Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) issued stern criticisms of Hungaryʼs parliamentary election process on Monday, which they said was "characterized by a pervasive overlap between state and ruling party resources, undermining contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis."
"Voters had a wide range of political options but intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing constricted the space for genuine political debate, hindering voters’ ability to make a fully-informed choice," said the report issued by the OSCEʼs Limited Election Observation Mission.
At the same time, the observers acknowledged that "technical administration of the elections was professional and transparent."
While noting that overall fundamental rights and freedoms were respected, the reports criticized the "adverse climate" in which the elections were held.
"Access to information as well as the freedoms of the media and association have been restricted, including by recent legal changes," it noted. In addition, it pointed to an "ubiquitous overlap between government information and ruling coalition campaigns, and other abuses of administrative resources," which it said "blurred the line between state and party, at odds with OSCE commitments." Hungary is a founder member of the organization, admitted in 1973.
"The ability of contestants to compete on an equal basis was significantly compromised by the government’s excessive spending on public information advertisements that amplified the ruling coalition’s campaign message," the OSCE observed, while drawing attention to a lack of campaign financing transparency.
At the same time, the OSCE criticized the Hungarian media in general for bias both for and against the sitting government.
"Media coverage of the campaign was extensive, yet highly polarized and lacking critical analysis," it said. While state media "clearly favored the ruling coalition, at odds with international standards," it added that commercial broadcasters, too, were partisan in their coverage, either for ruling or opposition parties.
The OSCE also said concerns were raised over the use of two different voting procedures for out-of-country voters, which it said "challenges the principle of equal suffrage," fearing that the distinction "was based on partisan considerations."
Perhaps significantly for the fragmentation of the opposition vote, the OSCE observed that "while there was a large number of contestants, most did not actively campaign, ostensibly registering to benefit from public campaign finance or to dilute the vote in tightly contested races."
With regard to the role of civil society, the report stated: "Legislative constraints and intimidating rhetoric by the government stifled civil society’s involvement in election-related activities, limiting the public’s access to non-partisan assessment of the elections."