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Hungary Prepares For Heated Election
5 April, 2018
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Hungary will go to the polls this Sunday but the election will no longer be an easy win for the incumbent government. Until recently, it seemed ruling right-wing populist party Fidesz, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, was set to win a third term in power, but this may no longer be the case.

Scandals involving corruption, leaks and spying allegations have clouded Orban’s chances of an easy win and raised the hopes of the country’s opposition.   

According to Gergely Marton, a journalist at the Hungarian publication HVG, “it looks like the field is narrowing down and it makes predicting very difficult.”

However, this does not mean it’s smooth sailing for the Hungarian opposition either, which consists of a number of smaller parties. Fidesz has a tight grip on the media, and, thanks to the constitutional changes implemented by Fidesz, the complicated voting system gives the ruling party the upper hand.

“One single party has written the law under which we are electing a new parliament. They have done gerrymandering... They rewrote the election law and they tried to figure a way how the biggest minority, which is Fidesz, can rule a country against the will of a majority. This is what happened in 2014, this is what is going to happen now in 2018.”

Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban speaks during their official press conference. Photo credit: EPA.com

There are also a number of “fake” parties running in these elections. With the right number of signatures and candidates, these bogus parties also receive funding from the government at the taxpayer’s expense. Although this may be the price to pay for more democratic and open elections, a number of these parties are participating because “Fidesz wants them to be there,” according to Marton.

“It seems like in those districts, which are problematic for Fidesz, there are more fake candidates, [than] in the districts which are clearly Fidesz-dominated,” Marton says, adding that, “It's very hard to know where the fake parties start and the big parties end.”

Among the larger and more established opposition parties are the right-wing Jobbik party and the centrist LMP party. Marton says that these parties are likely to pick up votes from conservative voters who “don't want to re-elect a very populistic force and a force which likes to communicate but not to govern, which forgot how real politics is done in regard of healthcare or education.”

Chairman and candidate prime minister of the oppositional Jobbik party Gabor Vona addresses his supporters celebrating the national holiday. Photo credit: EPA.com

Nonetheless, the complex electoral system means that opposition supporters still have to vote tactically in order to decrease Fidesz’s majority.

As Marton explains: “[Opposition voters] have to be tactical and vote for their own party, and, at the same time, in their districts, find the candidate who is able to get more votes [than] Orban's candidate. It's going to be very difficult. This is actually a part of the system, which works against the opposition.”

What’s more, Marton believes Hungary may have cause concern if the autocratic Prime Minister Orban is re-elected.

“I think that if they win with these aggressive tactics, they are going to think that this is the only tactic which can work for them, so we would be on a highway to hell.”

Hromadske spoke to Hungarian journalist Gergely Marton via Skype to discuss the upcoming Hungarian elections, the obstacles facing opposition parties, and what this means for Hungary.   

What can we expect? What are the major expectations in the run up to the elections in Hungary?

It is very hard to guess. It's actually a very heated election campaign, which we are slowly nearing the end, and it's a very complicated election system and that's why it's hard to know what's going to be the outcome. There is going to be a vote for parties, and, in this regard, it's very much anticipated that Fidesz is going to win by a big margin. But, at the same time, there are direct districts, and, in these districts people are allowed to choose one representative in the parliament, and this makes the whole system very fragile. And, in the last days, even today, the opposition, which [consists] of many smaller parties, they are actually having agreements to minimize the number of candidates against Fidesz. So, it looks like the field is narrowing down and it makes predicting very difficult.

Supporters of the oppositional Jobbik party celebrate the national holiday. Photo credit: EPA.com

Some political observers say that opposition actually has no equal chances to compete against Fidesz in this election because, in this race, they have tied legs. Can you please tell us more about this situation? What is the role and what is the position of the Hungarian opposition in these elections?

Alright. You have many factors which work against the current opposition. The governing party Fidesz won twice with a two-thirds majority and this party used its chance to change the constitution in favour of changing the election law without any debate, or without any consent by opposition parties. That means that one single party has written the law under which we are electing a new parliament. They have done gerrymandering – this means that they have redrawn the districts in their favour. They've rewrote the election law and they tried to figure a way how the biggest minority, which is Fidesz, can rule a country against the will of a majority. This is what happened in 2014, this is what is going to happen now in 2018 if there is no miracle in stopping them. So there's the system, there's gerrymandering, but, at the same time, there has been a lot of changes to the Hungarian media landscape, for example, or the current government is having advertisement in favour of the biggest party, so it means that financial fair play is not more granted. There are strange rules regarding the votes from outside Hungary that means that a lot of Ukrainian-Hungarian citizens, who live actually in Ukraine and never lived in Hungary, are going to be able vote in our elections. They are allowed to vote by [post]. At the same time, Hungarians living and working in London, they are not allowed to use voting by [post], they have to go to the embassy. That means that it's actually easier for someone in Ukraine, who has never lived in Hungary, to vote and participate in the Hungarian elections, [than] for someone who is visiting friends and is right now in London for a couple of months. So this is making it less possible, these are all elements which help Fidesz contain a grip on power.

These rules about voting outside of Hungary, which you mentioned, they regard the Transcarpathian region? You mean these people, who live in Uzhgorod and in this region, yes?

Yes.

Can you please explain more about this phenomenon?

Alright, so the current Hungarian government has granted a million new citizens a passport. They have created dual citizenship after they gained power in 2010 and have given out hungarian passports to the Hungarian minorities in the Slovak Republic, Romania, Serbia and in Ukraine mainly, but in other countries as well. At the same time, they changed the election laws and they have come up with an idea of having the vote of Hungarians living outside Hungary and not having a permanent address in Hungary. There's a difference between those who are living abroad and having, at the same time, a permanent within Hungary and those who actually live outside Hungary and don't have a permanent address. Those are, let's say, the Hungarian minorities in our neighbouring countries, for example – Ukraine. If you are living in Ukraine or Serbia, you have the chance to register to vote. There are about 380,000 people registered to vote this time. Last time, it was more than a hundred thousand and 95%, 95% of this vote favoured Fidesz. So 95% were voting in favour of Mr. Orban. So right now it's 380,000 votes, which are considered to be mainly votes for the current government and the problem is that you can register to vote for 10 years. It means that the Hungarian authorities don't have the chance to actually, you know, guarantee that those who registered once are still alive. The Hungarian authorities know about the death within Hungary, so they would know whether a Hungarian citizen died. But, in Ukraine, if a dual citizen dies, this procedure is up to the Ukrainian authorities. This means that the Hungarian state is sending out letters, in which there is the ballot, to Ukraine for 10 years after someone registered, and, if that person died, it's up to the family, or up to the one who received the envelope, to say that there's no one to vote anymore, or, take the ballot, have a vote and cast the ballot. This makes the Hungarian election system open to fraud. It's a scandalous situation, but the current government does not want to fix it because it jeopardises losing a few hundred thousand votes.

There are also other doubts about the fairness of these elections, since we can observe the participation of the so-called "fake parties" in the following elections, which are in favour with Fidesz. Can you please tell me more about this and explain the situation with these fake and bogus parties?

Under the current legislation, you need 500 citizens to nominate you as a candidate in a district. So there are 106 districts, in each district a party needs to have a candidate, and, to have candidate, you need 500 signatures. But, people are allowed to nominate more than one candidate. And, to have a list in the elections, you need these 27 such candidates. And the state is helping the opinion of party, so if you have a fixed amount of candidates; let's say the maximum number of candidates 106, that means you can have altogether 700 million points for spending. You need 500 signatures in each district, and if you have enough such districts, you have your lists and you get for free a lot of money and there are parties, which seem to be master criminals. There are parties which tend to be there where Fidesz wants them to be.

The question is about these fake and bogus parties that participate in the elections. In your opinion, will their participation make a real difference in these elections?

I don't know. I don't really know. The thing is, because of these fake parties, in some districts, the ballots are huge. There are a lot of names on the lists, which makes every serious party a difficulty because voters, you know, who left their glasses at home, will have more problems finding their pick. But, I don't think that they change much, I don't think that all the fake parties are there because Fidesz wanted them to be. Yes, it seems like in those districts, which are problematic for Fidesz, there are more fake candidates, as in the districts which are clearly Fidesz-dominated. So, there are some irregularities. But, at the same time, you know, the question at the end is how much you have to let go to have a real democracy. I mean, these rules make it easy for parties to participate. I think that it is better to have a system where people can participate and lose money as a system where it's really hard to get elected, but therefore, we as taxpayers don't lose that much money. The democracy is worth spending more on. It's very hard to know where the fake parties start and the big parties end.

My next question is about Jobbik. What is their role in these elections? Their support has increased in past years. What mood prevails in Hungarian society right now?

It's a good question, I think, in these elections. The current governing party Fidesz moved to the right, to the far right and to the extreme right in these last years. They really reached the end if they would move any further to the right, they would fall off the map. So, it means that they didn't let Jobbik any place to flourish. So, Jobbik decided to swap and go and try to build up a new people's party.

Chairman and candidate prime minister of the oppositional Jobbik party Gabor Vona addresses his supporters celebrating the national holiday. Photo credit: EPA.com

But Jobbik is, for a lot of Hungarians, a possibility to vote right and, at the same time, say no to a stupid propaganda ran by the government, to corruption, which us flourishing, and, to bad healthcare and school systems, which is a huge problem seen by a lot of Hungarians. So, if you are conservative right voter and don't want to reelect a very populistic force and a force which likes to communicate but not to govern, which forgot how real politics is done in regard of healthcare or education -- if they want to find a party for themselves, they vote Jobbik or LMP, which are the greens, they are a centrist party here in Hungary. So, I think Jobbik tries to collect the right-wing votes from those who don't like Fidesz anymore. And, because of the election system, because of the election rules, with the huge numbers of direct members of parliament, direct districts, it's going to be very interesting whether Jobbik voters and left-wing voters are going to be able to decide from district to district which is more likely to win against Fidesz, and, in that case, left-wing voters are going to have to vote for the Jobbik candidate, at the same time, voting for the lift of the left-wing party. And, in other districts, Jobbik voters are going have to vote for the candidate of the left, and, at the same time, for the Jobbik party list. It's very difficult. It needs a tactical vote. I'm sorry, I don't know the Ukrainian system. The Germans have two votes, although it's counted very differently, as in Hungary, and they have this saying of tactical voting strategy. This is required by all Hungarians who want a change on top of this country. They have to be tactical and vote for their own party, and, at the same time, in their districts, find the candidate who is able to get more votes [than] Orban's candidate. It's going to be very difficult. This is actually a part of the system, which works against the opposition.

Most probably, Viktor Orban will remain the Prime Minister of Hungary for the next four years and he will only strengthen his power. What does it mean for Hungarian politics and for Hungarian society in general?

I think it's very telling that Mr. Orban has only the chance of remaining in power if he gets more than 50% of the mandates -- so if he has a majority in parliament, because he forgot to negotiate. He forgot to govern with others. So there's no chance that Mr. Orban is going to form any coalition, they are not capable anymore. This current government is not capable of, you know, taking back a bit from the aggressivity they are showing. A lot of my colleagues are calling it that there is no break on the car driven by Mr. Orban. So, I'm not 100% sure that he is going to make it again, it surely does like he is going to have the biggest parliamentary group after the elections. The big question is whether they have 50% plus because otherwise they are out. And yes, if they win, I don't think that they are going to somehow turn down the volume. If they win with this aggressivity, they are going to understand that the only political way or the only possible...So I think that if they win with these aggressive tactics, they are going to think that this is the only tactic which can work for them, so we would be on a highway to hell.

/Interview by Ostap Yarysh

/Text by Sofia Fedeczko