The evidence of pre-election fraud has always been clear and obvious. A new research collected evidence of fraud on election day.
There is no one who would investigate this in Hungary.
In April 2018 I received so many questions about the upcoming elections under Orbán that I decided to write about it in advance. I explained how everything had been set up for Fidesz in advance to win unfairly – but the actual counting of the ballots will be clean. We are not Russia, after all.
But I was wrong.
On the day of the elections I have seen so much traffic on the blog, desperately looking for anything about Hungary in English that I decided to write a minute-by-minute update about the news of the day. The stakes were not whether Orbán would win – he made sure that he would. But whether he gets another damaging 2/3 supermajority. And as the opposition became galvanized a few weeks before elections, there was a solid chance that Orbán would have to live with a simple majority.
As the day progressed, Orbán’s new 2/3 supermajority became increasingly unlikely. Fidesz politicians disappeared from public sight – the few who were caught on camera gave little speeches on how even a simple majority is great. Orbán was nowhere to be seen.
As I was watching the day’s news, I realized that I was wrong. Why would Orbán refrain from rigging the counting of votes? There will be no consequences if he did. In fact, his own voters will probably never hear of it since the media has been turned into an unabashed mouthpiece for him. The Election Committee is so subservient, its president let himself be publicly smacked around by Orbán and apologized for even issuing one, tiny, symbolic fine of Fidesz. As the day progressed, my view about the cleanliness of vote counting had become much darker.
And as the day went and every hourly report about voter turnout came back with record numbers, the prospect that Orbán would lose his supermajority seemed certain. Until it didn’t.
By 18.30, half an hour before the ballots closed, we had all-time record voter turnout, a very bad sign for Orbán. And then an unprecedented, 3-hour news moratorium followed. The number of voters have been revised downward by some 6 percent at some point, then went back up, but they ended way below the 18.30 value. The official explanation was that the voter-counters got so carried away with drawing tally marks every time they saw a voter that they have drawn a few extra. 105 extra each, on average…
After 10PM, Orbán emerged, victorious. He secured the coveted 2/3 supermajority by over 48% of the votes. After an entire day of hiding from cameras his triumph was even more crushing.
Every possible explanation for the the disappearing votes (and other discrepancies) that came later and sounded more plausible was actually made up by the independent media – which was so scared of crying wolf that they went above and beyond to sound unbiased and sober and give all the benefit of doubt to Fidesz. But the question remained:
How could an otherwise perfectly well functioning bureaucracy become so stunningly incompetent all of a sudden, right when suspicion should be avoided at all cost?
Or maybe suspicion was as good for Orbán as the image of clean election would have been. Maybe even better. Because whether Orbán cheated or not, a non-Fidesz voter had heard the lesson: Give up!
Orbán definitely made sure to rub that message in. Despite the most suspicious and incompetent election day in Hungarian democratic history, and even before the entire process was over, he decorated the head of the election committee. Despite almost complete website crash, software breakdown, disappearing votes, and the most incompetent tally mark drawing ballot officers in human history…
Maybe I have been stuck in the past – just like everybody else. In the past, local bureaucrats were employed by local authorities – now they are all “government officials”. It had been centralized. Many have also been complicit in local public procurement tenders – having no choice if they wanted to keep their jobs – and they could be prosecuted by any other political force, because they were the small fish that can be sacrificed. Local mayors also knew that Fidesz will win – and if their constituencies don’t vote for Fidesz hard enough, there will be no money coming their way from Budapest. They have said so on social media, it is not even a secret. And finally, there were no non-Fidesz delegates in the vote counting committees in some third of the districts. Because opposition parties thought just like me: that we are not Russia, and the cheating had been done in the election law, the media landscape, the campaign financing, etc. There would be no need to burn opposition votes on the day of the elections. The local bureaucrats are decent people.
Decent – but they want to keep making a living.
At the time of the 2018 elections I brought nothing to the table – except that I have followed every Hungarian election closely since 1989, when my father was a candidate for (the then-liberal) Fidesz. And this blog has no resources to investigate – we merely report about things that have already emerged in the remaining independent media. But a few days ago a new study has been published, documenting for the first time what actually had happened on that fateful day for Hungarian elections.
Pre-elections, Orbán had sliced up his opposition like a salami while he rewrote the election system to give an unfair boost to any one party that is kept together with an iron fist – just like his own. The new election law included gerrymandering, Orbán staffed the election committee with his loyalists, and he had bought up the vast majority of the media, to the point where most people in the country didn’t even see an actual non-Fidesz politician talking – only heard brazenly biased attacks on them. When the election committee couldn’t dismiss the situation (due to temporary majority of non-Fidesz delegates) they have obliged to give 5 minutes to each non-Fidesz party in the public broadcaster. That’s 5 minutes during the entire campaign – and since they are not on TV between elections, it also means 5 minutes for every 4 years. Orbán had spent direct marketing letters into every household, pushing his party line (bloodthirsty hate propaganda) as “government information”, then sent a letter as party leader to ask for money to keep up his “government information” campaign. The state audit office fined all non-Fidesz parties out of their remaining funds – and only allowed them to compete in elections if the don’t contest the fines. Orbán created over a million new Hungarian citizens (on top of his controversial residency bond program that allowed wanted criminals without any background check to get EU passports) in neighboring countries, who could immediately vote, even by mail, but Fidesz’ local offices would handle them. And then there were the fake parties. Or the weird oscillation in the number of people eligible to vote before election day. The list goes on.
On election day, the following, documented fraud has been taking place – taken from the recently published research by Unhack Democracy Europe (excerpts)
Voters ‘bussed in’ from Ukraine
“Asked how many people he managed to bring across, the former mayor initially replied: “It was 450 to 500 approximately” but went on to say “it will be 250 to 300 that we are doing… I was making the rounds with the bus.”
“Although the constituency in question was won by Fidesz by a wide margin, overall the party secured its crucial two-thirds majority in parliament by as little as 425 votes – spread across two different swing constituencies.”
“There are settlements whose number of inhabitants tripled on paper, but the average shows an increase between 20% to 30%. …
“I did not… understand why they did not allow me to check the IDs,” the ballot officer said. “There were many people I did not know, who are not from here and I did not know where they were from… I know practically everyone. There were many who came with the Protestant priest and I asked who they were. They said they are the relatives of the priest from Ukraine.”
“Following the election, both Hungary’s Supreme Court and the prosecutor’s office ruled there had been “organised” voter fraud on the Ukrainian-Hungarian border involving the illegal bussing of voters on polling day. However, the court declared there was not enough evidence to order a fresh vote … A year later, none of the roughly 370 investigations into alleged cases of election-day voter fraud has led to charges being brought.”
‘Wholesale manipulation’ of foreign votes
“Under the changes to the law brought in by Orbán, ethnic Hungarians outside Hungary are supposed to cast their party list votes by post. In 2018, Fidesz won 96% of these votes.”
“Serbian press reports claimed that the activists of these local Fidesz affiliates opened mail-in ballots for inspection and destroyed those that were not cast for Fidesz.
“In total, over 4,000 postal ballots arrived with the required security seal on the envelope either broken or missing. A decision by the National Election Commission to declare these votes void was later upheld by the Supreme Court following a challenge by Fidesz. In response to the ruling, Orbán accused the court of “evidently and unequivocally meddling in the elections”, and since then, the government has relaxed the laws around mail-in ballots.”
“€16 a vote”
“It is a very poor village and they told me that they got 5000 HUF [€16] each for their vote. The older people were trained and one of their relatives helped. Apparently, those agents who got the voters received 10,000 HUF [€30] per voter they brought, so they amassed millions in [Hungarian] forints [thousands of Euros].”
“…Roma voters … were instructed to vote for the “last” candidate on the ballot (Fidesz) and number X on the list in order to keep their benefits and stay in workfare programmes.”
“A study of the 2014 Hungarian elections published this year by academics from Yale University and the University of California, Davis, details outright vote buying, the provision of public benefits in exchange for votes, coercion through threatening withholding of benefits, and economic coercion involving threats from people such as moneylenders and employers.”
‘Interference’ in counting process
“Out of 108 opposition ballot counting officers who responded to an online questionnaire from Unhack Democracy Europe and Netzwerk Politische Kommunikation (netPOL), an international academic political communications network, over 60% said they did not have trust in the election’s fairness.”
“We counted the ballots but I did not see who filled what and I did not even see what was in it when I signed it.”
“They asked us to sign over the log before we had even opened the envelopes. So they asked us to sign the empty voter log that did not have any numbers [in it yet], just the basic info.”
‘Unusual’ ticket splitting
“Sometimes, people split their votes between different parties for various reasons. That’s not suspicious in itself, but our data analysis found that ‘unusual’ ticket-splitting occurred more in rural areas, precincts with no opposition delegates.”
Disappearing absentee votes
“Hungarians … can choose to cast their ballot in person in another polling station in Hungary. These absentee ballots are then transported to their relevant constituency to be counted. However, the number of these voters who showed up to cast their ballots, as recorded on the official website, is 2,918 higher than the number of envelopes recorded as being counted – implying that 1% of the total votes went missing.”
Election website malfunction, software breakdown, and crony-build election software
“Images have emerged of Orbán, his unofficial chief strategist Árpád Habony and deputy prime minister Zsolt Semjén watching the 2010 election results come in with IdomSoft’s CEO.”
See the original report yourself for more details.
Featured image: All local papers came out with the same front page on election day: “Both votes for Fidesz” next to Orbán’s face. Austrian vice-chancellor Strache was fantasizing about this kind of media treatment when he promised to sell his country to a Russian oligarch in exchange for control over the media.