EU must be prepared for possible elections rigged in Hungary | I will see


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2022 will be a crucial year for democracy and the rule of law in the European Union. Hungary’s autocratization process for a decade has already wreaked havoc on the EU’s democratic image and credentials.

The Hungarian parliamentary elections of April 2022 offer voters a fair chance to get rid of the government of Prime Minister Orbán, the longest illiberal strongman in the EU, whose government has for 12 years transformed a democracy within of the EU in a hybrid regime. But this can only happen if the elections are held in a fair and democratic manner.

A decade of worries

Since Orbán came to power in 2010, there have been many disputes at European level about the rule of law, the reduction of space, academic and media freedoms and the misuse of EU funds in Hungary.

The fight resulted in countless infringement sentences, European Parliament resolutions and an ongoing Article 7 proceeding against the country, all without any significant impact on internal authoritarian developments, or impress Orbán in any way.

But the EU overlooked two important aspects of Hungary’s autocratization: the gerrymandered electoral system and the skewed media environment, which gave Orbán’s Fidesz party a strategic advantage. A growing number of irregularities from one election to another undermine the integrity of the electoral process.

Free and fair elections are the minimum conditions for a political regime to be considered democratic. Hungary held its last free and fair elections 12 years ago, in 2010.

Since then, electoral integrity in Hungary has deteriorated sharply, with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) calling the 2014 and 2018 parliamentary elections “free but not fair”.

Irregularities on election day get worse every year

Due to the growing popular discontent with the Orbán regime, the united opposition led by Prime Minister Péter Márki-Zay is actually side by side with Fidesz in the polls. However, due to the gerrymander nature of the electoral system, the opposition needs three to five percent more votes to get a majority in the Hungarian parliament.

On the environment of biased media and campaign rules, the OSCE Election Observation Mission noted in 2018 that the two together created a “widespread overlap between state and ruling party resources” that undermined. the ability of contestants to compete on an equal footing “and hampered” voters “. ability to make a fully informed choice ”.

Above all, the likely increase in irregularities on election day should be of greater concern to Hungary’s European and international partners.

Election watchdogs documented important and widespread issues in the April 2018 parliamentary elections, such as falsified protocols, intimidation of voters and election workers, electoral clientelism involving large-scale vote buying, and illegal transportation. voters in neighboring countries.

Since then, the scale and number of these irregularities has grown, greatly affecting the integrity of the 2019 European Parliament and the municipal elections in Hungary.

To add insult to injury, in November 2021 the Orbán government effectively legalized “voter tourism” in Hungary, allowing the manipulation of electoral rolls and the mass and de facto registration of Hungarian citizens living in the battlefield districts of Hungary. neighboring countries.

In this context, the expectations of a fair and democratic election seem to be simply illusory. It is widely expected that in 10 to 15 marginal districts, the difference between the two sides may be less than 1000 votes cast. Due to the proximity of the race, these election day irregularities will be important.

What should the EU do about it?

The European Union could face significant first-run elections in one of its member states.

How the European institutions and other Member States react to this challenge will have a crucial long-term impact on the EU’s democratic credentials and on the integrity of elections in Central and Eastern Europe in general, in Poland in particular. particular.

Europe must be prepared for the possibility of a rigged election in Hungary. Every effort should be made to prevent this, and appropriate preparations should be made to respond.

EU member states should join the United States in calling on Europe’s official electoral oversight body, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, to send a mission to full observation in Hungary with hundreds of short-term observers who can properly monitor the day’s processes. .

This mission could deter the regime from worsening election day irregularities, and even if it did not, it could play a crucial role in documentation.

In addition, European leaders must come up with a contingency plan in case Orbán stays in power through rigged elections.

Sanctions mechanisms, such as the Article 7 procedure, will still be blocked by Poland. Freezing bilateral relations, as was the case in 2000 with Austria, and imposing coordinated but national sanctions on key actors in the Orbán regime could be the best tool the EU can deploy.

In the Hungarian elections of 2022, European democracy could be approaching its own moment in the Capitol. The EU institutions and the Member States should use the available time wisely to prepare for this.

Daniel Hegedüs is a transatlantic fellow for Central Europe at The German Marshall Fund in the United States.