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Further amendments to the Electoral Law

November 19th, 2012

Liberal and left-wing commentators contend that Fidesz wants to entrench itself in power by adding new elements to the Electoral Law. Even some conservative columnists find the bill controversial.

The government has proposed new amendments to the Electoral Law to be voted on by Parliament in November. In addition to the introduction of mandatory voter registration (see BudaPost November 5), the bill stipulates that the campaign starts 50 days before the date of the election (instead of 3 months as in the past). According to the proposal, party political publicity may only be broadcast (free of charge) by the public electronic media, and may be published in the print media and on street posters. Online media outlets and commercial television and radio channels will be barred from carrying campaign advertising.

The Electoral Law favours Fidesz, claims Péter Pető in Népszabadság. “Fidesz has created an electoral system which makes it hard to replace the current government.” Pető believes that the changes proposed by the governing party aim at excluding poor voters from political decision making in order to increase its own chances. This strategy, however, can easily backfire, the left-wing pundit continues, for if Fidesz wins in 2014, it will have a very weak democratic legitimacy as a result of the new Electoral Code.

In a sarcastic note, Kettős Mérce says the authoritarian leaders of Russia and Belarus will be envious of Fidesz” electoral regulations. The widely read left-of-centre opinion blog suggests that all the proposed regulations play into Fidesz’ hands. The public media is dominated by the government, and half the outdoor advertising boards are in the hands of Fidesz-friendly firms owned by Lajos Simicska, a former treasurer of the centre-right party. Moreover, as the campaign is limited to the 50 days prior to the election, the opposition parties will have less opportunity to urge their supporters to register (although registration will start six months before election day, and must be completed two weeks before the date of the vote), while the government can always advertise its policies and by doing so effectively campaign for the governing parties, Kettős Mérce contends. As a result, the opposition parties and their supporters will have to start a grassroots campaign to inform voters about “the Fidesz plan to cheat.”

Should the left boycott the election?

“Let there be a scandal,” Sándor Révész proposes in Népszabadság. The liberal columnist recommends that the left-wing opposition parties boycott the next election “unless Fidesz agrees to change the undemocratic Electoral Law.” Révész believes that without extending registration until the day of the vote and the retraction of campaign restrictions, the opposition parties have no chance of winning at all. Their decision to boycott the election would certainly help to attract the attention of the Hungarian and the European public, Révész adds. He speculates that the opposition parties” decision to abstain from the election would be highly awkward and alarming for the EU, and would help the opposition to get their message to the public.

Those who argue for the futility of challenging the Fidesz regime under the current regulations only strengthen the hands of the government, Zoltán Miklósi contradicts Révész”s proposal in Magyar Narancs. The liberal commentator also believes that Fidesz has weakened the rule of law and democratic institutions, but it cannot apply genuine dictatorial measures. Instead of poisoning opposition politicians and mediamen, the government tries to entrench its power by tailoring the electoral law to its interests, Miklósi contends. He, however, believes that the success of these efforts cannot be taken for granted, and so the left-wing opposition has a genuine chance of defeating Fidesz in 2014. As for the alternatives to defeating Fidesz at the election, Miklósi believes that mass public demonstrations could also be considered an option for the left-wing opposition to remove Fidesz, but this would require mobilization of the discontented. “Both means of regime change require mass national mobilization. Once this is understood, it becomes apparent that it would be a huge mistake not to use the elections to mobilize,” Miklósi concludes.

Conservative qualms

Writing in Mandiner, Ákos Balogh suggests that if parties are barred from advertising their electoral messages on commercial TV channels, then in practice most Hungarian television viewers will not see political advertisements on the screen, which would clearly limit political competition. In another piece, the conservative blogger remarks that. Under the media law, the expression “online media” only refers to edited online news outlets, and thus parties in the future can still advertise on Facebook, Google, blogs and even on online auction websites. This, however, would also imply that the main news portals and the online editions of dailies will not get a share of the parties’ online campaign spending, Balogh notes.

Even the authors of the Electoral Law have become confused,” Bálint Ablonczy remarks ironically in Heti Válasz. The bill was to be voted by Parliament on Monday, November 19, but the governing party decided to postpone the final decision until the end of November, in order to clarify some of the uncertainties of the draft. The conservative columnist finds the current bill full of contradictions and suggests it would need significant reconsideration and reworking before it is enacted by Parliament.

The leading right-wing dailies have not yet published opinion articles on the new amendments to the Electoral Law.

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