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Int'l observers call election 'well administered', but point to absence of 'level playing field'

Elections

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International observers of Hungary's general election on Sunday said the process was well managed, but added that ad campaigns paid for by the state budget provided an "undue advantage" to the ruling party in preliminary findings released on Monday, news agency MTI reports.

"The April 3 parliamentary elections and referendum were well administered and professionally managed but marred by the absence of a level playing field," the joint observation mission from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) said in the findings.

"Contestants were largely able to campaign freely, but while competitive, the campaign was highly negative in tone and characterized by a pervasive overlap between the ruling coalition and the government," they added.

The observers said voters' "opportunity to make an informed choice" was "significantly limited" by "bias and lack of balance in monitored news coverage and the absence of debates between major contestants".

The ODIHR election observation mission's media monitoring noted "extensive government advertisement campaigns that were focused on promoting economic achievements, family support and national security, reinforcing the main campaign messages of [incumbent] Fidesz" and said "such advertisement campaigns that were paid by the state budget provided an undue advantage to the ruling party and further blurred the lines between the state and the party".

"While it was good to see that yesterday went smoothly in most polling stations across the country, an election is far more than voting day," Jillian Stirk, who headed the ODIHR election observation mission, said.

"Numerous shortcomings already became clear in the period running up to the vote, from the biased media through to the all-pervasive linkage of state and party," she added.

The international election observation mission totaled 312 observers from 45 countries, consisting of 221 experts and long-term and short-term observers deployed by the ODIHR, and 91 parliamentarians and staff from the OSCE PA.

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