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Baja election results: Court says try again

Court orders new by-election in Baja’s 32nd electoral district

On 28 September 2013 the City Court of Kecskemet invalidated the result of a municipal by-election held in Baja on 22 September and ordered a new election be held in its 32nd electoral district in two weeks’ time. The court found that the law had been violated by undisclosed persons actively campaigning on the day of the election.  Opposition parties had objected to unusually high voter turnout in the district in question and released an amateur video showing two men purported to be Fidesz political activists discussing the transportation of voters to the polling station, also prohibited by law.

Fidesz responded by accusing the opposition parties of also campaigning on the day of the election.  Fidesz MP and director of communications, Mate Kocsis, even went so far as to accuse a former Socialist mayor of Baja of intimidating voters by observing one of the polling stations from across the street on election day.

The events surrounding the Baja election reflect a growing concern that election results are manipulated not merely by transporting voters to polling stations but also by “chain voting”.  In Hungary voters must fill in a paper ballot behind a curtain which is then folded and deposited into a sealed box.   “Chain voting” refers to the process whereby political operatives furnish voters with filled-in ballots before they enter the polling station. Picking up a blank ballot as they enter the polling station, each voter casts the filled in ballot and delivers the blank one to the political operative outside who, in turns, fills it in and gives it to the next person in line. Because the first voter to sell his vote this way does not cast a ballot but rather delivers his blank ballot to the political operative waiting outside, chain voting results in the phenomena of the missing ballot.  Anecdotal evidence indicates the practice of chain-voting has been widespread throughout Hungary for the past 20 years.

While the court did not find that Fidesz had engaged in electoral fraud, according to eyewitness accounts the local head of the Lungo Drom (Our Way) Romani political party (whose president is Fidesz MP Florian Farkas) promised firewood, sugar, and even cell phones to those agreeing to cast their votes for Fidesz.

In an interview given to ATV’s Olga Kalman on the popular talk show Egyenes Beszed (Straight Talk),  election expert Zoltan Toth explained that Hungary’s electoral problems started in 1990 when parties elected to Hungary’s first post-Communist parliament  “institutionalized” the abuse of the system whereby candidates for public office must collect a certain number of signed vouchers from registered voters  in order for their names to appear on the ballot. According to Tóth, Hungary’s various political parties have always “cheated”, that is, bought signed vouchers.

According to Toth “black money in the system”, by which he means unofficial campaign contributions and other illicit sources of money,  has been used to finance unlawful campaign activities in Baja and elsewhere.

On the subject of voter intimidation, Toth says the campaign law adopted in April of this year (which comes into force on 1 January 2014) does away with rules limiting voter intimidation.  “Since it appears that neither the opposition nor the government wishes to modify the law,” says Toth, “one possibility is that the National Campaign Committee will dig in its heels and impose rules.”  However, Toth was not optimistic this would happen in light of recent comments by Committee chairman, Andras Patyi.

“In cultured countries campaigns are not regulated exclusively by law,” says Toth,  “but rather two important regulatory mechanisms–the one is an informal understanding among parties that politicians will not accuse their political opponents of crimes.”  “That is the political norm,” says Toth.  “The other is morality.  Politics cannot be immoral.”

Referenced in this article:

Egyenes Beszéd. “Tóth Zoltán”. 9 October 2013.

Richard Field :