OSCE Criticizes Hungary’s Elections, Referendum
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – International observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) warned Monday that key aspects of Hungary’s parliamentary elections fell short of international standards.
Sunday’s ballot was “marred by pervasive overlapping of government and the ruling coalition’s messaging that blurred the line between state and party,” the OSCE said.
Additionally, the more than 300 monitors of the organization in Hungary found that “media bias and opaque campaign funding” undermined the voting process. “At the same time, the secrecy of the vote was often compromised, particularly in overcrowded polling stations.”
Preliminary results showed the ruling Fidesz party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán getting 135 of the 199 seats in Parliament, ensuring him a fourth consecutive term.
Additionally, the legal framework for a child protection referendum held on the same day as the elections were essentially “inadequate for a democratic process,” the OSCE stressed.
The referendum “did not provide equal opportunities for referendum campaigns. Voters were not provided with objective and balanced information on the choices they had and their binding effect, which goes against established international good practice.”
The conclusions shared with Worthy News were based on findings by the joint observation mission from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA).
Hungary’s government pushed for the referendum after the European Union criticized new child protection legislation for allegedly limiting LGBTQ rights. The law outlaws sharing information in schools and media with under-18s that the government considers promoting homosexuality or gender change.
More than 90 percent of participating voters answered “no” to the four referendum questions: “Do you support allowing children in public schools to participate in sexual orientation classes without parental consent?
Do you support giving children information about gender reassignment treatments?Are you in favor of allowing media content of a sexual nature that affects children’s development to be presented to them without restrictions? Are you in favor of children being shown gender reassignment media content?”
The referendum was declared invalid by authorities for reasons that included 20 percent of voters casting invalid ballots or not asking for referendum voting papers.
On Monday, the OSCE said that in the parliamentary elections and the referendum, the campaign was characterized by “a pervasive overlap between the ruling coalition’s campaign messages and the government’s information campaigns.”
That was “amplifying the advantage of the ruling coalition and blurring the line between state and party.” In the “highly negative campaign, the war caused by the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine moved to the top of the agenda with both the ruling and opposition parties using the situation to launch personal attacks,” the OSCE added.
“For voters to be able to make an informed choice, it is fundamental that contestants have equal access to the media. And run informative campaigns rather than focus on polarizing messaging and personal attacks, as has unfortunately been observed here,” said Kari Henriksen, special coordinator and leader of the short-term OSCE observer mission. “We also observed that women were underrepresented in the campaign, as well as in political life overall. I would like to encourage political parties to include more women at all levels and make sure they participate in developing the political decisions that have such an influence on their lives.”
Some 8.2 million people were registered to vote. “While political parties and civil society expressed confidence in the accuracy of the voter register, recent legislation weakened important safeguards. And different rules for out-of-country voting undermined the principle of equal voting rights for all,” according to an
OSCE assessment. It also came amid reports of ballots burning in Romania, where many ethnic Hungarians vote through mail-in ballots. “It was good to see that election day was so well managed. However, we also see many flaws in the election process, with numerous prior recommendations to strengthen legislation still unaddressed,” said Mark Pritchard, the OSCE PA special representative on southeast Europe.
“I encourage the incoming government to be more ambitious in improving its election legislation. At the very least, by allowing citizens to engage in independent election observation. That would do much to improve the trust in the election process,” the British legislator added.
The transparency and accountability of campaign finance were “adversely affected” by the lack of disclosure requirements, OSCE observers said. They cited “extensive, unregulated spending through third parties and limited enforcement of the regulatory framework.” The observation mission noted that “widespread government advertisement campaigns paid from the state budget reinforced the main ruling party campaign messages, providing an undue advantage.”
While some election disputes were properly handled, in many cases, no adequate legal remedy was provided, they added.
Hungary’s media is sharply divided in an increasingly concentrated market. Ahead of the elections, “biased and unbalanced news” coverage permeated the public and many private media outlets, mainly to the benefit of the ruling party, the OSCE complained. “Voters’ ability to make an informed choice was limited by this as well as by the absence of debate between the main contestants.”
While it was “good to see that yesterday went smoothly in most polling stations across the country, an election is far more than voting day,” said Jillian Stirk, head of the ODIHR election observation mission. “Numerous shortcomings already became clear in the period running up to the vote, from the biased media through to the all-pervasive linkage of state and party. I very much hope that the government takes the opportunity offered by the presence of our observation team to work towards improving the democratic process for the future of all citizens.”
The international election observation mission to the Hungarian parliamentary elections and referendum totaled 312 observers from 45 countries. They consisted of 221 ODIHR-deployed experts and long-term and short-term observers and 91 parliamentarians and staff from the OSCE PA.
If you are interested in articles produced by Worthy News, please check out our FREE sydication service available to churches or online Christian ministries. To find out more, visit Worthy Plugins.