In a recent report, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) claimed that Hungary’s electoral process and the ruling parties’ excessive resources undermined contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis in Sunday’s general election.
The report has found that voters had the option to choose from a number of candidates, and on the elections day voting was transparent and the organizing was professional. However,
“intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing”
hindered real political debate, OSCE election monitor Douglas Wake said in his assessment of the ballot.
Blurring lines between state and Fidesz; Biased coverage
The report notes that “access to information as well as the freedoms of the media and association have been restricted, including by recent legal changes,” adding that “the ubiquitous overlap between government information and ruling coalition campaigns, and other abuses of administration resources blurred the lines between state and party. The report condemns the use of public funds for so-called government information campaigns, such as the anti-migration and ‘Stop Soros‘ billboard campaigns. Furthermore, in connection with campaign finance, it notes that the limited monitoring of campaign spending and the absence of thorough reporting on sources of campaign funds undercuts campaign finance transparency and voters’ ability to make an informed choice.
OSCE also found that “media coverage of the campaign was extensive, yet highly polarized and lacking critical analysis,” while public media “clearly favored the ruling coalition”. For instance, in its editorial coverage on M1, the public broadcaster showed bias in favour of the ruling coalition and the government, which received 61% per cent of the news coverage. Over 90% of it was positive in tone, while the coverage of the opposition was negative in tone in 82% of the news.
Both the funding and the messages of the government’s billboard campaigns were criticized by OSCE. Photo: Somogyi Tibor.
Hostile rhetoric, Under-representation of Women
In addition, the report claimed that “the campaign rhetoric was quite hostile and xenophobic”, not an Orbán speech on in which the premier March 15 vowed to take “vengeance” on the opposition after the elections. The paper mentions as well that a number of candidates made demeaning comments about the Roma community, and their and other economically-disadvantaged people’s dependence and fear of losing access to limited public work might have put pressure on them to vote for Fidesz. OSCE also criticized the fact that women remain still underrepresented in political life, and that there are no legal requirements to promote gender equality in the electoral context.
As the Guardian notes, OSCE’s rebuff is quite strong, but given the landslide victory and Orbán’s imperviousness to outside criticism, it is rather unlikely to have much effect inside Fidesz and Hungarian politics.
On Sunday, Fidesz-KDNP won a sweeping victory gaining two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. A number of world leaders and personalities have since congratulated Orbán and Fidesz; among the first was the controversial dutch far-right figure Geert Wilders. At the same time, the fact that the Fidesz government will have the power again to change the constitution has raised concerns among observers who fear democratic backsliding and a potential crackdown on NGOs and opposition.
According to OSCE, public media clearly favored the ruling Fidesz-KDNP during the campaign. Photo: Koszticsák Szilárd/ MTI.
Gergely Gulyás, group leader of ruling Fidesz, said in reaction that the OSCE had “overstepped its authority” with some of its findings.
“It’s not within the OSCE’s remit to express an opinion about the Hungarian election campaign, and wrangling with the ruling parties that oppose migration and voicing an opinion on the government’s campaign is especially uncalled for,”
Gulyás told MTI. “Opposing immigration is not xenophobia but rather a life instinct,” he said. While Viktor Orbán when asked at a press conference on Tuesday to react to criticism by the OSCE he said that the organisation had given a political opinion, concluding:
“Thank you for your comment”
Update: Former President of the Academy of Sciences E. Sylvester Vizi Criticizes OSCE
In a statement, E. Sylevester Vizi, former President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Friends of Hungary Foundation, also criticized the OSCE report, claiming
“I was surprised on reading the OSCE final communique, because it fails to have facts, and my opinion is that this highly distinguished and appreciated agency is really engaging in a very funny way of expressing opinion, and why? Because their intention is not only to check how the Hungarian election was carried out, but also to make their political opinion public. Therefore, for me, for the time being, it is fake news, because it is missing real objective facts.”
via guardian.co.uk, politico.eu, osce.org
image via Mohai Balázs/ MTI