Electoral fraud doesn’t have to be centrally ordered and it can be voluntary. And by voluntary, I don’t mean “with enthusiasm”. It can be because you are dependent, complicit or afraid.
Publicus published a survey on Monday about people’s perception about the elections that took place on April 8 and resulted in a 2/3 (constitutional) supermajority for Fidesz for 48% of the votes – despite every sign that they would have to live with a simple majority (aka. unable to do any more constitutional damage).
The most interesting findings of the survey:
- 46% is satisfied with the results – 50% is not.
- Even some Fidesz voters are surprised by the 2/3 majority – some are actually not happy about it.
- The undecided voters are overwhelmingly dissatisfied (57%)
- 37% of respondents believe that serious electoral fraud took place (even 9% of Fidesz voters think so).
The suspicion is new in Hungary and understandable. They couldn’t have made a more suspicious election if they tried.
Why do people suspect electoral fraud?
According to the poll, there were several aspects of the elections that raised suspicion in voters.
- Most of them named the Hungarian diaspora votes (34% suspects cheating there). Several hundred thousand votes allegedly came in via plain mail, 98% of which was earmarked for Fidesz – but we have to take their word for it.
- There was also organised bus service for Ukrainian-Hungarian dual citizens – even to one of Budapest’s swing districts, but definitely near the border. This has now been confirmed in court, but the election committee ruled not to repeat or even recount votes.
- People also suspect voter intimidation and bribes (21%),
- The spectacular collapse of the electronic system (45%) was also suspect. It went down mid-day and didn’t recover for over a week. They now blame too much traffic for the week-long outage, but recent articles reported that the software was developed by a dodgy company that was earlier nationalized and also managed to lose an entire database recently.
- Some blame gerrymandering,
- Or public servants purposely giving the wrong paperwork to many voters in many districts. In these cases the election office and the election committee both just shrugged and blamed the public servants’ incompetence. No repercussions.
- Some respondents simply told that the entire election system counts as cheating (They are correct.)
After the most suspicious election day in Hungarian democratic history, Orbán announced a resounding triumph. 48% is higher than the most optimistic predictions for Fidesz and enough for 67% of the mandates. It was definitely more than its own politicians hoped for who spent election day hiding from the press, pale and anxious seeing the high interim turnout data. Turnout has, however, gone back down after the polls have closed. Seriously. They announced that the number of voters was simply over-counted (by several hundreds of thousands) by incompetent voter-counting delegates who had literally one job: to draw a tally mark every time they saw a voter. But they drew hundreds of extra tally marks on average. I know what you think. It happens to me all the time…
A curious case of selective fatigue swept the nation’s vote-counters that night….
They made a slew of mistakes at the expense of the opposition parties – but not a single one that dared to disadvantage the ruling Fidesz. These cases are now documented, many ruled so by the courts. It begs the question what was wrong with these people.
The majority of voting stations had:
- no opposition delegates,
- one Fidesz delegate,
- and a number of local public servants who are existentially dependent on Fidesz (or worse).
There were thus plenty of districts where a few hundred opposition votes could have been unanimously deemed void – especially after the nationwide surplus was announced. They had hours to move while we enjoyed an unprecedented news embargo. And any hard evidence of the day is destroyed as quickly as possible. The paperwork was kept secret for a week, then only the cover pages were made public. It apparently took a week to scan two pages per district.
Incompetence of the public servants in charge of the elections was quoted hundreds of times to explain away discrepancies – but it has no consequence for them. Even when proved, it doesn’t merit a recount or a double-check. And even in districts where the supreme court ruled that fraud or serious miscounting took place (officials chalked up all the votes “in the wrong row”), the election committee just shrugged. Yep, we are that that incompetent. What can be done?
In the end, Fidesz’ coveted supermajority was secured by just a few hundred national list votes – over 6000 votes have been destroyed blaming incompetence. Luckily for Fidesz, for they can now avoid European prosecution for the hair-raising misspending of EU-funds, and can push through any constitutional changes, silence the remaining independent courts and ban unfriendly NGOs – three measures Orbán had announced immediately after his victory.
And the saddest thing of all? Independent media kept coming up with much better excuses as to why each and every type of discrepancy may have not been fraud after all. Just very, very complex, and extremely unlikely. When the election office could only blame the tally mark officers, the independent media came up with the ethnic minority vote swap excuse. And the election office just nodded: Yes, that!
Cheating can be voluntary
If you understand the first thing about emerging autocracies, you must know that everyone has to be dependent from the Party. In a positive sense, making their living thanks to someone in the Party – or in a negative one, their livelihood being threatened by the Party. Local municipalities and their employees suffer both. The centralization has been completed years ago.
Every local municipality must be dependent on the government and liable to punishment if they misbehave. Every business has to dread political intervention and those who succeed must succeed because they got approval from above. Everyone, to the last unemployed public worker must have Orbán to thank for the pittance they sometimes get. There must be no livelihood independent from Fidesz (such as foreign-owned anything, foreign-funded anything, private businesses shielded by the rule of law against abuse of state power). You euphemistically call it ‘economic nationalism’ and try to find excuses for it. But it is just a power grab by the regime. Always. And if you are not Orbán, you can only be its victim in this country. There is no other role in this system.
As a consequence, proactively sucking up to the higher-ups is the only way to get ahead in an autocracy. An order to carry out pro-Fidesz acts doesn’t have to come from above. We have seen outrageous and clearly illegal moves that benefited Orbán – but he didn’t have to order them himself. Some aspiring underdog might have made his name by doing it without bidding. And these volunteers usually avoid legal consequences because it would be too revealing. Voluntary acts to benefit the Party can be tokens of loyalty offered by aspiring boot-lickers of the clientelist system.
And by voluntary I don’t mean “enthusiastic”. It can be desperate. Think about the officials in the dozens of towns who made a deal with Orbán’s son-in-law to install breathtakingly overpriced LED streetlights. Some even had to take out loans, some did it multiple times, just to pay the royal son-in-law and thus to appease the Party. Those officials would be subject to prosecution under any other regime.
Others know perfectly well that not-good-enough election results will be punished sooner or later. How are they supposed to ask for money next month if they didn’t manage to make the locals vote for Fidesz hard enough? And they will have to ask for money. Remember, they can have no revenue source independent from the Party.
This is why cheating can be perfectly voluntary – and it wouldn’t even have any consequences, as we have seen with the hundreds of cases when local vote-counters have erred on the side of Fidesz. NEVER on the side of anyone else.
Or look at the mayors who yelped in panic when their village didn’t vote for Fidesz hard enough. One took to Facebook to rant against his own villagers and called them irresponsible for not voting for Fidesz. What do they expect now? How is he supposed to get anything financed after these results? Mayors know first hand that one day, when they need something, someone will look at their election numbers and ask them why their citizens misbehaved. When they need more money to run the public work slave scheme, or when the local school has a window broken.
Remember, municipal elections are due next year and Fidesz had already started punishing non-Fidesz towns and villages. The message is clear: align yourself or perish without funds. Does a voter have to love Orbán to vote for his party in these circumstances? Does a vote-counting public servant have to love Fidesz to “make a mistake” in Fidesz’ favor? Whether it made a difference to the final results or not, this tells us something very dark about Hungary these days.
It doesn’t have to be coordinated either
Some NGO lawyer in his utter wisdom opined that cheating was not possible because everyone would have to be in on it. But why would they?
More than half of voting stations only had Fidesz-delegates and Fidesz-dependent public servants present. These were also the stations where Fidesz won most. One plausible explanation is that rural voters are that much more scared of the non-existant migrant hordes. But given the desperate scraping for the last few hundred votes to achieve the 2/3 majority, these numbers add up and people get suspicious. Especially when you consider the mood before the elections.
Let’s assume that the election office and the election committee are right, and poor, tired delegates just happened to make the same “mistake” in multiple districts, independent from each other. Such as chalking up opposition party votes in the wrong row, for bogus parties, handing out the wrong voting sheets, or hallucinating hundreds of non-existent voters during the day. Curiously, not once did they accidentally make a mistake that hurt Fidesz.
Seeing such an avalanche of one-sided mistakes makes you ask whether they were mistakes at all. Or maybe just acts of scared public servants who want to appease.
188 results were challenged by opposition parties for these and similar mistakes, but the National Election Committee has been the protector of Fidesz and ordered no recounting, claiming that it wouldn’t change the final count anyway. I repeat: they admit that fraud or “mistakes” happened, they just don’t do anything about it. Meanwhile Fidesz’ margin for the last, crucial national list mandate in just 245 votes. The (still unresolved) ambiguity over the actual number of people who voted alone is several orders of magnitude higher.
The Curia, Hungary’s supreme court has ordered the recount of a few of these districts nonetheless, because the miscounting was obvious. Orbán’s reaction: Accusing the courts of interfering in the elections and threatening them.
This is why people suspect fraud – despite the fact that no one did so before the elections. Opposition parties didn’t even bother to send delegates into every district. And if fraud has taken place, it is a new low for Hungarian democracy. Not only is it a first, but it’s also a tool to reinforce the all-important authoritarian message that anything can be done and nothing has consequences for the perpetrators. After all, what can be more disempowering that not even your meager votes matter. You are truly, and completely helpless, you have no control over what happens in your country. No wonder even independent journalists were trying to calm down voters. It is better to be defeated by the enemy than feeling helpless against cheating.
An important pillar of an emerging autocracy is people who give up on resistance. Many of them regard authoritarianism as something bad but discount the possibility that it would ever end. And if there’s no end in sight, adjusting strategies from prosperity to mere survival is in order. If there is no hope that Fidesz would lose their supermajority, why let the disloyalty show in the voting count?
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