The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is proposing a full election observation mission for the April 3rd parliamentary elections in Hungary with 218 members.
What led to the decision?
As we have previously reported, there were already talks about a possible election observation mission for the elections. 20 NGOs in Hungary already asked for this, and 62 MEPs also requested it. Recently, Didier Reynders, the European Union’s Justice Commissioner, said that this step may also be necessary for the EU’s credibility, because if members of the community demand observers to monitor democratic processes in non-EU countries, they should not be excluded from doing so within the EU. An OSCE delegation visited Hungary in January to assess the possible need for such a mission, but no decision was made back then. During this time, they studied election-related legislation and institutional structures in Hungary and interviewed election stakeholders, both from the opposition and the government side, and met representatives of state bodies.
So far, Bulgaria is the only EU country where a full election observation mission has been done.
What will OSCE do during the 2022 elections?
Now it is certain that there will be a full election observation mission, with the OSCE having published an official document. Based on their visit in January, OSCE decided that it was not enough to focus the observation mission only on the election period, but that representatives of the organization should be present about a month before the elections. It is proposed to send 18 long-term observers to Hungary, who will be joined by 200 observers who will arrive shortly before April 3rd and leave a few days after the elections.
The OSCE participated in the 2018 parliamentary elections in Hungary as well, but with a limited mission, even though domestic civil society organizations had called for full monitoring. The full-scale monitoring was now justified on a number of grounds, according to the delegation’s assessment. According to HVG, OSCE mentioned the following:
- Potential voter intimidation and vote-buying (especially among vulnerable groups such as Roma and rural communities)
- Media coverage of the elections
- Transparency of campaign financing
- Effectiveness of the complaints and appeals procedure
- The impact of the simultaneous holding of the child protection referendum on these aspects
- Concerns about the possible organization of transport of voters living outside Hungary
- Contrary to previous OSCE recommendations, campaign finance legislation has remained largely unchanged since the last parliamentary elections, and the latest amendments have not addressed long-standing recommendations of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO)
- Although recommended in vain, a public hearing cannot be guaranteed at any stage of the dispute process in the review of election complaints
- Despite previous recommendations, the legislation does not provide for non-partisan citizen election monitoring in any aspect of the process, including on election day.
Reactions to the full election observation mission
Minister of Justice Judit Varga reacted to the news in a Facebook post, saying: “We warmly welcome the OSCE observers to Hungary!” She continued, “The left-wing is already complaining, although there is nothing wrong with it. Similar missions have been present in our country in recent years, and we are also happy to send observers to other countries. It is normal practice, routine. One thing is certain: OSCE staff will have the chance to witness a free, fair, and democratic election, but only if they do not attempt to interfere in the Hungarian elections during their mission. We trust that their visit will be free of ideological and political bias. We look forward to welcoming them to our beautiful country!”
Previously, Zoltán Kovács, state secretary for international communications and relations, said it was “cynical and absurd” to suppose that Fidesz and Orbán wouldn’t relinquish power in case of a defeat or that they would commit electoral fraud, labeling any such claims “a usual campaign method of the left-wing press.” He added that “voters will reelect him [Viktor Orbán], I predict, because he has taken the country forward and delivered real results for Hungarians. Dark warnings about a contested election result and a rigged election are merely advocacy journalism at work.”
The opposition’s joint prime minister candidate, Péter Márki-Zay, also posted about the topic on Facebook, saying: “The concerns of the OSCE are well-founded, as they have already observed a series of abuses in 2014 and 2018, and concluded that the electoral competition in Hungary was not fair. It will not be fair now either.”
Featured image via Balázs Mohai/MTI