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FreeHungary Editorial: Hungary's quasy-free and not fair elections

We have to call the 2014 Hungarian parliamentary elections quasi-free and not fair. It contradicts all the basic musts of a free and democratic election: the election law is unfair, the party financing law leads to corruption and fake parties serving the lawmaker party’s (Fidesz-KDNP) interest and last but not least freedom of a balanced media breached, preventing the political parties from having an equal access and presence on all media platforms as well as voters from having access to balanced information.

This Sunday, on 6th April 2014, Hungarian citizens elected the members of the new parliament for a four-year term. The Fidesz-KDNP alliance will return to government with a renewed two-thirds parliamentary majority probably, despite receiving 800,000 fewer votes than in 2010. Fidesz-KDNP alliance has won 133 or 66.8 percent of the seats in the new 199-seat parliament for a new two-thirds majority despite receiving just 44.5 percent of the vote thanks to changes to the electoral system adopted by the previous Fidesz-KDNP government. The new electoral system favors the winner that much. Four years ago Fidesz-KDNP needed 52.5% to achieve the two-third majority.

This is a serious failure on the part of the opposition alliance and all the parties must analyse the reasons for one's failure. It is also true that the election campaign that was orchestrated by Fidesz-KDNP cannot be considered a campaign in the traditional sense of the word. In democratic countries the parties of the opposition have a more or less equal opportunity to reach the electorate. This was not the case in Viktor Orbán's Hungary.
Democratic elections allow people to remove corrupt or badly performing governments. In 2014, Hungarians cannot attend free and fair elections. There are several reasons for this and let me inform you about these.

Biased Election Law
• It was clear over the last four years, that with its 2/3 majority Fidesz-KDNP has pursued multiple ways to secure its next electoral victory. Everything under the election umbrella, from the newly devised electoral system, institutions, and laws, favored Fidesz-KDNP.
• A modified mixed electoral system removed the possibility of a second round, changed the seat allocation method and reduced the number of parliamentary seats from 386 to 199. The governing coalition adopted numerous laws, including a new Constitution and electoral legislation, without public consultation or inclusive dialogue with the opposition.
• Some 550,000 Hungarians living abroad have received Hungarian citizenship since the 2010 amendment of the Act on Hungarian Citizenship. Opposition parties kept expressing 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.
• There is a loophole in the Election Law concerning dual citizens. Thousands of ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries have been registering at addresses within Hungary. In this way they were able to vote for both individual constituency candidates and party list. Otherwise they would only have been eligible to vote for a party list.

Campaign Finance Law
• Fidesz-KDNP has successfully enacted legislation allowing political parties to finance their campaigns with zero oversight in a manner that doesn't even require the parties to break the rules.
• Several NGOs as well as the opposition parties warned about the exceedingly generous provisions of the new election law, which resulted in a proliferation of new political parties, including quite a few established primarily for financial gain. We have experienced that a crowd of bogus politicians and mercenary parties has emerged out of nowhere.

• There were a number of parties on ballot papers whose appearance could have confused voters, increasing the likelihood of votes going astray. The ruling Fidesz-KDNP benefited in some way or other from a large number of parties appearing on the ballot paper. The left-of-center opposition Unity alliance was only one of 18 parties on voting papers. The financial inducement of gaining hundreds of millions of forints in the election law drawn up by Fidesz had ensured the sudden formation of parties out of nowhere.
• In addition, several parties have registered names stolen from other legitimate parties. It was funny to see the existence of an Együtt 2014 Párt, which is almost identical to Gordon Bajnai's party's name Együtt (E14).
• The police are investigating several cases, in response to allegations that smaller parties traded signature collection sheets for single member constituency candidates.

Freedom of Media and Biased Access to Media Platforms
• Officially, the election campaign started on 15 February. It intensified since the beginning of March. Fidesz created an uneven playing field by using government advertisements. Current regulations result in a de facto absence of campaign advertisements on commercial television.
• Recently, the National Election Committee (NVB) banned TV2 from further broadcasting spots or programs with the government's "household utility cuts" slogan. The broadcasting had already continued for weeks before, amid protests from NGOs and opposition parties.
• Independent media experts have also expressed their serious concern over the 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.
• The opposition was forced to contend with a number of new rules and regulations that have made campaigning increasingly difficult. The government parties managed to monopolize the media, particularly offline sources, and found innovative ways to circumvent laws that they themselves introduced as a means to limit the opposition's national reach.
• In 2010, after Prime Minister Orbán won a two-thirds majority, laws were passed forcing all outlets to register with the state and produce "balanced" reporting. A Media Council watchdog was created, staffed by government-friendly appointees, with the power to levy fines and even close outlets down. Public television and radio channels were merged and given the same package of information from the state news agency. Many independent media outlets are struggling financially because advertising money from state bodies and companies now goes mostly to outlets owned by government allies.
• Even the European Union has expressed strong concerns about these curbs on press freedom. Neelie Kroes, EU commissioner responsible for media, is of the opinion that it is a "shame that only a small part" of the recommendations from the Council of Europe have been implemented.
• Hundreds of complaints have been filed to date with the election commissions and courts. Most were rejected on formal grounds.

In conclusion for all of the above mentioned reasons, we have to call the 2014 Hungarian parliamentary elections quasi-free and not fair. It contradicts all the basic musts of a free and democratic election: the election law is unfair, the party financing law leads to corruption and fake parties serving the lawmaker party's (Fidesz-KDNP) interest and last but not least freedom of a balanced media breached, preventing the political parties from having an equal access and presence on all media platforms as well as voters from having access to balanced information.

FreeHungary; April 7. 2014.



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