Free but not Fair
With the continuous crisis in Ukraine taking most of the media’s attention, a dubious election in the heart of Europe passed silently. In Hungary, the popular but controversial prime minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz-KDNP party retained their power in a seemingly ‘free’ election. Ruling party Fidesz however took preemptive measures to manipulate the outcome, making the elections far from ‘fair’.
After Fidesz won a constitutional majority in the 2010 elections, Fidesz has received criticism from both the US and the EU for its nationalist and populist agenda. The planned revision of its constitution in the beginning of 2012 for example, was disapproved by the EU and Fidesz had to leave the most controversial changes out. The changes in the voting system on the other hand, designed by Fidesz, were passed without causing too much objections, whereas they were very favourable for Fidesz.
To start with, the one-chamber legislature was brought back from 386 seats to 199, making it harder for smaller parties to participate and tilting the balance towards big parties, like Fidesz. Viktor also restructured the voting districts, cutting several oppositional blocs into pieces and adding them to large rural districts, where Fidesz has its powerbase. This only makes sense in case of an electoral system where seats get appointed via relative majority per district, like in the US. By designing the districts in a specific way, Fidesz managed to turn 44,5% of the votes into 66,8% of the seats, hereby retaining their constitutional majority. In comparison, this is the exact same number of seats they won 4 years ago when they won 52,7% of the votes.
Fidesz managed to turn 44,5% of the votes into 66,8% of the seats
Another disturbing practice was the voting rights given to ethnic Hungarians living in Transylvania, Rumania. Allowing these ‘Hungarians living outside Hungary’, thanks to the Trianon Treaty in 1920, to vote addresses both the internal nationalist sentiments and provided Fidesz with additional votes as 95,5% of them votes for Fidesz. For Hungarians living elsewhere in Europe however it has been made more difficult to vote as it is not allowed to send your vote via mail or charge someone else to do it for you. The only way to vote was to physically travel to Hungary or the capital of the country of residence, making it a rather expensive trip for the young Hungarians living outside Hungary (generally not Fidesz voters).
In Hungary, the broadcasting time political parties get is determined by law and therefore theoretically equal. What Fidesz did however was broadcasting ‘government information’ portraying Viktor Orbán as ‘Hungarian Leader’ and Fidesz’s political successes. The Hungarian mainstream media, becoming less and less free, broadcasted more or less the same and hasn’t spoken a bad word about Fidesz in the run towards the elections. As a final trick to manipulate the election outcome, voters had to pre-register beforehand. This has resulted in a lot of ‘floating’ or doubting voters not participating in the elections.
Of course, despite these manipulations, it is obvious that Fidesz is still very popular in Hungary. And if you compare it to another popular party in Hungary, the extreme right Jobbik (21%), Fidesz is definitively preferable. But it is the best of two evils, and an evil that is working hard to consolidate its position of a constitutional majority. Fidesz has received a lot of criticism from both internal and external watchdogs for this, yet this has not been acted upon accordingly by the supervising institution, the EU. In these turbulent times, the EU has been very concerned about the state of democracy at its borders in Ukraine, but it should definitively not neglect what is going on within its borders.