Free and fair election? It doesn’t look promising

It was on August 6, 2011 that I reported on Hillary Clinton’s apprehensions about the state of democracy in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. She talked about the two-thirds majority that  “offers the temptation to overreach. It can … allow for important checks and balances to be swept aside, and valid objections from citizens to be ignored.” This is why “the United States and other friends” are urging Hungary to pay special attention to the drafting of the cardinal laws. “The most important of these will pertain to an independent media and judiciary, and free and fair elections. The system cannot be permanently tilted to favor one party or another.”

Elsewhere, also during the same trip to Hungary, in a conversation with leaders of the opposition she reiterated that holding “free and fair elections” is a prerequisite of democracy. If that principle is violated, we can no longer talk about a free and democratic society. She practically told the opposition leaders: let’s see what happens. Until then, we cannot do anything.

Well, the national election will be held on April 6, 2014, and it can easily happen that it will be anything but fair. It will be a system that is “tilted to favor one party.” Foreign observers will most likely not find wholesale cheating, although even that possibility cannot be entirely ruled out, but the constantly changing laws over the past year or so are destined to tilt the playing field in favor of the governing party.

Here are a few worrisome signs that Viktor Orbán is planning to determine the outcome of the election through rules and regulations that are disadvantageous to the opposition. Let’s start with the introduction of a system that forced all the opposition forces to form a united front against one highly centralized and monolithic party, Fidesz. Getting the divergent parties to agree to a common platform took a long time and gave an undue advantage to Fidesz. Second, the redrawing of the electoral districts greatly favors Fidesz. Third, according to the Hungarian constitution the president alone can determine the date of the election within a certain time frame and naturally János Áder, a former Fidesz politician, picked the earliest possible date, which favors the government party. He did that despite the fact that a later date would have allowed the government to hold the national and European parliamentary elections at the same time. Another reason for not holding the two elections simultaneously was Fidesz’s desire to have a low turnout at both elections. A low turnout favors Fidesz.

Then came all sorts of new rules and regulations that make campaigning very difficult, especially for the opposition. Fidesz has an enormous cache of most likely illegally acquired funds in addition to the incredible amount of money the government spends on advertising itself. The government, again illegally, gave millions and millions of forints to CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum), an allegedly independent organization that is behind the pro-government Peace Marches. As I mentioned a few days ago, such a demonstration is planned for March 29, a week before the election.

Ferenc Gyurcsány’s presence in the united opposition obviously came as an unpleasant surprise to the Fidesz leadership and they immediately moved into high gear. CÖF, on government money of course, put up huge billboards attacking the leaders of the opposition. On the billboard one can see mug shots of Attila Mesterházy, Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and of all people, Miklós Hagyó, former deputy mayor of Budapest whose case is still being decided in court. Next to Gyurcsány there is a clown embracing the former prime minister. This is clearly a campaign poster although the campaign officially starts only on February 3. One hundred right-wing “intellectuals” also signed a letter addressed to Attila Mesterházy “demanding” the removal of Ferenc Gyurcsány from the ticket. They are worried about the good reputation of the renewed socialist party. My heart goes out.

The "independent" Civil Összefogás Forum's billboard that says: "They don't deserve another chance"

The “independent” Civil Összefogás Fórum’s billboard: “They don’t deserve another chance”

Campaigning is severely restricted. Originally, parties could advertise only on the public television and radio stations and to a very limited extent. During the whole 50-day campaign period, all parties together can have only 470 minutes of advertising time, less than eight hours. In the original electoral law parties couldn’t advertise at all on commercial television stations, but because of pressure from Brussels the government generously changed the rule. They can advertise on commercial stations, but the stations must offer their time slots gratis. At the same time government propaganda is pouring out on both the public television and radio stations while news about the views of the opposition is practically nonexistent.

Just lately the government came out with another brilliant idea to keep the electorate as ignorant as possible. Until now citizens who were annoyed with the barrage of commercial advertising in their mailboxes could remove their names from such targeted lists. The government decided to extend this option to political advertising as well. Each adult citizen will receive a questionnaire in which he may express his wish to be left alone. That is, he can say that he doesn’t want campaign literature appearing in his mailbox that is addressed to him as an individual. The government party doesn’t have to worry about such restrictions; it has the money to send out campaign material to all eight million voters by simply dropping its ads into every mailbox. This is permissible because individuals aren’t being targeted; everyone is being treated equally.

The latest is that no campaign material can be placed on electric polls, above public roads or along highways, and within 100 meters of a highway. TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Hungarian Helsinki Commission, and the Károly Eötvös Institute, a think tank of legal scholars, protested, claiming that this new rule severely restricts the freedom of speech and therefore is unconstitutional.

And there’s another way the playing field isn’t level. Voters living in the neighboring countries can vote by absentee ballot while Hungarian citizens who were born in the country but temporarily work abroad must cast their votes in Hungarian embassies and consulates, which might be hundreds and hundreds of miles away from where they live and work. Clearly, Fidesz hopes that the new citizens, in a show of gratitude, will vote for the government party while it fears that the new emigrants have a less charitable view of the political situation created by the Orbán government.

Another outrage is the new law that deprives those who declare themselves to be a member of a minority of their right to vote for a party. There is only one large group where this new rule can have serious ramifications, the Roma, who make up approximately 8% of the population. Aladár Horváth, a Roma activist, alongside of other ethnic leaders, has been working very hard to persuade voters not to sign up as members of the Roma minority. It seems that their message is getting through. Until now only 57 Roma have declared their intention to vote for the official Roma ticket, which is part and parcel of the Fidesz machine.

All in all, I would be curious what Hillary Clinton’s opinion is now of the state of affairs in Hungary. Does she think that Hungary can have a free and fair election in which “the system [is] not permanently tilted to favor one party or another”? Speaking for myself, I don’t think so.

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Mr. Paul
Guest
“Ferenc Gyurcsány’s presence in the united opposition obviously came as an unpleasant surprise to the Fidesz leadership and they immediately moved into high gear.” It might be unpleasant but I doubt it was surprising to leadership or any observer of Hungarian politics. Gyurcsany’s Party started polling 4-5% already a few months ago and this amount would be too much to “throw away” by a separate party lists and separate individual candidates. For a party to have its own party list it MUST nominate at least 27 individual candidates. The original MSZP-Együtt14 agreement stipulated a 75-31 split on individual candidates to add DK into the mix in the same equasion AND avoid competing against each other the split would have to be turned into 52-27-27 or similar which does not seem workable even at first glance. On the other hand Hungarian politics has an 5% requirement also since 1994 (I think it was 4% before that), which also comes into play with MSZP-E14-DK separate lists and candidates solution. Long story short the full alliance was inevitable or at least very unlikely to be avoided. ” They can advertise on commercial stations, but the stations must offer their time slots gratis.” This… Read more »
HiBoM
Guest

But the system is only weighed in favour of Fidesz because an unfortunately large number of people will vote for them. If the opposition wasn’t such a ragbag of failed politicians with nothing to offer, this same electoral system would probably give THEM a 2/3rds majority.

So yes, a very poor system. But I don’t think that excuses the opposition for failing to win what ought to be the easiest election to win since 1994

election2014
Guest

Somebody. just arriving from Hungary, told me that the pensioners, the old folks will vote, and send fidesz back to power.

All the rest will count very little.

spectator
Guest
Anybody has some answer, what on Earth Hagyó has to do among the leaders of the opposition? Or he is just there, because he is the only one who’s trial still pending, and his image have to be bonded with the others as “criminals”? What somehow unnerving, according to the comments all over on the internet, people think, the poster is “right” – albeit nobody really can explain the presence of the clown. However, the association working, these are the guys, whom you should’t take seriously, shouldn’t let near to power ever more, crooks, plain and simple. Just among us, the clown is a professional communications trick: if it wasn’t there, the poster would be one of a dozen, nobody really had paid much attention, since the whole thing is just a dull stuff altogether. Put in some unexpected element, and people will take a second look, and will remember the whole thing, whatever it is. A simple textbook example, and it’s working, as it should be working. So, obviously, Fidesz has some professional people in the staff, while the opposition still mostly clueless. Why it’s a problem? As I see it, there is no place for reason today in… Read more »
spectator
Guest

One more little tidbit:
I listened to some broadcast, and all what people talking about regarding a leader of the unified opposition is a person, who is in every detail identical with Gyurcsány. At the same time, they think, maybe it isn’t that good idea, that Gyurcsány with them at all, because of the negative connotations and all that.

So, we need a person, exactly like Gyurcsány, who isn’t Gyurcsány…!

Any ideas?
Countdown starts from now!

J Grant
Guest

@’election2014′ – He/she is wrong. You mustn’t believe everything somebody says just because they live in the country! In fact, living here can be a serious disadvantage, due to being influenced by a narrow environment or the mood of that person extrapolating unfavourable views. I personally know hundreds of pensioners who detest the current government with a vengeance, although I always try not to draw too many conclusions from this fact that favours my views. Believe me, there are hundreds and thousands of pensioners who suffer from the very drop in living standards that the phony war of the ‘rezsicsokkentes’ tries to cover up. Read and listen to a wide variety of opinion, read the statistics and opinion polls and follow the more intelligent media. Even all these will not give you a 100% accurate view, but it will be closer to the truth than individual impressions compunded by bias, wishful thinking and/or the unfortuantely Hungarian tendency to be doom merchants. And then, of course, none of us should forget that forecasting election results is an extremely inexact science.

petofi
Guest

It’s my suspicion, having watched Orban’s Felcsutian maneuvers, that when he’s busy with new rules and statuary and the like, the real game is elsewhere. In this instance, I’d be very aware of what the status of the OSCE monitoring arm is. Will they be here in force? Has it already been agreed to? Leave it to the Viktorian to say, 10 days before the elections and before the OSCE arrives, that Hungary has received a warning that the OSCE contingent is infiltrated with a terrorist and therefore, the whole group will be barred from Hungary.

Just like the Viktorian to dream something like that up…

tappanch
Guest

Let me add two more things.

1.
Domestic vote results will be kept secret after counting. Fidesz has 6 more days to add the foreign & cross-district votes to come up with a result of its desire.
2.
In case of any dispute about counting irregularities, or fraud, the new “National Election Commission” consists of 3/4 of Fidesz appointees.

Steve
Guest
Istvan Foldesi
Guest

Can anyone enlighten me about the Freedom House report?

Andy -- Quo vadis, Pannonia?
Guest

Taking the 3+ years of this tyrannical regime and the innumerable contournements to fair elections by the forementioned ‘rulers’, the fairness of this coming election is evidently out of the question.

If in fact the Orbansis win, it will be a sample case of the manipulation of a gullible and disenfranchised population that has lost its bearing.

Quo vadis, Pannonia?

Irtio
Guest

President Janos Ader’s supposed moderation is just a dream. He designated the date that was most favorable to Fidesz and which was completely illogical from other points of view. But I guess a lot of people cling to the delusion that he is one of the ‘moderate’ Fideszniks. Right.

Gone are the days when there was at least a semblance of impartiality.

Schmidt was a Fidesz drone as is now Ader. He is part of the inner circle of Fidesz and his people (if not himself) are in a daily contact with the Fidesz top brass. The only difference between Schmidt and Ader is that Ader did not do a cut and paste style kisdoktori (as kind of Hungarian phd before the mid-1990’s).

Mikloss
Guest
The big difference between the absentee ballots of the recently naturalized ethnic Hungarians of the neighboring countries and the Hungarian-born people living abroad, is that while there is a check of identity at the embassies for the latter, there is no effective check for the naturalized ethnic Hungarians who will vote by mail. Needless to say, it is impossible for any observer to actually check from Hungary how voting takes place in Transylvania and Voivodina. There local, but Fidesz-loyal Hungarian organisations/activists get their bonuses based on the number of voters they can canvass. These predominantly rural, not especially educated or open-minded voters (forget rational choice theory) will vote in front of (!) the local ethnic-Hungarian Fidesz-loyal activist. Such activist then collects the ballots and then mails (transports) the ballots to the Hungarian election office. The problem is – besides the enormous problems referred to above – that there is no way to assure that the number of ballots sent to Hungary from these Romanian/Serbian ethnic regions actually corresponds to the number of *actual* voters. That is because Fidesz has a list of people who are legally allowed to vote. Fidesz only has to make sure that the number of ballots… Read more »
Yahoo479
Guest

John Lukacs on Hungary’s return to Mother Russia. In Hungarian.

http://nol.hu/lap/hetvege/20140125-paksvobiscum__nem__pax_nobis?ref=sso

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

I think the ‘mug shot’ posters campaign is a mistake. As they are (photo + name) what they do is increase the opposition leaders’ recognition and visibility.

jarJAR
Guest
Marcel, remember that such images worked re Bajnai. His popularity was very quickly and successfully destroyed with a similar campaign, so much so that even Fideszniks were surprized that it was so effective. This is a repeat exercise. Apparently Fideszniks think that associating Mesterhazy and Bajnai with two ‘reprehensible devils’ (Hagyo and Gyurcsany), and subconsciously with a clown will work. This campaign targets the wavering, undecided voters. If they vote for the left, the message is clear, they vote for everything disgusting, and secondly even if you rationally think Bajnai and Mesterhazy are not criminals themselves, they are lightweight jokers, you can’t mandate them with running a country, can you? You need lionhearted statesmen instead, who can stand up to as equal, even take advantage of the mighty Russia, who can tell a tough ‘no’ to the USA. Wait, isn’t Orban doing just that — at least according to all the media? I can even imagine Fidesz will later use wholesome (with some serene natural environment in the background) pictures similar to those Austrian, German politicians use to, to contrast these images. Since Fidesz has literally unlimited firepower as they own all the media (including outdoor advertising spaces) why would… Read more »
Member
Mr. Paul : A few weeks ago I heard this issue discussed at length at ATV. Someone raised the exact same point that this is an outrage and it should be allowed to vote for both minority list and party list. And then the group started to agree that it should be changed to allow for both votes (it was the “Havas on the field” show). But then someone raised a crucial point: that should this proposed change go through, the “minorities” would have extra votes, additional voting rights compared to the population. I used minorities in “” quotes because in this process there is not an actual proof that you are a minority you just say you are and that is the end of it. So if additional voting rights are granted it is easy to predict what happens: The parties start a semi-open semi-hidden campaign to get their members and supporters to register. For example Jobbik learns that the proposed candidate for the “piréz” list (made up example) is willing to caucus with them so they simply send out the word: every voter should also register as such and vote for the list. Of course this applies to… Read more »
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@jarJAR: indeed it’s intended as a remake of the ‘Resign!’ poster of 2010, but in the present case I think the design is seriously flawed.

In the 2010 posters the names where not apparent and the main line was unmissable. In today’s posters, particularly in the smaller formats, the portraits + names weigh much more than the rest. Walking in the streets of Pest the other day, I had to stop an read to realize this wasn’t in fact an opposition campaign… 🙂

Mr. Paul
Guest
“President Janos Ader’s supposed moderation is just a dream. He designated the date that was most favorable to Fidesz and which was completely illogical from other points of view.” You are right in a sense but also the opposition made a big mistake here concerning the election dates. When writing down a sentence ” He designated the date that was most favorable to Fidesz” which opposition politicians also did they are already admitting full defeat of the opposition. The statement presupposes a full Fidesz victory. Why? Because in case of Fidesz DEFEAT, the April 6 date is not “favorable” it is “disastrous”. There are almost two months between the two dates, meaning that the Fidesz 2/3 majority parliament will be in session for two fewer months, same with the Orbán government in case of a Fidesz defeat. So if you even consider a Fidesz defeat, the choice between dates is not so clear any more. A government’s mandate is 12×4=48 months, so take down or add two months from that it is a significant difference around 5% maybe. This is of course does not bother Fidesz because they are very sure of their own victory, but if the opposition takes… Read more »
HiBoM
Guest

I’ll probably be accused of trolling but I disagree that Fidesz are frightened of Gyurcsány. I think they are delighted because he provides an extremely attackable and identifiable target. No one has any illusions about good governance having witnessed his ineffectualness when in office and that leaves the scandals and controversies. I wish they’d picked a figurehead woman candidate for PM (Tétényi Éva for example) who Fidesz could not attack in the same way. That would probably caused them a far greater headache.

Andy -- Randolph L. Braham returns the 'heavy baggage'
Guest

News — News — Our often talked-about historian of the Holocauste Randolph L. Braham has returned his medal of honor given him by the Hungarian State and has had his name removed from the Archives of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Budapest.
Namely (in Hungarian – found no translation of the attached as yet)
http://tinyurl.com/l8553hh

An
Guest

@Mr. Paul: “When writing down a sentence ” He designated the date that was most favorable to Fidesz” which opposition politicians also did they are already admitting full defeat of the opposition.”

Or it just expresses that the opposition is not well-prepared and could have used that two months to get their act together. The opposition’s reaction only acknowledges this fact. Yes, this is admitting weakness, but it is not the same as admitting full defeat.
Fidesz knows that more time would work in the opposition’s favor at this point, that’s why they chose the earlier date despite the fact they may lose their 2/3 majority 2 month early. I’m sure they are confident that even that won’t happen, and that with Jobbik they will have the 2/3.

Member

HiBoM :
I’ll probably be accused of trolling but…No one has any illusions about good governance having witnessed [Gyurcyany’s] ineffectualness when in office and that leaves the scandals and controversies.

I would not describe “HiBoM” as trolling, just as completely losing track of proportions and perspective. No post-Soviet prime minister has been anywhere near a genius or a saint yet, but among them Ferenc Gyurcsany is is surely far from the bottom of the heap — and in fact ever since he has been so shamelessly scape-goated and character-assassinated by Orban (who is indeed the very bottom of the heap, by orders of magnitude: the sink-hole of the Karpathian Basin), Gyurcsany looks (and is) ever better and better. Anyone who imagines himself pro-democratic and opposed to the unscrupulous power abuse of Orban and Fidesz should do a little more introspection if he finds he has fallen into the demagogic thrall of Fidesz’s foul and vile vilification of Ferenc Gyurcsany.

HiBoM
Guest

Steven Hernad, what did Gyurcsány actual do as prime minister? What reforms? What achievements? He tried to repair the damage to the economy which he himself had caused in the name of electoral expediency. And failed. It is a pretty dire CV.

Granted, he did not wreck the constitution or destroy the checks and balances of a healthy state. But that surely is a sina qua non of any prime minister.

An
Guest

@HiBoM: As it looks now, the opposition candidate is Mesterhazy, not Gyurcsany. So what’s the obsession with Gyurcsany? Yes, Fidesz likes to keep the Gyurcsany narrative alive and attack the opposition at its weakest point… but Gyurcsany is only ONE of the prominent figures in the opposition. So why are you so preoccupied with Gyurcsany? Are you falling for the Fidesz manipulation of the discourse? Or, do you think he seriously has a chance of becoming the prime minister again and that freaks you out? I seriously doubt he has a chance, but, by the way, in the off chance that could ever happen, it would still be better for the country than Orban.

Mutt
Guest
Stevan Harnad : I would not describe “HiBoM” as trolling, just as completely losing track of proportions and perspective. This is the case when everybody is right … and we lose the elections. The Hungarian way. Priorities. It doesn’t matter if Gyurcsany is good or bad. Votes matter. Gyurcsany is in the line-up because he clawed his way back. Whether this was motivated by patriotism or just sheer pride … you figure it out. I agree with HiBoM that it was a mistake to put forward the well known names in the campaign. It wasn’t actually a mistake: Mesterhazy and Gyurcsany wanted to be on the forefront. Somebody new would have been more attractive. Especially a women. That could have projected the image of the change. Asking for another chance because this is a different party. What we got is the exact opposite. Regarding second chance. I sense that the main motive behind the pro-Fidesz votes in April will be giving them a second chance. That is more time to get the job done. Four years is not long. Many of the Fidesz voters are already disappointed in Orban and his crew, at least the ones who understand what is… Read more »
Guest
Andy -- Hángerien miinz guud folkssz...
Guest

Riid in hángerien fonetix: Dárn, Vát juu szink ju folkssz. Hángerien miinz guud. Gimmii a bréék !

An
Guest

Jean P :
Jobbik on the run in London
http://www.channel4.com/news/hungarian-fascist-group-hold-rally-in-london

Surprisingly, there is a strong Jobbik base among Hungarians living in London… I don’t know why and how that happened, but it became obvious to me when some time ago I was looking at far-right groups on FB. Some of the most active posters/commentators were from Hungarians apparently living in London.

From the counter-demonstration it seems that the ant-fascist crowd was larger/more vocal in London than in Hungary. So good to see that there are people who stand up against these hate groups.

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