In recent days, there have been a number of reports in the press highlighting problems with postal votes cast abroad. The most shocking case occurred in Transylvania, where a bag of partially burnt ballot papers was found next to an illegal garbage dump, all supporting opposition parties. The incident reignited the decade-old debate over the system of postal votes. Just a few days before the 2022 elections, the opposition alliance’s PM candidate, Péter Márki-Zay, even suggested that all postal votes should be destroyed. Meanwhile, the ruling Fidesz party is calling the incident a staged move by the opposition.
The Orbán government decided in 2010 to introduce a new, simplified naturalization procedure for ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary’s borders. The new system’s chief beneficiaries were the about 2.2 million persons of Hungarian ethnicity mainly living in the Carpathian Basin who had not qualified for dual citizenship before. Following the Orbán government’s decision, ethnic Hungarians were also granted voting rights in 2012. Since ethnic Hungarian citizens living outside of Hungary, mostly in regions surrounding the country – have no Hungarian residency, they can only cast their votes to the party list, not for individual candidates. Another important distinction is that they can cast their ballots by post without having to travel to an embassy.
Under Hungary’s election rules, citizens with a permanent address in Hungary who are not present in the country on April 3 must travel to the polls at Hungarian embassies and consulates to cast their ballot, and, unlike Hungarian citizens beyond the borders, they are not eligible to vote by mail.
The granting of voting rights to ethnic Hungarians has come under fierce criticism over the past decade. Many have accused the Orbán government of using it to gain more voters for its party, since it is well known that most people in the diaspora support Orbán, partly due to gratitude for providing them Hungarian citizenship, partly due to the generous financial support coming to their region from Hungary, and mostly due to the fact that they have been vocal supporters of Hungarian minorities for decades. For these reasons and more, around 90% of ethnic Hungarian voters living outside of Hungary supported Fidesz in previous elections, while they typically decided the fate of 1-2 seats in the parliament out of the 199 mandates. Lately, these votes granted Fidesz’s two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Recently accepted legislation "legalises voter fraud and opens the gateways to manipulating the results of the election," their statement says.Continue reading
In addition, many critics are concerned about the technical rules on postal voting which, according to them, do not provide sufficient guarantees to prevent election fraud. The extent to which the Hungarian postal voting system is not fraud-proof has been evidenced by recent Hungarian press reports as well.
In Serbia, Fidesz partner organization delivers ballot papers
In several localities in Vojvodina, Serbia, activists of Fidesz’s local partner, the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, are delivering ballot papers for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Hungary, daily Szabad Magyar Szó (Free Hungarian Word) reports.
The paper has received several emails claiming that in some places the activists are not delivering the ballot papers, but are sending messages to voters via Messenger to come to their local office to cast their ballot there.
It is officially unknown how the ballot papers were delivered to the activists, since the postal service in Serbia is responsible for delivering postal votes. The Hungarian National Election Office (NVI) confirmed this to the local newspaper.
Márki-Zay said Viktor Orbán had given citizenship and the right to vote to ethnic Hungarians living living outside of Hungary out of calculation, after he had assessed that he could count on their support.Continue reading
NVI also said that several municipalities in Serbia had already received the ballot papers on Friday last week. Szabad Magyar Szó found this particularly surprising, as postal employees told the paper that no packages of ballot papers arrived at the local post offices.
At the same time, the Romanian Postal Service on Wednesday issued a statement complaining that ethnic Hungarian organizations in Transylvania are urging their supporters not to entrust the postal service with the delivery of their ballot papers. In a statement published on its website, the Romanian state-owned company cited a radio advertisement by the Hungarian National Council of Transylvania (EMNT) and a leaflet by the Hungarian People’s Party of Transylvanian (EMNP), which urge Transylvanian voters not to leave their postal votes to the post office, instead to contact their colleagues.
However, the most serious potential instance of election fraud was reported from Transylvania.
Burned opposition ballot papers near Marosvásárhely
A bag of discarded and partially burnt postal ballot papers was found in an illegal rubbish dump in Romania’s Jedd, near Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mures), local news portals reported on Thursday.
According to HVG‘s on-site correspondent, the ballot papers in question were exclusively those of people who had voted in support of an opposition party.
“The current system of postal voting is inadequate to ensure that voters can exercise their rights freely, free from influence and in a secure manner,” the human rights group said on its Facebook page.
Márki-Zay: all postal votes should be destroyed
Opposition PM candidate Péter Márki-Zay reacted to the scandal on his social media page, as he said that all postal votes from abroad should be destroyed immediately.
“We always knew that they are cheating in the elections, but now everyone can see the means they use,” he said on social media.
“More and more people in Transylvania seem to think that Fidesz should go. And they are so terrified of defeat that they are not even afraid of the most obvious fraud: they literally wanted to trash the will of the voters,” Márki-Zay added.
"This is not only election fraud but concerns issues around freedom, too," Orbán said.Continue reading
Anna Orosz of Momentum said that what had happened to mailed votes in Transylvania and Vojvodina eroded confidence in fair elections and put ethnic Hungarians in “a humiliating position.” She said that voting slips were distributed to ethnic Hungarian Vojvodina voters by allies of Fidesz rather than the Serbian Postal Service, and that the ballots were often filled out in their presence. Meanwhile, Orosz demanded the government guarantee equal conditions for all Hungarian citizens casting their votes abroad.
Dániel Z. Kárpát, Jobbik’s deputy leader, said news from Romania’s Transylvania and Serbia’s Vojvodina region suggested that Fidesz planned to commit election fraud on Sunday. Referring to the infamous “blue-ballot fraud” during the 1947 elections, he said “the fact that the one-time young democrat Fidesz politicians had become old Bolsheviks does not authorize them to commit a similar election fraud.”
Gergely Arató, deputy group leader of the Democratic Coalition, noted that observers of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe had qualified the system of mailed votes “unsecure” during previous elections. Fidesz is abusing ethnic Hungarians’ right to vote and has established a system that facilitates election fraud, he said.
This “vile political crime” must not pass without consequences, Párbeszéd spokesman Richard Barabás said. The opposition alliance is therefore turning to the National Election Committee with a demand that it investigate the case and prevent any further abuses, he added.
Fidesz: The “desperate left” is capable of any vile thing
In response to the opposition’s accusations, Fidesz communications director István Hollik issued a statement saying:
“The Left is prepared to commit any kind of nasty act in its desperation. The Left has been committing the most serious electoral fraud since the Hungarian regime change, with the completely illegal DatAdat database of Bajnai, and now they want to destroy the ballots of Hungarians abroad.”
“In 2006 the left-wing hallmarked by [ex-PM Ferenc] Gyurcsány and Bajnai set the television headquarters on fire, and now the vote-by-mail slips,” Fidesz said.
In 2006 September, after then Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s infamous “lie speech” leaked and was broadcast by public media Kossuth Radio, tens of thousands protesters gathered at the building of the Parliament. The people of Kossuth Square voted to draft a petition to be read out on MTV. One of their envoys was the already well-known young far-right figure, László Toroczkai, who is now the leader of the far-right Mi Hazánk party. After their attempt did not succeed (according to the public media’s later explanation, they did not know about the petition until the following morning), a violent far-right group attacked the guards and the police officers trying to protect the building and the people inside. The rioters caused considerable damage, mainly to cars parked in the surrounding streets, some of which were set on fire. The far-right group also burnt an EU flag displayed on the public media building. According to official figures, 113 police officers and 50 demonstrators were injured in the clashes. Public media broadcasts had to be suspended. The next day, the public media resumed broadcasting and the protesters’ demands of the previous day were read out.
RMDSZ: organized provocation aimed at discrediting votes from across the border
Romania’s ethnic Hungarian party, the Hungarian Democratic Alliance of Romania (RMDSZ) also released a statement regarding the scandal:
“The RMDSZ condemns the accusations suggesting electoral fraud. We also consider unacceptable and unfounded the demand of the opposition parties in Hungary to annul all votes cast across the border. The images confirm that this is clearly an organized provocation aimed at discrediting votes from across the border. Whoever is behind this provocation is trying to manipulate public opinion in the most despicable way. We reject this in the strongest terms,” the statement said.
National Election Office files criminal complaint
The National Election Office (NVI) said later in the day that it has filed a criminal complaint concerning the trashed voting slips.
The NVI noted that under the law the slips could be delivered “personally or through people without (specific) authorization,” adding that “voters should pay special attention to the confidential nature of the mail and ensure that they are safely returned back to the NVI.” Votes can be sent by mail, which is a guarantee of safe delivery, it said.