The parliamentary elections in Hungary were characterized by a pervasive overlap between state and ruling party resources, undermining the contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis, OSCE/ODIHR observers said.
A total of 8,312,264 voters, including over 435,000 voting from abroad, were registered for the elections, who had a wide range of political options but intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing constricted the space for genuine political debate, hindering voters’ ability to make a fully-informed choice.
Fundamental rights and freedoms were exercised in a highly adverse political climate. Access to information as well as the freedoms of the media and association have been restricted, including by recent legal changes. While the electoral legal framework forms an adequate basis for democratic elections, recent amendments were a missed opportunity to hold inclusive consultations.
The social divide in Hungary, the social breakdown of the poor, and the dramatic deterioration of the public services, gave rise to a general dissatisfaction. In the face of the dissatisfaction, the opposition political parties made a democratic turn and promised European legal standards.
The Fidesz-led government took advantage of the existing dissatisfaction with the hate of the refugees and the “foreign powers”, the European Union, Brussels and George Soros. Throughout the campaign there was a ubiquitous overlap between the ruling coalition’s campaign messages and the government’s anti-migration, anti-Brussels, anti-UN, and anti-Soros information campaigns, evident, in particular, in outdoor advertising. The widespread government information campaign in broadcast and social media, in general, was largely indistinguishable from Fidesz campaigning, giving the latter a clear advantage over other contenders.
The larger part, with the government controlled media and the established power bodies, have been campaigning more intensively than before, resulting in the majority of society having fears about the millions of refugees supposedly influxing Hungary.
The traditional media has been fractured by a progressive concentration of media ownership in the hands of party-affiliated entrepreneurs and allocation of state advertising to selected media. Overall the campaign coverage was divisive. Space for critical reporting was very limited, but this was partially offset by lively coverage in internet and social media, which offered a platform for pluralistic, issue-oriented political debates. Politicization of the ownership, coupled with a restrictive legal framework, had a chilling effect on editorial freedom, hindering voters’ access to pluralistic information.
In order to protect democratic fundamental rights and the Republic, the Hungarian Workers’ Party 2006 and the Left Party have entered into an alliance with the Dialogue Party, Prime Minister candidate Gergely Karácsony, and thus became part of a coalition comprising of the Hungarian Socialist Party, the Liberal Party, the Democratic Coalition, the Solidarity and several smaller organizations.
Already at the start of the election campaign, the candidate registration involved a number of serious violations. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) mission stated:
“On several occasions, party representatives alleged cases of forged signatures. In many instances, the CoECs did not allocate sufficient time to properly review the signature sheets. Many cases of suspicious signatures were also reported by voters. The CoECs referred such matters to the police. Many ODIHR LEOM interlocutors alleged that a number of new, unknown political parties used fraudulent methods to collect the required signatures.”
Unfortunately, the legal proceedings with suspicion of crimes are still ongoing, but the manipulated election and the result can hardly be influenced by legal remedies.
In our assessment, the political dependence of state media, and the manipulation of news, the silenced opposition parties, and the hatred of refugees have so distorted the value judgment of the response that they could not react substantively to the corruption scandals affecting the supreme political circles. Democratic opposition parties did not recognize the coercion of co-operation in a timely manner, so they were campaigning against each other, even though with a consciously organized joint campaign, even in the unfair electoral system, Fidesz could have been defeated.
After the 2018 elections, Fidesz again could reach the two thirds constitutional majority even though less than half of the votes were won. It can be expected that a revenge against the opposition will begin, which Viktor Orbán spoke about on the Hungarian National Holiday on 15 March 2018. Another wave of emigration may start in Western Europe, many young people have lost their ultimate hope of being an open and solidary society in their homeland.
Budapest, 9 April 2018