Eight days after the fallen „Quota referendum” in Hungary the Kúria (the supreme court of Hungary) made its final decisions on electoral matters. The judgements are important warning sings. Democracy and rule of law is seriously threatened in Hungary.
In the Hungarian electoral procedure, one can file a complaint at the local or at the national Electoral Board. After the National Electoral Board (Nemzeti Választási Bizottság, NVB) has made its final decision judicial control can be obtained from the Kúria which sits as a bench of three judges and makes its judgement in eight days, so this Monday (October 10th) was their last deadline to publish their decisions regarding the October 2nd referendum.
In its judgements the Kúria overturned two important decisions of the NVB. The supreme court held that government advertisements allegedly serving as public information were actually political ads of the governing Fidesz party (Mr. Orbán’s party). The other case was about the mobile application commissioned by Kétfarkú Kutya Párt (Twintailed Dog Party) the joke party that made a crowdfunded campaign for invalid votes. This application, according to the NVB posed a direct threat to the free and secret vote by enabling voters to post pictures of their ballot papers on social media. The Kúria held that although such applications might violate the Hungarian electoral laws but they are not capable of ruining the as the NVB said. The NVB has even fined the Kétfarkú party for this “gross transgression”.
There are two equally important problems with these procedures: 1. The procedure is ineffective, inadequate and slow 2. The decisions are biased and by the time the Kúria overturns them they already have taken effect.
NVB sessions are public. By watching them the viewers have the impression that the BBC has developed Monty Python’s Flying Circus into a franchise and sold it to Hungary. Although the Chairman of the Board, Mr. András Patyi is a professor of administrative law, he and the members of the committee talk legal nonsenses. Professor Patyi’s last performance was about the referendum on Budapest’s Olympic bid. He said that a referendum is impossible because it will have an effect on Hungarian stamp duty regulations…
The recent referendum was very simple in terms of electoral administration. The NVB did not have to deal with dozens of parties, hundreds of campaign rallies and so on. However bad decisions came up every day, and the Kúria had to intervene even in basic legal matters. If the workload grows heavier, the NVB will crush like it did before.
The decisions overturned by the Kúria were also highly questionable ones. It turned out that the NVB decided on Kétfarkú Party’s mobile application without actually downloading and opening it. The NVB is composed by party delegates and “independent” members but in reality the government has informal control.
If we consider the deadlines (3+8 days) the NVB has the power the power to prolong an illegal activity by a “bad” decision. This also means that they have the power to stop a legal activity for such time or at least to stamp it illegal for the government-controlled media.
At the quota referendum this rotten system could not do much harm. The people simply did not show up at the ballot boxes. The 50% validity threshold imposed by Fidesz bounced back at its creators.
But if this referendum were a general election the Fidesz would have won it. We can add votes for parties campaigning for boycott or take even hundreds of thousands of votes from the 3.2 million “NO” votes for the far-right Jobbik party, the Fideszt would still prevail in about 80% of the electoral boroughs. This is by no means a surprise. The Fidesz invested 15-20 EUR (estimations vary because of the lack of transparency) of taxpayer money in the campaign. They used databases law forbids them to use. It is suspected that they have their own detailed databases with previous voting and preference data. And they can use in any way they may please because the NVB can give them permission or at least time to do so.
So what is a conclusion? Articles like this usually end with a some painful wailing on how democracy is torn apart by the evil Fidesz party.
Our opinion is that the core strength of democracy is not in its institutions but it is in the people. As the media is now almost entirely controlled by the Fidesz, the opposition shall move to new media. No matter how uncompetitive and underdeveloped Hungary is, most of the voters in 2018 will have a smartphone and access to high-speed internet. If anyone thinks about overthrowing Mr. Orbán’s government then one has to start to build communities and publicize all transgressions the NVB is designed to protect.