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Bálint Magyar, Bálint Madlovics: Hungary 2022: Election Manipulation and the Regime’s Attempts at Electoral Fraud

“The regime’s systematic effort to rig the elections is clearly evident, with a wide range of sophisticated tools to achieve this,” our researchers Bálint Magyar and Bálint Madlovics write in their report on the Hungarian elections, released today by the CEU Democracy Institute.

Electoral fraud may not happen only on election day. In modern autocracies, just as the tools of repression are far more sophisticated than in classical dictatorships, the ways to manipulate the election do not consist merely in falsifying the results. The electoral situation is pre-arranged to produce the result the incumbents want: this is what a manipulated election is.

The 2022 election is not simply “free but not fair.” This term focuses on the electoral contest, i.e., the campaign and election day, and emphasizes only two aspects: the freedom of the opposition to run and its voters to support it, and the lack of fairness in terms of the balance of resources between government and opposition. But a manipulated election is more than that because it involves:

  1. hollowing out the elections in advance by depriving the newly elected parliament and government of power competences which, questioning popular sovereignty, are made independent of the election results;
  2. sabotaging the will of the electorate by the regime’s unilateral rewriting of the electoral system in its own interest;
  3. legal and illegal use of state power in support of the regime through the de facto involvement of supposedly independent state media, advertising channels, and public institutions such as the prosecutor’s office in Fidesz’s campaign;
  4. systematic creation of the possibility of classic electoral fraud, in all cases to the advantage of Fidesz.

If falsifying the vote count is electoral fraud, because it unilaterally determines the future direction of governance by ignoring the will of the voters, then manipulating the election is also fraud for the same reason. Accordingly, the adjective “free but not fair” should be replaced by the term “manipulated” or “fraudulent” elections, whereas the traditionally narrow interpretative framework of electoral fraud should be replaced by discussion in a broader context.

The election is not meaningless or unwinnable for the opposition. Electoral manipulation in Hungary has not yet reached the same level as in Russia: political parties are not banned, their formation is not bureaucratically hindered, candidates with the proper number of recommendations are not thwarted (sometimes with physical violence) in running, polling district delegates do not actively manipulate the ballot. However, the regime’s systematic effort to rig the elections is clearly evident, with a wide range of sophisticated tools to achieve this.

Download the report in English or in Hungarian via the links below.

The report has been covered by various Hungarian media outlets, including Nepszava and Klubradio.

Cover photo: Arnaud Jaegers / Unsplash
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