Today I’m returning briefly to Baja because, with the court-ordered repeat balloting in one of its polling districts scheduled for this Sunday, the stakes are high for both sides. If Melinda Teket, the candidate of the united opposition, wins, Fidesz fraud in the original election will be reasserted. Even the famous Fidesz communication techniques will not be sufficient to explain away the fact that Fidesz activists cheated and most likely paid off the impoverished Roma who were taken to vote by Fidesz activists. If Csaba Kovács, the Fidesz candidate, wins, the opposition’s charge of fraud will collapse. Fidesz politicians who have steadfastly denied the existence of electoral fraud will be able reaffirm their innocence. Moreover, and even more importantly, opposition politicians viewed this by-election as a test case that would show that dissatisfaction with the government party is so great that even in a city like Baja, which usually votes for Fidesz, people are ready to change sides. If Teket loses on Sunday, opposition politicians will have to admit that they overestimated dissatisfaction with the Orbán government.
In this particular section of Baja the scene now resembles a U.S.-style campaign–with a few twists, of course. What is similar is the incredible number of posters. What is different (at least it is no longer prevalent in U.S. campaigns) is that cars with loudspeakers circulate all day long and blare campaign slogans promoting Csaba Kovács, the Fidesz candidate. Another, more insidious difference is that university students from out of town got the job of following Melinda Teket, the opposition candide , as she, accompanied by a male activist, goes door to door asking people for their votes. The photo below captures the scene well.
One can hardly see a Melinda Teket poster. Most have been torn down. The reporters for Origo did not see one intact poster for the opposition candidate. On the other hand, Fidesz posters are abundant. Among their messages: “There will be an election again on October 13. Don’t let yourselves be intimidated! Don’t allow yourselves to be stiffed and harassed! Don’t be afraid of the men of Bajnai, Gyurcsány and Mesterházy! Don’t believe Melinda Teket who arouses hatred! Fidesz will defend you and needs your vote!”
The Origo reporter struck up a conversation with the students in the white Volkswagen who confirmed that their only job is to follow Melinda Teket. They don’t campaign. In fact, Csaba Kovács cannot be seen either–except, of course, on the posters. Naturally, Teket is not happy with being followed; there were times when she used someone else’s car to get rid of her Fidesz escorts (who, by the way, are staying at a youth hostel owned by the municipality). She also complained to the local election commission about the vehicles equipped with loudspeakers, but the commission found nothing wrong with this kind of campaigning.
As time goes by, more and more details are emerging about the irregularities that took place at that particular polling station. During the court hearing in Kecskemét witnesses told the judges that there was at least one person who voted without an ID card. There were ballots that were put into the ballot box by someone other than the voter.
Originally, the opposition couldn’t prove that Fidesz actually paid for the Gypsies’ votes, but there is now evidence that that was indeed the case. It looks as if the “payment” for voting for Fidesz was the promise of firewood. At least this is what Szilveszter Horváth, the head of the Roma self-government in Baja, says in the transcript of the tape released by Egyenlítő TV, an online newspaper. Moreover, the person who is asking Horváth’s advice is from Fót, where there will be a by-election very soon.
The opposition’s conclusion is that this method of electoral fraud may not be a localized affair but may exist nationwide. The tape is available on YouTube. Of course, there was an immediate answer to this charge from Róbert Zsigó, Fidesz mayor of Baja. The municipality occasionally gives free firewood to those in need. Fidesz is innocent. “Only the socialists committed electoral fraud because they ordered their former socialist mayor to stand outside the polling station, by which means they pressured the citizens.” The 450 people eligible to vote in this particular district on Sunday have been watching the campaign with total amazement. Some of them actually find it funny, a circus. But to Fidesz and the opposition it’s deadly serious. It may foreshadow what will happen next April or May at the national elections.