minusio
So you agree to the practice of manipulating the translation of the original document? It’s frightening to be honest.

Zoltan
Guest
Zoltan
December 6, 2012 9:08 pm

The opposition got no leg to stand on. The supermajority must be good for something. The governing party should be allowed to use it.
Reading the signatures, why am I not surprised?

Member
December 6, 2012 9:32 pm

Miklos :
@Minusio
So you agree to the practice of manipulating the translation of the original document? It’s frightening to be honest.

This is not the Hungarian state media or the hungarian news agency. If it happens here, it’s called honest mistake.

I hope you’ll be the employee of the month in the FIDESZ propaganda ministry for this great catch.

Member
December 6, 2012 9:36 pm

Zoltan :
The opposition got no leg to stand on. The supermajority must be good for something. The governing party should be allowed to use it.
Reading the signatures, why am I not surprised?

Why am I not surprised that you are not surprised … ?

Super what by the way? You mean the barely 30% support at this moment?

Miklos
Guest
Miklos
December 6, 2012 10:06 pm

@Mutt
These people were bashing the US in the original letter. Someone carefully removed just that from the translation. If you view this as an “honest mistake” then I rest my case.

Member
December 6, 2012 10:28 pm

Miklos :
@Mutt
These people were bashing the US in the original letter. Someone carefully removed just that from the translation. If you view this as an “honest mistake” then I rest my case.

Rest your case. Please.

Member
December 7, 2012 12:39 am

One small point – Ader is not one of the original “Dirty 37” founders of Fidesz. He joined very soon after it was founded, but he is not a founder himself.

LwiiH
Guest
LwiiH
December 7, 2012 2:08 am

Zoltan :
The opposition got no leg to stand on. The supermajority must be good for something. The governing party should be allowed to use it.
Reading the signatures, why am I not surprised?

Having a super-majority shouldn’t give any group the right to rewrite a constitution by themselves in some back room. This is what dictators do… not what happens in democracies.

Member
December 7, 2012 2:27 am

Miklos :
In the original letter, they dare to criticize the US electoral law too and called it outdated, fraudulent. Eva, did you intentionally remove that part? Why? Shame on you!
FYI Egyesült Államok = United States of America
http://nol.hu/lap/forum/20121206-europahoz
“Az önkéntes regisztrációt – például az Egyesült Államokban – minden nemzetközi választási standard és megfigyelő azért bírálja, mert lehetőséget nyújt etnikai, műveltségi, szociális és területi diszkriminációra, jelentős számú állampolgárnak a választójogtól való gyakorlati megfosztására, a választásokon való részvétel csökkentésére, a választási eredmények delegitimálására, átpolitizált vitákra és hatalmi manipulációkra.”

The translation is in there. Where is the problem?

Member
December 7, 2012 2:34 am

“International electoral standards and observers invariantly criticise this outdated system because it facilitates ethnic, educational, social and regional discrimination. It disenfranchises a large number of citizens, depriving them of their voting right; lowers voter participation; delegitimises election results; encourages registry manipulations; and fuels politicised quarrelling over the rules.”

Ms KKA
Guest
Ms KKA
December 7, 2012 2:41 am

I have a friend who has lived in Connecticut for many years, but has kept her Hungarian citizenship. Even though she is finally able to vote in ’14, she is boycotting the election because Hungarians living abroad will not vote anonymously, one of the basic tenets of free and democratic elections.

LwiiH
Guest
LwiiH
December 7, 2012 2:48 am

The point that really crystallized my view on this letter was the point about the change in electoral boundaries. I ask, has they ever been a change in electoral boundaries that wasn’t accompanied by complaints that it was designed to favour the incumbents? The letter contains enough of these types of randomly interjected hand-waving and unsubstantiated opinions that (in my opinion) it (unfortunately) leaves me with the question, is there something real here or is this just some group of whiners.

In addition, this interjection of opinion goes on for too long at the beginning and very quickly left me looking for facts. I eventually found some but by then they’d almost lost me.

I offer this review with sincerity because I know what’s going on and I can pick out the relevant points and I can attach a time line to each change in law as well as add in the missing points that can only lead the reader to the conclusion that there is indeed a reason to be concerned.

gdfxx
Guest
gdfxx
December 7, 2012 2:58 am
Eva S. Balogh : As far the registration in the United States is concerned, I’m steadfastly against registration and I know that it has been and still is used to keep certain away from voting. I know that this blog deals with Hungary but I think some data may add clarification to the registration process in the US, compared to the proposed one in Hungary. According to the US Immigration Department (which is now part of the Homeland Security) it is estimated that there were approximately 13 million legal immigrants (permanent residents) in the US in 2011. These people are on their way to citizenship (if they so desire) and then they can vote. But not until then. The number of illegal immigrants is estimated to be also of the same magnitude. If there were no registration, theoretically all these people could vote (even multiple times, and this applies to everyone, see Chicago ;-)) and they could be a decisive – and illegal – block in any election. On the other hand, as far as I know, Hungary has no serious illegal immigration or any considerable non-citizen permanent resident population. The authorities also keep “good” track of all the citizens… Read more »
Mka
Guest
Mka
December 7, 2012 4:38 am

This is so wrong. The EU is giving directions of the curves of bananas, but not doing anything about the real issues. How about starting the actual work, you have been set to?

Minusio
Guest
Minusio
December 7, 2012 4:49 am

@ Mka. You really don’t seem to know a lot about what the EU is about.

Do you at least know how much the EU costs each member country?

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
December 7, 2012 5:25 am

These are powerful arguments. As expressed before, I’m not very sensitive to those regarding registration, but those concerning the Hungarians abroad, the media rules and the electoral commission are enough to spark outrage.

@gdfxx : this has nothing to do with immigration, as only citizens are eligible. There’s a grim history in the U.S. of discriminating against actual U.S. citizens through voters’ registration, particularly regarding African-Americans in the South. Compared with European countries (including those who practice registration), eligible voters with the lowest income still have today a particularly low turnout rate – of which this legacy is a part of, even if it’s not the only reason why.

Paul
Guest
December 7, 2012 5:56 am
If I remember correctly, the first Bush Jnr election was won by Florida declaring for Bush amidst a storm of protests about African Americans not being allowed to vote, being discouraged from registering, etc. So, as so often, the US is hardly in a position to criticise anyone else. Not that this in anyway legitimises what OV is up to. In the UK, with our daft first-past-the-post system, address is the key to everything, so voter registration is done on by house, rather than person. Each address receives a form each year listing the registered voters at that address and requesting an update, if appropriate (you can confirm online, but not update!). If you move inbetween registration checks, you can also re-register individually. But, if you’re not registered, you can’t vote, and a surprisingly large number of people (especially the young) don’t bother. But the key point with voter registration is that the countries where this is done (e.g. UK and US) have to do it because there is no compulsory ID card or central address database. Where this exists, there is absolutely no reason for voter registration – and in Hungary both exist. So registration is clearly being used… Read more »
Breki
Guest
Breki
December 7, 2012 6:47 am
It will be tragically funny, when the protesters listed above will get what they want: a real proportinal system in which Fidesz and Jobbik will together easily reach 1/3 of the votes, thereby vetoing any and all policy and political changes. It seems to me that Ferenc Kőszeg and János Széky are the only people (based on their artciles in last week’s ÉS) who see that the trick is simply to keep 1/3 by all means necessary so that no new government could govern (or even exist) effectively in the current setup;and in a year or two Orbán would come back, even sronger than before. WIth the constitutional court, the general courts, Áder, the media authority, the media itself, the election boards etc. in Orbán’s pockects, it does not take a genius to arrange a snap election about two years after a new government was elected. By that time the new government would be at the minimum of its popularity. What is probably the most important issue right now, even if this is not correct politically or goes against the legalist approaches of liberals (and conservatives such as Sólyombut but also people like Schiffer – they will be against it… Read more »
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
December 7, 2012 8:18 am
@Paul France has both IDs and semi-automatic registration, and not only because they just love the paperwork. Every year before a series of elections, you have advertising campaigns remembering people to check if they’re registered. Young citizens getting their first voting card are invited at town halls. Party organizations engage in door-to-door registration campaigns in disenfranchised neighbourhoods. In a nutshell, advance registration is used as the pretext of a ‘neutral’ reminder that people should exercise their right to vote – whereas last minute turnout campaigns are often seen as biased by the proximity of the election day, plus they’re associated with the party in power. Can the Hungarian opposition be organized enough to use registration as a fair competing ground? Beyond the general weakness of civil society in Hungary, my guess is that they won’t be able to until they solve their leadership problem. Fidesz is taking advantage of this situation, but I doubt there are sufficient grounds against the measure itself. An anecdote about redistricting: in 2008 the French (then) majority party created for the first time ever 11 MP seats for French living abroad. When they did,they were pretty confident to win 8 out of 11: sociologically these… Read more »
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
December 7, 2012 8:27 am

@Breki: you make strong points. In my view, a presidential system with good checks and balances may fit Hungary better than the current one. Problem is, you need a very wide consensus to make it happen and not look like a coup d’État.

Minusio
Guest
Minusio
December 7, 2012 9:36 am

@ Marcel Dé. Presidential systems exist in France and the US. Because the Republicans went gaga, there is a virtual gridlock. In France everything goes as the president says, although they have a two-chamber system – which I regard as the minimum of checks and balances. Hungary has only one chamber (but once had two, I believe).

I think that when Orbán is driven out (in 8 years or so), the Hungarians will need a constitutional assembly, do a reset of all legislation since 2010 and re-start from square one.

Member
December 7, 2012 8:56 am

Paul :
If I remember correctly, the first Bush Jnr election was won by Florida declaring for Bush amidst a storm of protests about African Americans not being allowed to vote, being discouraged from registering, etc. So, as so often, the US is hardly in a position to criticise anyone else.

Yes, and there was slavery until 1853, women could not vote until 1920, people of color were not able to vote until 1964, and the poor was not able to vote until 1965. in 2000 there was the controversial Florida vote in the USA. China is still a communist country.
Today is 2012. I am missing your point about why the USA with an African-American at its helm for five years now, cannot criticize the Hungarian election law that tries to curb eqaul access to voting.

Member
December 7, 2012 9:07 am

Some1 :

Paul :
If I remember correctly, the first Bush Jnr election was won by Florida declaring for Bush amidst a storm of protests about African Americans not being allowed to vote, being discouraged from registering, etc. So, as so often, the US is hardly in a position to criticise anyone else.

Yes, and there was slavery until 1853, women could not vote until 1920, people of color were not able to vote until 1964, and the poor was not able to vote until 1965. in 2000 there was the controversial Florida vote in the USA. China is still a communist country.
Today is 2012. I am missing your point about why the USA with an African-American at its helm for five years now, cannot criticize the Hungarian election law that tries to curb eqaul access to voting.

Member
December 7, 2012 9:36 am

Yes, and there was slavery until 1853, women could not vote until 1920, people of color were not able to vote until 1964, and the poor was not able to vote until 1965. in 2000 there was the controversial Florida vote in the USA. China is still a communist country.
Today is 2012. I am missing your point about why the USA with an African-American at its helm for five years now, cannot criticize the Hungarian election law that tries to curb eqaul access to voting.

I have tried to express that I utterly agree with Some1, it had not gone through, maybe tecnical reasons. I am sorry!

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