Tag Archives: OSCE

Belligerency rarely works in diplomacy: Hungary and Ukraine

The Budapest Beacon published an article today in which Ben Novák called attention to a brief address by Michele Siders, acting deputy chief of mission and director of the Office of Resource Management at the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It was a speech to welcome Lamberto Zannier, an Italian diplomat, as OSCE’s High Commissioner on National Minorities. In this speech there was one mysterious paragraph: “We support your comment regarding the need to respect confidentiality in the pursuit of quiet diplomacy. One participating State knowingly misrepresented your recent comments regarding education issues in Ukraine. We are concerned that this does not contribute to the Permanent Council’s goal of rebuilding trust. A statement from your office clarifying your findings on this issue would be helpful.”

What does Siders mean by rebuilding trust among the nations represented by OSCE? In 2016 German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier talked about the necessity of “rebuilding trust among participating States and maintaining efforts for achieving a political solution to the conflict in and around Ukraine.” In her speech Siders said that one of the member states had violated this effort.

Who is that guilty state? I’m afraid it is most likely Hungary, whose foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, apparently “knowingly misrepresented” Zannier’s comments on the contentious Article 7 of the Ukrainian law on education. Szijjártó was attending OSCE’s Mediterranean Conference in Palermo in late October where, after talking to Zannier, he informed MTI by phone that so far OSCE had been “the most helpful international organization” of those whose assistance Hungary had solicited in connection with the Ukrainian education law, which the Hungarian government finds unacceptable. The statement released by the Hungarian Foreign Ministry indicated that Zannier would soon visit Ukraine, where he would most likely represent the Hungarian point of view on the language issue. Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary for public diplomacy and relations, went even further. In his blog, About Hungary, he stated that “OSCE is throwing its support behind Hungary in relation to Ukraine’s education law.”

But articles that appear on OSCE’s website show that OSCE is taking a much more balanced approach. The High Commissioner is paying attention to concerns expressed by the national minorities, but he “has also taken note of the Ukrainian government’s assessment that the low level of state language knowledge among school graduates … impedes their effective participation in public life.” OSCE apparently “constantly recommended” the adoption of balanced views that would preserve and promote the minorities’ language and identity and, at the same time, would foster the integration of society through the teaching and learning of the state language.

Zannier is trying to mediate between the two sides, but the Hungarian government is unwilling to engage in any dialogue with Ukraine. In the meantime, the other countries involved are already close to an understanding with the Ukrainian government.

Graduation at a Hungarian high school in Ukraine

Although Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin visited Budapest at the beginning of October, the talks with Szijjártó led nowhere. Magyar Nemzet reluctantly agreed to publish an opinion piece by Klimkin in which he asked for “considered dialogue.” He especially called attention to the exodus of young Hungarians from Ukraine because their lack of knowledge of Ukrainian prevents them from entering university. Therefore, they go to study in Hungary where at first they are welcome, but these students most likely will never return to the Subcarpathian region of Ukraine, and this in the long run is not in the interest of Hungary.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian government, this time fully supported by the opposition parties, unleashed irredentist sentiments in far-right circles. Lóránt Hegedűs, a Hungarian Reformed minister, organized a demonstration in front of the Ukrainian embassy in which he demanded “the right of self-determination of the Subcarpathian region.” The region is officially called Zakarpattia Oblast, where only about 12.1% of the population is Hungarian. The Hungarian foreign ministry dutifully informed the Ukrainian Embassy about the impending demonstration, in response to which the Ukrainians asked whether “Budapest is supporting separatism” of the region. Pavlo Klimkin, in a statement of objection, expressed his hope that Hungary will honor the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

The rigid Hungarian attitude has turned even some American conservatives against Budapest. Mike Gonzalez, senior fellow at the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, called on Viktor Orbán to “stop meddling in Ukrainian politics.” Gonzalez approves of Orbán’s policies on migrant issues and praises him for his vigorous defense of his nation’s sovereignty, but “he’s at his worst … when interfering in the self-determination of other sovereign nation-states around him.” According to Gonzalez,“Orbán is stirring up trouble with Ukraine and Romania.” What’s the issue? he asks. “You can put many different names on it—minority rights, multiculturalism, diversity—but some would say it borders on ‘irredentism.’” This article originally appeared in Daily Signal, a publication that is described by the Media Bias Fact Checker as strongly biased toward conservative causes.

I very much doubt that Mike Gonzalez is familiar enough with Hungarian affairs to talk about this issue with authority, but he put his finger on something that is not very far from reality. Tamás Bauer, a sharp-eyed observer of Hungarian politics, sees dual citizenship as “a partial revision” of the peace treaties. Since there is no possibility of territorial revision, Orbán has brought about a “population revision.” I may point out here that Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister in charge of national issues, just announced that the number of new citizens has reached one million. That means that about half of the Hungarians living beyond Hungary’s borders have been amalgamated into the Hungarian community.

English-language government publications talk about “cross-border Hungarians,” which is interesting by itself, but the Hungarian designation is even more suggestive. A few years ago the ministry of human resources published a list of designations that must be used and others that must be avoided. Hungarians must call their compatriots not “külföldi magyarok” but “külhoni magyarok.” The former is the mirror translation of the German ausländisch. “Külhoni,” according to the dictionary, means the same thing, except it sounds a bit old-fashioned to my ears. But then why do Hungarians now have to use “külhoni” instead of “külföldi”? I suspect the reason is that “hon” is a somewhat poetic word for “homeland.” Another related word is “otthon,” which means “at home.” Thus these Hungarians don’t live abroad but in a homeland that just happens to be across borders. I know that this distinction might be too subtle and perhaps many people don’t grasp its significance, but I consider it a sign of what’s going on in the Fidesz leaders’ minds.

November 16, 2017

FOREF’S RECOMMENDATIONS CONCERNING HUNGARY’S AMENDED CHURCH LAW

Below you will find the recommendations the Forum for Religious Freedom of Europe (FOREF) will be submitting at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe being held in Warsaw at this very moment.

In the middle of the refugee crisis we are apt to forget about other “sins” of the Orbán government, among them the Church Law of 2011 that deprived a number of legitimate religious groups of equal treatment. That law was subsequently amended in the hope of conforming more to international standards. As you can see, however, this amended version is still unacceptable to the international community. Professor David Baer of Texas Lutheran University, an expert on Hungarian state and church relations, is representing FOREF at the Warsaw meeting. Professor Baer previously published several articles on the subject on Hungarian Spectrum.

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Hungary: Amended Church Law Remains at Variance with OSCE Standards and the European Convention on Human Rights

Recommendations

Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF) calls upon the Government of Hungary

  • to refrain from further changes to the legal status of religious communities except to remedy the violations of the right of religious freedom arising from the deregistration of churches in 2011;
  • to extend legal privileges to churches on the basis of objective criteria alone, and not on the basis of indeterminate discretionary prerogatives claimed by the State or Parliament;
  • to treat all religious communities equally in matters pertaining to religious practice;
  • to rewrite the proposed amendments to Act CCVI of 2011 to harmonize with Helsinki standards, international human rights law, and the ruling of the ECtHR in Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and others v. Hungary.

Persistent difficulties with Hungary’s church law

In 2011 Hungary enacted a new law on the legal status of churches (Act CCVI of 2011). The law stripped approximately 200 religious communities of legal personality, and reduced the number of legally recognized churches in Hungary to 14. In February 2012, responding to international pressure, Parliament expanded the number of recognized churches to 31. In February 2013, Hungary’s Constitutional Court ruled the deregistration of recognized churches had been unconstitutional. Responding to the Court’s decision, Parliament amended the constitution in March 2013. In June and September 2013, Parliament amended Act CCVI to create a two-tiered classification consisting of “religious communities” and “incorporated churches.” In September 2013, Parliament also amended the constitution explicitly to grant Parliament the authority to select religious communities for “cooperation” with the state in the service of “public interest activities.” In April 2014 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and others v. Hungary that Hungary had violated articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a judgment which became final in September 2014. Just this month (September 2015), in response to the ECtHR decision, the Government of Hungary (GOH) has made public proposed amendments to Act CCVI of 2011. Unfortunately, those amendments fail to address the most serious violations of the right of religious freedom identified by the Court. First, transitional provisions with the proposed amendments would perpetuate, rather than correct the earlier violations of the ECHR. Second, discretionary powers afforded the state would continue the arbitrary recognition procedure criticized by both the ECtHR and the Venice Commission.

Proposed transitional provisions codify previous discrimination

After Hungary’s Constitutional Court found the deregistration of churches unconstitutional, the GOH amended the church law to create a two-tiered classification system, offering deregistered churches a chance to apply for status as “religious associations.” Despite the second tier, the ECtHR found Hungary’s deregistration procedure to have violated the right of religious freedom. Even after registering as religious associations, deregistered churches had far fewer rights than they enjoyed prior to 2011. The currently proposed amendments would replace the two-tiered classification system with a three-tiered system. However, a three-tiered system does nothing to address the underlying violation. Indeed, if two tiers failed to correct the violations caused by deregistration, it is hard to see how three tiers will address that problem more effectively.

In fact, religious communities in the lower tiers will continue to be denied rights they held previously as churches. For example, according to information provided by the Ministry of Justice, “religious associations” (the lowest tier), unlike other churches, will not be permitted to collect the voluntary 1% church income tax. Since this church tax directly supports religious activity, prohibiting some religious communities from collecting such a tax while permitting others, constitutes unjustified discrimination. Indeed, this provision of the law was explicitly criticized by the ECtHR. According to the Court:

only incorporated churches are entitled to the one per cent of the personal income tax earmarked by believers and the corresponding State subsidy. These sums are intended to support faith-related activities. For this reason, the Court finds that such differentiation does not satisfy the requirements of State neutrality and is devoid of objective grounds for the differential treatment. (Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház v. Hungary, 112)

Given the explicit judgment of the Court, the GOH’s determination to preserve this discriminatory provision is surprising.

Additionally, transitional provisions stipulate that all “incorporated churches” (currently the highest tier) will automatically be recognized as “certified churches” (the new highest tier) once the new version of the law goes into effect. However, the majority of “incorporated churches” do not meet the criteria set down in the law for “certified churches.” “Certified churches” must either have at least 10,000 members or have received church income tax from at least 4000 people over five years. Based on the most recent census data, only 6 of the 31 “incorporated churches” have a membership of 10,000 or more. Based on publically available tax data, only 11 of the 31 incorporated churches consistently received voluntary church income tax from at least 4000 people between 2011 and 2014.

Furthermore, according to the proposed amendments, unlike “incorporated churches,” “religious associations” will have to apply with the courts for new legal status. The GOH thus proposes to implement the new amendments in a way that both discriminates between “incorporated churches” and “religious communities,” and also blatantly disregards the provisions of its own law. Since the original classification of religious groups into unequal tiers violated the right of religious freedom, perpetuating those distinctions with a new set of amendments cannot be considered a serious attempt to respond to the violations identified by the ECtHR.

Discretionary prerogatives claimed by the state allow for arbitrary discrimination

One of the most severely criticized parts of Act CCVI has been the provision according to which Parliament grants status as an “incorporated church” through a ⅔ vote. At first glance, the amendments appear to remove this provision, because registration in each tier will be determined by a court. However, the amendments also allow the state to enter into “cooperative agreements” with “certified churches” on a discretionary basis. This provision for discretionary subsidy of some, but not all religious communities amounts to a fourth category of legal recognition. The manner in which the state will exercise its “discretionary right” to enter into “cooperative agreements” is not specified in the church law. However, a reasonable interpretation of Hungary’s Basic Law suggests that this discretionary power is held by Parliament. Statements by government representatives as reported in the Hungarian press also indicate that Parliament will exercise this discretion.

OSCE standards require that the state remain neutral and impartial in its treatment of religious communities. Certainly, the state enjoys margin of appreciation in determining the legal framework for cooperation with churches; but having established that framework the state is required to treat all churches impartially within it. Any decision to enter into “cooperative agreements” with certain churches must be based on objective, relevant criteria. A procedure by which Parliament selects individual churches for “cooperation” lacks appropriate mechanisms to guarantee the decisions are based on objective, relevant criteria and in an impartial manner. Indeed, insofar as the determination to enter into a “cooperative agreement” is based on objective, relevant criteria, it is difficult to envision the manner in which such determinations are discretionary at all.

The proposed amendments to Act CCVI therefore rewrite the law without changing its essential content. Instead of repairing violations of religious freedom suffered by deregistered churches, the proposed amendments place those violations on new legal footing. Rather than correcting Parliament’s arbitrary power to bestow legal privileges on churches, the amendments relocate that arbitrary power to different parts of the law.

FOREF urges the Government of Hungary to refrain from submitting the currently proposed amendments to Parliament for a vote, to develop substantial, as opposed to cosmetic, changes to the law which are needed to address the identified violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, and to seek the assistance of participating States in harmonizing its church law with Helsinki standards, international human rights law, and the ruling of the ECtHR in Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and others v. Hungary.

The Hungarian government under domestic and foreign pressure

As I’m writing this post thousands are again demonstrating against the government. The crowd gathered in front of the parliament, which one of the organizers called “the puppet show,” and then is heading toward the Castle District, where Viktor Orbán is planning to move. The move will cost an incredible amount of money but, as one of the undersecretaries in the prime minister’s office said, the citizens of Hungary will be really happy once the prime minister moves to quarters befitting his position. Given the mood of these crowds, I very much doubt that that will be the case. The good citizens of Hungary who are out on the street actually wish Orbán not to the Castle District but straight to hell.

The demonstration was organized against corruption but, as usually happens at these mass demonstrations, the crowd went beyond the limited goal of the organizers and demanded the resignation of Viktor Orbán and his government. Fidesz politicians, it seems, have been caught flat-footed. They surely believed that these demonstrations would peter out. Winter is approaching and Christmas will soon be upon us. It was hoped that people would be busy shopping and preparing for family gatherings. But this time they were wrong. Suddenly something inexplicable happened: the totally lethargic Hungarian public was awakened. What happened? After all, the misuse of power and the network of corruption have been features of the Orbán regime ever since 2010 and yet the public was not aroused against its unrelenting abuse of power. Most people knew that Fidesz politicians are corrupt and that they stuff their pockets with money stolen from the public, but they felt powerless to do anything about it.

I see a number of reasons for this change in the Hungarian political atmosphere. I would start with the influence of the book Hungarian Octopus: The Post-Communist Mafia State, edited by Bálint Magyar, in which dozens of political scientists, economists, sociologists, and media experts published articles that presented for the first time a comprehensive picture of the institutionalized corruption which is the hallmark of the Fidesz regime. Fairly quickly the terms “mafia state” and “mafia government” became part of everyday vocabulary, and the government’s dealings came to be understood within the context of The Godfather. The sinister nature of the enterprise was slowly grasped.

A second reason for the optimism and activism was the success of the first two mass demonstrations against the “internet tax.” Viktor Orbán had to retreat. If he retreated once, more demonstrations might force him to reverse earlier decisions. The success of the first demonstrations gave impetus to the others.

Last but not least was the Hungarian government’s own stupidity when it decided to leak the news about American dissatisfaction with the National Tax Authority and the corrupt officials who tried extract kickbacks from at least one American company. Hungarians expected their politicians to be corrupt, but the news that high officials at the Hungarian Tax Authority were also on the take was too much for them. Moreover, they felt that they now have an ally, the United States of America.

According to most observers, U.S.-Hungarian relations are at their lowest point since the post-1956 period. U.S. policy toward Hungary seems to me at least to be finely calibrated. At the beginning we were told about the six unnamed people who were barred from entering the United States. A few days later we learned that the president of the Tax Authority was definitely on the list. A few more days and we were told that the president is not the only person on the list, there are a couple more. Another week went by and André Goodfriend, U.S. chargé d’affaires, indicated that there might be more Hungarians who would face the same fate as the six already on the list. Another few days and we learned from the American chargé that he had given the Hungarian government all the information necessary for investigating the cases. And it was not the “useless scrap of paper” Viktor Orbán pointed to. In plain language, we found out once again that the Hungarian government lies. And yesterday we learned from an interview with Goodfriend that the sin of Tax Office Chief Ildikó Vida goes beyond not investigating obvious corruption cases within her office; she herself was an active participant in the corruption scheme at her office. Of course, Vida is outraged, but she cannot do more than write an open letter to Goodfriend claiming innocence. As time goes by the Hungarian government is increasingly embroiled in a web of lies and Orbán’s regime comes to resemble ever more closely the government of a third-rate banana republic.

The good old days: George W. Bush in Budapest, June 22, 2006

The good old days: George W. Bush in Budapest, June 22, 2006

While the State Department is using the corruption cases as a club, Senator John McCain is pursuing his own individual crusade. The senator, who is no friend of Putin, has been keeping an eye on Viktor Orbán’s illiberal state and found it to be troubling. What we saw two days ago was his frustration that Hungary will again have a political appointee as an ambassador. As he emphasized over and over, Hungary is a very important country that deserves a professional diplomat. His outburst about Orbán as a “neo-fascist dictator” was a bit strong, although Orbán’s system does have features in common with some of the fascist regimes of the past. But the Hungarian charge that McCain is ignorant of the Hungarian political situation is entirely baseless. Once he calmed down, he put it into writing what he finds objectionable about Orbán’s illiberal state. At the time of the release of his statement on Hungary he wrote a brief tweet saying, “Deeply concerned by PM Orban eroding democracy, rule of law, civil society & free press in Hungary.”

Below I republish Senator McCain’s statement on Hungary because I find it important and because it proves that, regardless of what the Hungarian government says, McCain (undoubtedly with the help of his staff) knows what he is talking about.

Since Prime Minister Viktor Orban came to power in 2010, antidemocratic constitutional changes have been enacted, the independence of Hungary’s courts have been restricted, nongovernmental organizations raided and civil society prosecuted, the freedom of the press curtailed, and much more. These actions threaten the principles of institutional independence and checks and balances that are the hallmark of democratic governance and have left me deeply concerned about the erosion of democratic norms in Hungary.

These concerns are shared by many. A ruling by the Venice Commission in 2013 found that Prime Minister Orban’s constitutional changes threaten democracy and rule of law in Hungary, stating that the amendments ‘contradict principles of the Fundamental Law and European standards,’ and ‘leads to a risk that it may negatively affect all three pillars of the Council of Europe: the separation of powers as an essential tenet of democracy, the protection of human rights and the rule of law.’

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Committee to Protect Journalists have condemned Hungary’s media laws, saying that they create a climate of fear and media self-censorship, even after critical changes were made to account for previous complaints from the European Commission. ‘The changes to the Hungarian media law only add to the existing concerns over the curbing of critical or differing views in the country,’ said Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE’s representative on Freedom of the Media.

The European Central Bank has repeatedly warned that Prime Minister Orban’s government is encroaching on the independence of its central bank, calling for him to respect the independence of monetary policymakers and condemning attempts by the government to threaten central bankers with dismissal if they oppose government policy.

And just last month, six Hungarians were banned from entering the United States over alleged corruption. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend reportedly called the ban a warning to reverse policies that threaten democratic values, citing ‘negative disappointing trends’ in Hungary and a ‘weakening of rule of law, attacks on civil society, [and] a lack of transparency.’

Democracy without respect for rule of law, separation of powers, and the protection of economic, civil, and religious liberties is not only inadequate, it is dangerous. It brings with it the erosion of liberty, the abuse of power, ethnic divisions, and economic restrictions – all of which we have witnessed in Hungary since Prime Minister Orban took power. Prime Minister Orban has justified his actions by calling for a new state model based on ‘illiberal democracy,’ but his vision defies the core values of the European Union and NATO. These alliances are founded not only on the principle of democracy, but also rule of law and the protection of individual liberty and fundamental freedoms. All members must remain committed to these values.

Meanwhile both Hungarian and foreign newspapers are full of stories about the demonstrations and about McCain’s characterization of Orbán as a “neo-fascist dictator.” As the Hungarian prime minister continues to come under attack, both from within and from without, it’s unclear how he will fight back and how effective his counterattack will be. If the proposed Sunday store closings are any indication of the government’s new game plan, the counterattack will be a colossal failure.

The government media on OSCE’s final report on the Hungarian elections

Judit Csernyánszky, a member of MSZP’s press corps, wrote an opinion piece in today’s Népszava with the title “The Hidden Report.” It is about the silence that surrounded the final report of OSCE on the Hungarian election of April 6, 2014.

The final report was released on July 11, 2014, but MTI was silent. On that day only an obscure organization called Alapjogokért Centrum (Center for Basic Rights) reacted to the report. This “organization” seems to be a phantom that the government calls up whenever an alleged attack on it requires an “independent” assessment. For example, it was this organization that severely criticized Kim Scheppele’s work on the Hungarian electoral system.

OSCEreportIt was only on the next day, by which time Magyar Hírlap had already published an article about the Alapjogokért Centrum’s criticism of the OSCE report, that MTI decided that it was time to deal with this unwelcome piece of news. The MTI release is an odd piece of journalistic writing because it starts not with the important news item, the appearance of the report, but with the reactions of the opposition parties to it. It is only at the end of MTI’s press release that one can read that, according to the OSCE report, “the elections were efficiently organized and offered voters a diverse choice following an inclusive candidate registration. The main governing party enjoyed an undue advantage because of restrictive campaign regulations, biased media coverage and campaigning activities that blurred the separation between politics and State.”

Here I would like to concentrate on the right-wing media’s handling of this unwelcome report. First, let’s look at Magyar Hírlap, which began its article on the topic thus: “According to 444.hu, [OSCE] found serious problems connected to the elections that gave undue advantage to the government parties. On the other hand, the Alapjogokért Központ welcomes the report that states that the Hungarian national election was well organized. However, the document contains several mistaken assertions on the details.” Clearly, the journalist responsible for this article did not read the document itself.

Another right-wing blog, Pesti Srácok.hu, copied the same 444.hu/MTI article that served as the source for Magyar Hírlap. I checked provincial sites and found only one paper that carried the same story. Mandiner, whose younger conservative journalists are occasionally critical of the government, decided this time to rely on MTI. Safer, I guess. Gondola‘s headline for the same MTI article read: “According to OSCE the elections were conducted successfully.” Magyar Nemzet decided to remain silent about the publication of the document.

What could people hear on the state radio and television stations? According to Csernyánszky, practically nothing. MTV’s evening news didn’t even mention it. On MR it was mentioned in the next day’s news program at noon, but they spent only half a minute on the topic without saying a word about the opinion of the opposition, which was brief and to the point. OSCE clearly states in the report that Fidesz’s two-thirds majority is illegitimate.

Of course, the opposition organs gave all the details and all the critical remarks of the report, but considering the relatively small audience these media outlets reach one can conclude that Judit Csernyánszky is right. The government and its servile media managed to hide the report from the Hungarian public. I suggest that you read the document. It is thirty pages long and not only includes criticisms but also gives suggestions, 36 all told. I very much doubt that these suggestions will be adopted by the government. After all, the electoral law was devised in such a way that it would produce exactly the kinds of results the April 6 election returned: the continuation of the unlimited power the government had enjoyed in the previous four years.

What do the other parties plan to do? Együtt-PM apparently is planning to compile the suggestions of OSCE and produce a list of amendments to the current electoral law. Well, this is better than nothing, but we can be pretty sure that none of the amendments will even reach the floor of the parliament.

The Demokratikus Koalíció has another plan. The party announced today that its two members in the European Parliament, Csaba Molnár and Péter Niedermüller, had inquired from the European Commission whether in light of the OSCE report the commission is contemplating turning to international courts because the Hungarian electoral law “violates the principles of democratic elections and the existing international conventions.” I am not surprised by this strategy. When I heard that Molnár and Niedermüller were heading the DK list for the EP elections, I suspected that the party’s leadership thinks that the European Parliament should be used more extensively for calling attention to the state of democracy in Hungary. Both men hold important positions in DK. Csaba Molnár was a spokesman of the party and the right-hand man of Ferenc Gyurcsány. I don’t know whether the DK MEPs will be successful, but one thing is sure: they have more of a chance in Brussels than in Budapest.

The Hungarian election: A day after

I’m in the middle of reading a slim volume by György Bolgár, the “Dear Mr. Bolgár” of the call-in program “Let’s Talk It Over” on Klubrádió. His latest book is Poligráf, a word that needs no translation. In every short chapter he refutes another lie of Viktor Orbán.

If Bolgár had waited a month or so he could have added another chapter to the book: Viktor Orbán’s claim of “national unity.” In his acceptance speech Orbán said that what his party achieved is “a European record. This is a fact that gives us the right to say, and not just to say but also to be proud of the fact that Hungary is the most unified country in Europe.”  First of all, that “record” is nothing to be terribly proud of. In fact, in comparison to Fidesz’s most successful showing in 2010, the party lost over twenty percent of its voters. As 444‘s reporter pointed out, in 2002 and again in 2006 Fidesz lost the election with more votes than it got this time around. Others remarked that the last time Fidesz did so badly was in 1998.

As for “national unity” here are some figures. Fidesz won 44.36%, Unity Alliance 25.89%, Jobbik 20.46%, and LMP 5.24% of the votes. Do these figures suggest that Hungary is “the most unified country in Europe”? Surely not. The super majority that Fidesz may (probably will) achieve is the result of a cleverly devised electoral law, not the popular will. Unity? No, electoral manipulation. That’s the reality behind this fantastic European record.

Source: Index

Source: Index

A Fidesz super majority naturally means a system that discriminates against other parties. Both the Unity Alliance and Jobbik ended up with much smaller parliamentary representations than their actual performance would have warranted. In part that was achieved by the split between seats won outright and seats allocated on the basis of party lists. In any event, a totally unrepresentative parliament will convene after the formation of the third Orbán government.

It is now time to talk about Jobbik, the neo-Nazi party. Yes, it gained about 130,000 new voters. At the moment there are close to a million Jobbik voters in Hungary. Most of these voters came from Fidesz, which lost all told about 700,000 voters. Many people are very concerned about the growth of Jobbik. Some foresee a Hungary which will soon be run by neo-Nazis. The people who seem most concerned about Jobbik are also certain that the Hungarian Left’s poor showing will result in their total disappearance from the political scene. They envisage a second Poland where the Left was pretty well left for dead.

I’m a great deal less gloomy on the subject. First of all, in the twentieth century Hungarian extremist parties didn’t have long life expectancies. One year the Arrow Cross party had at least a million voters but a year later they lost most of their support. Moreover, these extremist parties have a tendency to splinter. A number of Jobbik members of parliament have already left the party for ideological reasons. In my opinion, Jobbik’s recent rise in the polls has two main causes. One is that the party leadership toned down their racist propaganda. And second, Fidesz made no attempt to curb their activities. Fidesz’s propaganda was directed against the Unity Alliance and specifically against Ferenc Gyurcsány; Jobbik remained untouched by the Fidesz propaganda machine. Although Jobbik did well at the polls, its leadership is still dissatisfied. Party chief Gábor Vona himself lost to a Fidesz candidate in one of the strongest Jobbik strongholds in northeastern Hungary. Moreover, his unreasonably high expectations for Jobbik’s performance might prompt a serious debate within the party about the efficacy of the new ideological line which didn’t bring about the desired results. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some serious disagreements about the future course of the party.

Finally, let’s talk about those who are ready to condemn the whole nation for voting for autocracy, semi-dictatorship, and servitude. Again, let’s see the figures. Out of the whole electorate only 27.30% voted for Fidesz, 17.87% for Unity Alliance, 12.31% for Jobbik, 3.23% for LMP, and 2.61% for other smaller parties. And yes, 38.81% didn’t bother to vote at all. It is true that almost two-thirds of those who did vote cast their votes for the Right–that is, for either Fidesz or Jobbik. But that is still not the whole country. And at least a vote for Jobbik was not a vote for autocracy.

One problem is that Hungarians’ attitude toward democracy is ambivalent, due mainly to ignorance and undereducation. Instilling an understanding of the importance of democracy should be the first task the democratic parties to tackle. Without a democratically-minded population one cannot build a democratic society.

Finally, let’s see what the International Election Observation Mission of OSCE had to say about the election:

The 6 April parliamentary elections were efficiently administered and offered voters a diverse choice following an inclusive candidate registration process. The legal framework for these elections was amended substantially in recent years. While some changes were positive, a number of amendments negatively affected the election process, including important checks and balances. The main governing party enjoyed an undue advantage because of restrictive campaign regulations, biased media coverage and campaign activities that blurred the separation between political party and the State.

The Fundamental Law (the constitution) and a large number of cardinal laws, including electoral legislation, were passed using procedures that circumvented the requirement for public consultation and debate. This undermined support and confidence in the reform process. A number of aspects of this legal overhaul undermined checks and balances, such as a reduction of the oversight powers of the Constitutional Court.

In a widely welcomed change, legal amendments reduced the number of parliamentary seats from 386 to 199, necessitating alteration in constituency delimitation. The legal requirement to have constituencies of a more equal size is positive. However, the need for a two-thirds majority for redrawing of constituency boundaries may make it difficult to change the boundaries in the future. The delimitation process was criticized by several OSCE/ODIHR LEOM interlocutors for lacking transparency and inclusiveness. There were allegations of gerrymandering; it remains to be seen how this translates into results.

Well, by now we know how all this translated into results. Meanwhile, the Hungarian Embassy in Washington wrote to “Friends of Hungary” that “during the course of the election, monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) said they were satisfied with the voting process.” Surely, if we think of process as “a series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result,” then the Hungarian government isn’t telling the whole truth. The Election Observation Mission’s report didn’t express complete satisfaction with the process and the final word will be coming only when the results are final. I assume that, after analyzing the votes and how they got translated into seats, the final report will contain serious reservations about the “process” carefully devised by Fidesz to retain a super majority far into the future.

OSCE’s interim report on the parliamentary elections of 2014

Here is the interim report of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The document is limited to observation only and does not contain analysis of how the new Hungarian electoral law will affect the possible outcome of the election.

OSCE

INTERIM REPORT

5 – 18 March 2014

24 March

I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • On 6 April 2014, some 8 million voters will elect the members of parliament for a four-year term. A modified mixed electoral system removed the possibility for a second round, changed the seat allocation method and reduced the number of parliamentary seats from 386 to 199.
  • The governing coalition formed by the Hungarian Civic Union (Fidesz) and the Christian- Democratic People’s Party has had a two-third majority in parliament since the 2010 elections. It adopted numerous laws, including a new Constitution and electoral legislation, without public consultation or inclusive dialogue with the opposition. The new constituencies address previous vote inequalities, but concerns were raised about the political intention of the delineation process.
  • The election administration, composed of three tiers of election commissions supported by election offices, has met all legal deadlines to date. It enjoys the general confidence of stakeholders, however, several OSCE/ODIHR LEOM interlocutors raised concerns about partisanship among the permanent members of the National Election Commission (NEC).
  • Some 550,000 Hungarians living abroad received Hungarian citizenship since the 2010 amendment of the Act on Hungarian Citizenship. A number of OSCE/ODIHR LEOM interlocutors expressed serious concerns about the different voting procedures for out-of-country voters with and without residence in Hungary, as well as about the security of postal voting.
  • A candidate may run concurrently in single-member constituencies and on national lists. The police is investigating several cases, in response to allegations that smaller parties traded signature collection sheets for single member constituency candidates. The election commissions registered 1,559 single member constituency candidates, including 395 women. A total of 1,610 candidates, including 379 women, run on 18 national lists.
  • Citizens who register themselves as national minority voters must vote for a minority list drawn up by the respective national minority self-government. All 13 national minority self- governments submitted lists, with a total of 99 candidates, including 42 women. Some Roma leaders campaigned against registration as a minority voter and proposed their own national list.
  • The campaign commenced on 15 February and intensified since the beginning of March. The opposition claims that Fidesz created an uneven playing field by using government advertisements. Current regulations result in a de facto absence of campaign advertisements on commercial television.
  • Formally, numerous electronic and print media outlets provide for media diversity. Media experts expressed to the OSCE/ODIHR LEOM their serious concern over lack of independence of the Public Service Broadcaster, Magyar Television, of Hungarian News Agency, the official source for all public media news content, and of the Media Council, the new supervisory body for media legislation, as well as a lack of pluralism in news programs, as the main commercial television stations are affiliated with the ruling parties or have entertainment-oriented programs.
  • Hundreds of complaints have been filed to date with the election commissions and courts. Most were rejected on formal grounds.

II. INTRODUCTION

Following an invitation from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and based on the recommendation of a Needs Assessment Mission conducted from 20 to 23 January, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) deployed a Limited Election Observation Mission (LEOM) on 5 March.1The LEOM is headed by Ambassador Audrey Glover and consists of 12 experts based in Budapest and 10long-term observers deployed throughout the country. Mission members are drawn from 17 OSCE participating States. In line with ODIHR’s methodology, the LEOM will not carry out systematic or comprehensive observation of election day activities. Mission members will, however, visit a number of polling stations to follow election day procedures.

III. BACKGROUND

The 6 April elections will be the seventh since 1990 and the fourth observed by the OSCE/ODIHR. The April 2010 parliamentary elections resulted in a two-thirds majority in parliament of the Coalition of Hungarian Civic Union (Magyar Polgári Szövetség, Fidesz) and the Christian- Democratic People’s Party(Kereszténydemokrata Néppárt, KDNP). This ruling coalition enacted key laws, including the Fundamental Law of Hungary (the Constitution) and new electoral legislation. These were largely passed and modified without public consultation and lacking inclusive dialogue with opposition parties, and following proposals from individual MPs. This procedure circumvented the Participation of Civil Society in the Preparation of Legislation Act, which requires that “all laws proposed by the government need to go through its procedures for public consultation”. The European Parliament and the Council of Europe strongly criticized this process and the numerous changes to the constitution and the laws after their adoption as well as the use of constitutional amendments to override some decisions of the Constitutional Court.2

IV. THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK AND ELECTORAL SYSTEM

The conduct of the elections is regulated primarily by the Constitution, the Act on Election of Members of Parliament (Elections Act), and the Act on Election Procedures (Election Procedures Act). The Constitution entered into force on 1 January 2012 and was amended five times, most recently in September 2013. The Elections Act was adopted in December 2011, and was amended four times, most recently in July 2013.A key change is the introduction of the right to vote for citizens living abroad without permanent residence in Hungary, but only for the proportional part of

the elections. The Election Procedures Act was adopted in October 2012, and was amended three times, most recently in December 2013. Amendments introducing active voter registration for all citizens were declared unconstitutional and overruled.

The Constitution gives every adult citizen the right to vote and be elected. The right to vote can be limited based on a court decision as part of a criminal sentence or for an individual with limited mental capacity as established by a court decision. There are no legal requirements aimed at enhancing the participation of women in political life.

The 2010 amendments to the Act on Hungarian Citizenship provide that a descendant of a person who was a Hungarian citizen before 1920, with some proficiency in the Hungarian language can apply for Hungarian citizenship. To date, some 550,000 such persons living mostly in neighbouring countries availed themselves of this opportunity.

Parliament is elected for a four-year term. The new Elections Act retained a mixed electoral system but removed the possibility for a second round, changed the seat allocation method and reduced the number of parliamentary seats from 386 to 199. The 106 seats from single-member constituencies are elected through majoritarian contests. The remaining 93 seats are distributed through a nationwide proportional system among candidate lists from parties passing a 5 per cent threshold (or a 10 per cent for lists with two parties or 15 per cent for lists with more than two parties). The votes for candidates who did not win a seat in the majoritarian contest and the votes obtained by winning candidates beyond the 50 per cent plus 1 that are required to win, are allocated to the proportional contest. The five per cent threshold is not applicable to national minority lists.4

Amendments to the Elections Acts established the constituency boundaries in July 2013. These can only be altered by a two-thirds vote in parliament. The constituency delimitation resolves previous inequality issues between the numbers of voters in different constituencies as it requires that this number may not deviate more than 15 per cent from the national average.Based on current voter registration figures, five constituencies do not respect this principle.The constituency delimitation process was criticized by several OSCE/ODIHR LEOM interlocutors for lacking transparency, independence and consultation and for catering to the political interests of the governing parties.

V. THE ELECTION ADMINISTRATION

The elections are administered by a three-tiered election administration: the National Election Commission (NEC), 106 Constituency Election Commissions (CoEC) and 10,386 Polling Election Commissions (PSC). Each commission is independent. A parallel set of election offices act as secretariats for the commissions, including the National Election Office (NEO), 97 Constituency Election Offices (CoEO) and 1,297 Local Election Offices (LEO). For voting abroad, 97 PSCs have been established at diplomatic representations.

The NEC is a permanent body consisting of seven members elected for nine-year terms by the parliament, based on proposals from the president.Two of the NEC members are women, including the deputy. Each of the 18 national lists registered to contest the upcoming elections is entitled to appoint one member to the NEC. The 13 national minority lists may appoint one commissioner each, however they may only vote on national minority issues. The NEO is an independent government agency responsible for preparing and conducting the elections. Its head is appointed by the president based on a proposal from the prime minister, for a nine-year term. The current head is a woman.

The CoECs and PSCs consist of three members elected by local governments as proposed by the head of the CoEOs and LEOs respectively. In addition, each candidate in the constituency is entitled to appoint one member to the respective CoEC and two members to the respective PSCs. The CoECs have completed candidate registration for the single-mandate constituencies and are hearing complaints and appeals in their jurisdictions. The PSCs were to be formed by 17 March. Some commissioners have expressed concern to the OSCE/ODIHR LEOM that the large number of members will impede the efficiency and effectiveness of the commissions.8

Election commissions’ sessions are public. NEC meetings, minutes and decisions are publicized on its website. Since the start of the electoral period, the NEC has issued several instructions, adopted decisions, including on the registration of nominating organizations, parties and lists, and handled numerous complaints and appeals. The election administration has met all legal deadlines to date. Most OSCE/ODIHR LEOM interlocutors expressed confidence in the electoral administration, however, some raised concern about partisanship of the commission in the current political context.

VI. VOTER REGISTRATION

The central voter register is maintained by the NEO and is extracted from the population register. Citizens with a permanent address in Hungary and who are over 18 are eligible to vote on election day as are married citizens who are 16 years or older, upon their request. The number of eligible voters at the time of this report is 8,236,443.

Voter lists can be viewed in the LEOs up to 4 April, which is the deadline to make any alterations to the lists. Persons with a disability may apply by 4 April for Braille or simplified voting materials, or to vote in an accessible polling station. Mobile voting is available for voters with disabilities, for health reasons or for those in detention. Citizens may also request to vote in a designated polling station in a constituency other than their registered address by 4 April.

Some 16,000 citizens with permanent residence in Hungary who are out of country on election day registered with the NEO to vote at one of 97 diplomatic missions. They can vote for both contests. Some 176,000 citizens without in-country residence, who can only vote for the proportional contest, are registered to vote by mail. The ballot packages may be mailed to any address requested. Voters can mail their ballot to the NEO, or deliver it to a diplomatic mission or a CoEO, including by proxy. The Election Procedures Act relaxed the registration of non-resident voters, while residents must submit registration data which exactly matches official records. Several OSCE/ODIHR LEOM interlocutors expressed serious concern about the different voting procedures for out-of-country voters with and without residence in Hungary. They also shared concerns about the security of postal voting and the fact that the list of non-resident voters is not public. The authorities stated that the list is not publicized to protect Hungarian citizens in countries prohibiting multiple citizenships.

Citizens declaring themselves as a national minority may register to vote for minority lists rather than national lists. This limits the choice of minority voters in the proportional race on election day as this registration precludes their possibility to vote for another but the minority list.Requests must be lodged with the NEO by 22 March, though this may be altered up to 4 April. The number of minority voters registered thus far is 28,250.

VII. REGISTRATION OF CANDIDATES

A candidate may run in single-member constituencies and on national lists concurrently. Parties wishing to nominate candidates in the single-member constituencies had to register as nominating organizations with the NEC. A candidate had to collect at least 500 signatures from eligible voters in that constituency on signature sheets and submit to the CoECs by 3 March. Strict fines were imposed for late submission or lost sheets.10Voters could support more than one candidate.

The CoECs registered 1,559 candidates, including 395 women, and rejected 849, mostly because they did not collect enough support signatures. Several national media reports alleged that a number of smaller parties traded signature sheets to copy voter information and fraudulently obtain registration. Police are investigating a number of cases. Only two parliamentary parties have gender quotas. There are no women candidates in four constituencies. National lists were to be submitted to the NEC by 4 March. Lists were registered if the nominating organization was able to submit at least 27 candidates in 9 or more counties as well as Budapest. Of the 31 lists submitted to the NEC, 16 single party and 2 joint party lists were registered with a total of 1,610 candidates, including 379 women.11

The new legislation provides that national minority self-governments can submit candidate lists that appear on a separate ballot for national minorities. They had to collect support signatures from at least 1 per cent of the voters included in the minorities register as of 17 February, but no more than 1,500 signatures. All 13 officially recognized minorities registered with a total of 99 candidates, including 42 women. The main parties and coalitions standing for election are the ruling party alliance Fidesz /KDNP, and the opposition parties alliance of the Hungarian Socialist (MSZP), Together Party for a New Era (Együtt 2014), Dialogue for Hungary (PM), Democratic Coalition (DK) and Hungarian Liberal Party (MLP), as well as the Movement for a Better Hungary party (Jobbik) and the LMP (Politics Can Be Different).

VIII. CAMPAIGN ENVIRONMENT

The campaign officially began on 15 February 2014. The campaign silence period has been abolished, but campaign activities are prohibited within 150 meters of a polling station on election day. The main campaign messages have been conveyed through billboards, media, rallies, leaflets and door-to-door campaigning. Contestants have been extensively using social networks.

The Fidesz/KDNP suggests that voters will have to choose between the future (represented by them) and the past when the country was governed by communists and subsequently by the leftist-liberal coalition. The campaign of MSZP-Egyutt/PM-DK-MLP is centered on their intent to “repair democracy”. They demand a referendum on the planned expansion of the nuclear plant in Paks and assert that a loan from Russia financing this plant could jeopardize the country’s independence. The green LMP has also denounced the expansion of the nuclear plant. Jobbik focuses on security issues and nationalistic proposals. Jobbik uses anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and homophobic rhetoric and calls for the protection of the Hungarian soil.

The campaign has intensified since the beginning of March 2014. The tone of the campaign has been influenced by alleged corruption cases across the political spectrum. The opposition complains that Fidesz created an uneven playing field, by broadcasting government advertisements and using proxy civil society organizations for their campaign. Fidesz argues that such broadcasts are social advertisements and not political in nature. The opposition also alleges that at least 50 per cent of the billboards in Budapest are controlled by businesspeople close to Fidesz.

IX. CAMPAIGN FINANCE

Electoral contestants can use state and private funds for campaign purposes. State funding is regulated by the Act on the Transparency of Campaign Costs related to the Election of the Members of the National Assembly, while private donations are regulated by the The Act on the Operation and Financial Management of Political Parties. There are no limits for private donations. Those over HUF 500.000 (EUR 1,600) must be disclosed in party annual reports.

Single-mandate constituency candidates receive up to HUF 1 million (EUR 3,200) in state funds, irrespective of whether they run independently or nominated by a party. Additional state support is provided to political parties that nominate candidates in single-mandate constituencies and to the national minority self-governments which nominate lists.12 A candidate can spend a maximum of HUF 5 million (EUR 16,000).

Electoral contestants report to the National Treasury Office (NTO) and are audited by the State Audit Office (SAO). There are no reporting requirements before election day. State support to political parties is not subject to NTO verification, while support for candidates is. A compulsory audit is performed by the SAO of parties that win seats.13 Several NGOs are involved in the election campaign, with billboards targeting some electoral contestants.14 The costs for such activities are not regulated by campaign regulations nor subject of supervision by SAO.

The government has been conducting a “Hungary is performing better” campaign since 2013. According to the Minister of Public Administration and Justice, its cost was approximately EUR 2 million for the period from March to November 2013. On 1 October 2013, the government sold to Fidesz the non-exclusive rights for the use of this slogan for EUR 640. Currently, both Fidesz and the government run campaigns with the same lay-out and identical slogan on several television stations.

On 10 March candidates from MSZP and Együtt 2014 filed a complaint with the NEC against TV2. On 13 March the NEC rejected the complaint. On 18 March, the Supreme Court overturned the NEC decision, motivating that TV2 violated the law by broadcasting campaign advertising. It also prohibited TV2 to further broadcast this spot.

X. THE MEDIA                                                                 

Formally, a significant number of electronic and print media outlets provide for diversity in the media landscape. The internet increasingly becomes the primary source of news. A growing number of online media outlets appear to be affiliated with both sides of the political spectrum. Television news still are the primary source of political information.

Media experts expressed their serious concern to the OSCE/ODIHR LEOM over developments in broadcasting and a lack of independence of the Public Service Broadcaster, Magyar Television (MTV), potentially undermining the political pluralism of news programs.15 The market-leading commercial television stations are affiliated with the ruling parties or have an entertainment-oriented program profile, resulting in limited critical reporting about the government by the broadcasters with the highest audience shares.16 In addition, OSCE/ODIHR LEOM interlocutors expressed concern about the independence of the public Hungarian News Agency, MTI, which is the official source for all public media news content. Another potential issue is the recently extended scope of defamation provisions in the Criminal Code, including penalties of up three years imprisonment for defamatory video or sound recordings. Criminalized speech can potentially undermine investigative journalism and silence opposing views.17

The Freedom of the Press and the Fundamental Rules of Media Content Act requires broadcasters to provide “balanced coverage” in news and information programs “on local, national and European issues that may be of interest for the general public”. The law, however, lacks clarity on what constitutes “balanced coverage”.

The new supervisory body for content regulation is the Media Council, part of the National Media andInfo-communications Authority (NMHH). The chairperson, who is at the same time the president of the NMHH, and the four members of the Media Council are elected by parliament with a two- thirds majority for a nine-year term. The process of selecting their members is of major concern as the current Council has a politically homogenous composition.18 The Media Council monitors the coverage of political actors and publishes monitoring results on its website, but only acts upon complaints as the law prohibits it to act ex officio.

The Election Procedures Act provides for a total of 600 minutes free airtime on the Public Broadcaster, to be equally divided among the lists. In response to the large number of contestants, MTV provided each list with additional five minutes of live broadcast in a discussion program aired on M1 and on public TV and radio. The Act banned paid political advertising on commercial broadcasters, which the Constitutional Court deemed unduly restrictive on freedom of expression and media. A fifth amendment to the 2012 Constitution allowed commercial broadcasters to air campaign advertising, but only unpaid and equally divided between national lists contesting the elections. In practice this right is not exercised. Opposition parties complained that this limits their direct access to television. Contestants can purchase political advertising in print and online media outlets.

On 11 March, the OSCE/ODIHR started qualitative and quantitative media monitoring analysis of the campaign coverage, including five newspapers with and five TV channels.19

XI. COMPLAINTS AND APPEALS

The Election Procedures Act allows voters and contestants to lodge complaint, but sets out some new formal requirements. The NEC serves as a first instance for reviewing most election-related complaints and also decides on complaints on political advertisements. All decisions of the NEC can be appealed to the Supreme Court. Its decision is final unless appealed to the Constitutional Court provided that the applicant alleges a violation of a constitutional right.20 All complaints must be received and decided on within three days.

To date the NEC received over 841 complaints, of which a large number are appeals against CoEC decisions on the validity of candidate support petition sheets. Some 200 complaints pertained to fines issued by CoECs for late or unreturned petition sheets. The Supreme Court received 114 complaints so far, 11 decided on merit and the rest were rejected on formal grounds. All except a few upheld the initial NEC decisions. The Constitutional Court received 13 cases and ruled on 4, rejecting them on formal grounds.

XI. PARTICIPATION OF NATIONAL MINORITIES

According the results of the 2011 census, the largest national minorities are the Roma (3.1 per cent) and the Germans (1.3 per cent). The other groups officially recognized as minorities make up less than one per cent of the population: Slovaks, Croats, Romanians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Slovenes, Poles, Greeks, Bulgarians, Ruthenians and Armenians.

Each of the 13 national minorities has a national minority self-governments. The current self- governments have been elected in 2010 and new elections are foreseen in the autumn of 2014. Their election predates the entry into force of the Elections Act, meaning that national minority voters elected their current national minority self-government not knowing that this would possibly impact on their parliamentary representation.

The restriction to vote for a national list by registered national minority members once voters registered for this elicited criticism. Some Roma leaders opted to campaign against registration as a minority voter and proposed their own national list. A certain degree of confusion seems to prevail regarding this new system; according to some OSCE/ODIHR LEOM interlocutors, this could negatively affect the possibility for minority voters to make an informed choice. In practice, there is no competition within each respective minority contest, as the ballot will only include one choice.

XII. CITIZEN AND INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS

The legislation does not provide for citizen non-partisan observers. Nominating organizations have the right to appoint commission members to the NEC, except those from national minority lists, and may appoint up to five observers to work alongside the NEO and verify their operating practices. While the presence of observers from political entities at polling stations is not provided for, each political entity registered within the respective constituency may appoint representatives to the PSC. The Election Procedures Act now allows for international observers. They may observe the entire process and may request copies of any documentation.

XIII. MISSION ACTIVITIES

The OSCE/ODIHR LEOM commenced its work on 5 March. The Head of the Mission met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the NEC and the NEO, and other high-level state officials, politicians and diplomatic representatives. The LEOM has also established contacts with political parties and candidates, representatives of the media, civil society and other electoral stakeholders. The Head of the Mission met a pre-election delegation of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). Mr. Adao Silva has been appointed by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office as Special Co-ordinator to lead the short-term OSCE observer mission.

 

NOTES

[1]Previous OSCE/ODIHR reports on Hungary are available at: http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/hungary.

[2]See European Parliament resolution, available at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&language=EN&reference=P7-TA-2013-3154. See also the Request for the Opening of a Monitoring Procedure in Respect of Hungary, available at http://www.assembly.coe.int/Communication/amondoc08_2013.pdf.

[3]The Venice Commission Code of Good Electoral Practice, Paragraph 2.2.b provides that “The fundamental elements of electoral law, in particular the electoral system proper, membership of electoral commissions and the drawing of constituency boundaries, should not be open to amendment less than one year before an election”; see at http://www.venice.coe.int/docs/2002/CDL-AD(2002)023rev-e.pdf. See also Existing Commitments for Democratic Elections in OSCE Participating States, paragraph 3.2, at http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/13957.

[4]National minority lists that fail to win a seat are entitled to a non-voting parliamentary spokesperson.

[5]The Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters of the Venice Commission, paragraph 2.2, provides that “the permissible departure from the norm should not be more than 10% and should certainly not exceed 15%, except in special circumstances”. In addition, the law provides that constituencies “should form contiguous areas”, but at least one constituency, Szeged 1, is composed of three separate areas.

[6]The largest deviation is Pest 5, followed by Somogy 2 and Tolna 1, 2, and 3.

[7]Previous legislation set NEC appointments for four years. The NEC was elected on 30 September 2013.

[8]In the constituency of Baranya, 29 candidates have been registered, and as such the PSCs here may have up to 63 members, plus minority representative members.

[9]See the Joint Opinion of the OSCE/ODHIR and the Venice Commission on the Elections Act which noted that this “limits the choice of minority voters in the proportional race on election day, especially when there is only one list competing for the vote of the respective minority.” See at http://www.osce.org/odihr/91534.

[10]An unlimited number of forms could be requested. The fine for lost sheets or late submission of sheets is approximately HUF 50,000 (EUR 160). More than 200 fines were issued, with the highest being HUF 21,000,000 (EUR 67,000).

[11]A total of 13 lists were denied registration as 12 failed to reach the 27 candidates required and one list had the required number of counties, but failed to secure registration in Budapest.

[12]Parties are eligible to receive between HUF 150 million and HUF 600 million depending on the number of candidates registered in single-mandate constituencies (approximately EUR 500.000 and EUR 2 million). National minority self-governments receive amounts proportionate to the number of registered minority voters.

[13]SAO can audit the parties not represented in parliament only upon the request of other contestants.

[14]The most visible advertisement campaign is by the Civil Unity Forum against some opposition leaders. NGOs monitoring the campaign estimate it cost between EUR 500.000 and 1 million since January 2014.

[15]See also European Parliament resolution of 3 July 2013 on the situation of fundamental rights: standards and practices in Hungary (pursuant to the European Parliament resolution of 16 February 2012, available at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&language=EN&reference=P7-TA-2013-315#def_1_8.

[16]Data on audience share is available at http://adattar.nmhh.hu/agb/nezettseg/201307.

[17]See the press release of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media at http://www.osce.org/fom/107908.

[18]See the press release of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media at http://www.osce.org/fom/90823.

[19]The monitoring is conducted from 17:00 till 23:00. The media outlets monitored are: M1 ATV, Hír, RTL Klub and TV2. The monitored print media outlets include Blikk, HVG, Magyar NemzetMetropol and Népszabadság.

[20]The Constitutional Court voiced its concerns to the OSCE/ODIHR LEOM that its jurisdiction is not clear, and that the lack of clarity of the new legislation and the lack of expertise and judicial practice on it, and the short deadlines for adjudicating complaints are putting a strain on the court, and could lead to a situation where possibly valid complaints are rejected on formal grounds.